Unlocking the Color Wheel: Tools and Tips for Inclusive Design
Imagine walking along the street, hurrying to an appointment. You pause to read a street sign to orient yourself. The sign isn’t that far away, so you don’t need your glasses. But you can’t read it. The colors blur together.
Color and contrast are fundamental elements of web accessibility. That is a part of good design for everyone, but it is especially important for people with low vision or color blindness. Color blindness is surprisingly common, with millions of people around the world impacted by it. A lot of people are not even aware that color blindness affects them, and that they’re missing sweeping expanses of color nuance.
Strong color contrast, like classic black on white, makes it easier for people with visual impairments or color blindness to read and understand web content. Poor color contrast can make it difficult or impossible for these users to access the content. It isn’t necessary to use strictly black and white in order to achieve good contrast. However, when selecting the multiple colors used in your digital content, there’s more than just the aesthetic to take into account. “It looks great!” Okay, it’s cool, it’s trendy, but can people read it? Can people with low vision get to the point of the message you’re communicating?
Could a fun or stylish color combination lead to exclusion or discrimination for the people visiting your site or app? That’s the reality for many users with visual impairments or color blindness. You think it’s awesome, they think it’s a featureless blob. Navigating many or even most websites online today is difficult for users with disabilities, as the majority of them have not been brought up to standards for full accessibility. In fact, a percentage that could shock you is how many websites right now have no accessibility options whatsoever. The Web AIM Million Project revealed that 96.8% of popular homepages in 2022 did not comply with accessibility standards. 84% of those had text with contrast that was too low.
People deserve equal access to the ordinary information and services we all use. And going online to check details, order items, work, and much more is a part of our everyday lives. Some of us hardly ever log off, if you take mobile phones and smart watches into account.
Good color and contrast, especially for text, are an essential part of making web content not only legible but also accessible. Poor color and contrast choices can make a website nearly unusable for some, while thoughtful design and correct color choices can open the digital world to everyone.
A Rich Palette of Color Tools for Accessibility
No matter your digital design needs, there’s a great tool out there for you. Here’s a roundup of some of the best resources across three categories:
|Color Checkers||Contrast Checkers||All-in-One Tools|
|These allow you to test the contrast between two colors.||These go a step further than color checkers by reporting the specific WCAG contrast ratio for a given color combination.||These tools combine the functionality of color checkers and contrast checkers, and may include other features, such as color palettes and accessibility recommendations. Many tools below belong to this category.|
Take some time to review the examples we’ve suggested below. For more options that cover all the color testing and contrast analysis bases, we recommend that you skim through this thorough DigitalA11Y list.
- Color Oracle: A desktop application that simulates color blindness in real-time, letting you see your designs as a color-blind user would.
- Sim Daltonism: This macOS tool lets you hover over elements to see how they would appear to people with different kinds of color blindness.
- Accessibility Color Checker: A type of online tool that tests color combinations to see if they meet WCAG standards for accessibility. We found many, many legitimate and helpful variations of this tool available.
- Contrast Checker by WebAIM: This tool lets you easily check text and background color combinations for WCAG compliance.
- Contrast Ratio: A straightforward online contrast checker to validate your color choices.
- WCAG Contrast Checker: A Chrome extension offering real-time feedback on contrast ratios for any webpage.
- Contrast Grid: This free online tool allows you to create a grid of colors and see their contrast ratios. This can be helpful for quickly testing a variety of color combinations.
- WAVE: This WebAIM tool presents multiple features, including a color contrast checker and a more specific link contrast checker.
- axe – Web Accessibility Testing: Deque’s complete accessibility testing tool includes a built-in color contrast analyzer. You can also use their simpler online color checker.
- Colour Contrast Analyser (CCA): This downloadable software offers a suite of options for both color and contrast testing.
Professional accessibility testing tools and services are also available from many providers to help make your website, app, or digital documents accessible to all users. And, expanding the all-in-one category to include more than just color, there are also comprehensive accessibility testing and improvement tools and services available through these companies and others. Two of the highest-reviewed overall accessibility checker options on the G2 review site are accessiBe and UserWay.
Choosing the Perfect Tool
With so many tools to pick from, how do you know which one suits your project?
Define Your Needs
Consider your specific needs and goals. What are you trying to achieve with the tool? Are you looking for a basic color checker or a more comprehensive tool with accessibility recommendations? Is your focus on general accessibility, or are you looking specifically at how color-blind individuals interact with your design? Tools like Accessibility Color Checker are fantastic for broader goals, while Color Oracle is perfect for simulating various types of color blindness.
Check Compatibility and Usability
Make sure the contrast checker you choose works smoothly with your existing tech stack. Evaluate the tool’s compatibility with your needs as well as your current hardware and software. Is the tool easy to use? Does it work with your website’s content management system? WCAG Contrast Checker, for instance, is an easy-to-use Chrome extension, which works well for those already embedded in the Google ecosystem.
Reviews and Ratings
Before settling on an all-in-one tool, take more than just a glance at user reviews. Research user reviews and ratings to find tools that are well-received. This can help you get a sense of how other users have found the tool. Tools like WAVE and axe have been widely praised for their ease of use and comprehensive features, making them safe bets for many users. What else is out there? Review sites will tend to offer comparisons as well as straightforward appraisals.
Tips for Creating Accessible Content
Color and contrast are critical elements of web accessibility. By using the right tools and following these tips, you can create content that is accessible to all users.
- Use high-contrast colors for text and background.
- Avoid using colors that are similar in value.
- Use color sparingly and consistently.
- Use text alternatives for images and other non-text content.
- Provide keyboard navigation for all elements on your website.
- Test your website with a variety of users to ensure that it is accessible to everyone.
Accessibility is For Everyone
Let’s keep our eyes on the big picture. Good design is inclusive design.
All users, regardless of their abilities, should be able to access and navigate your website. And that includes people with visual impairments and color blindness. Making your website more accessible is more than just something to cross of your to-do list, it’s a commitment to making the web a welcoming place for all. WCAG and other guidelines are not just standards; they’re a call to action for equality in the digital space. And, as a bonus, making your digital content inclusive can help you attract a wider audience and improve your website’s overall usability.
As you gear up to make your website more welcoming, remember that tools like a color contrast checker or a colour contrast analyser are not perks or luxuries. They’re necessities in today’s inclusive digital landscape. The right tool depends on your specific needs, but the goal remains the same: a web that’s open and accessible to all.