29 Jan 2021
Web Accessibility Series: Part 1 - Colour Accessibility
Kicking off Part 1 of Catch’s new web accessibility series exploring the different ways we can make the internet accessible for everyone.
This month the Experience Design (XD) team at Catch is kicking off the first segment of our Accessibility Series, aimed at positioning accessibility as less of a challenge that needs to be tackled, and instead encouraging designers to embrace accessibility and view it as an integral part of their process. Each part of the series will provide an overview of our main learnings and provide relevant resources and advice to help you stay on top of accessibility. Part 1 covers how to address colour accessibility in our work.
Alt text: visual of overlapping circles in different colours and patterns
Before we answer that question, we first want to provide a brief overview of the history of Accessibility Guidelines.
In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a set of guidelines called the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” as part of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The mission of the WAI is to lead the Web to its full potential of usability, enabling people with disabilities to participate equally on the Web.
Alt text: image of cartoon cat with words like inaccessible? Wow? Huh? Floating around them
What is colour accessibility?
Colour accessibility is the inclusion of enough contrast between the foreground text colour and the background colour to ensure text and iconography is easily recognisable.
It also includes guidelines on how to distinguish between elements with colour, for example, in bar charts. Choosing different colours for different elements is not enough though. Anything that is indicated by colour should have a secondary way for it to be distinguished, for example a pattern, like in the example below.
Alt text: image of a bar chart with the appropriate colour contrast and patterns on each element to show how to be accessibility compliant
Why do we follow these guidelines?
We follow these rules to make the internet more accessible for people with a decreased ability to see colour, or a decreased ability to tell colours apart from one another. Colour blindness is more accurately referred to as Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD) and occurs in 8% of males and 0.5% of females worldwide, constituting a significant portion of the population.
(Source: Geri Coady, “Color Accessibility Workflows”)
Three Main Learnings
1. Guidelines are great, but also user test when possible
Despite all intentions to ensure guidelines match real user’s needs, this is not always the case. Take the example below. At first glance, you may think that there’s no way the white text over the busy and colourful background is legible. But according to the Accessibility Guidelines, in the below image “all texts meet AAA colour contrast requirements.”
Alt text: image of text over a busy colourful background that doesn’t seem accessible but according to the guidelines passes, showing a discrepancy
This is because “when background images are used, automated tests aren’t reliably able to check for minimum contrast of text against the image - especially if the image is a photograph or drawing where the text is placed over the image, and (2) situations in which depending upon context such as text becoming incidental because it is part of an inactive user interface component or is purely decorative or part of a logo”
(Source: Challenges with Accessibility Guidelines Conformance and Testing, and Approaches for Mitigating Them). This reveals a limitation of available accessibility testers online and a need for making improvements.
User testing for accessibility is a good solution to solving the issue of guideline discrepancies in what’s said to help users and what is actually helpful.
2. We have a lot to learn.
Despite the introduction of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in 1999, there is still a long way to go in terms of ensuring the internet is fully accessible. For example, 86.3% of home pages in February 2020 lacked sufficient colour contrast. Keeping in mind the percentage of males and females that have Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD), totalling around 300 million people, we know that those in need of accessible websites are not receiving the best user experience possible across the internet.
Alt text: illustration of a blind man, a voice command logo, and a cell phone
3. We should all be champions of accessibility.
Accessible Sites have improved performance
Accessible websites are inherently more usable, providing a better experience for your site visitors. This is crucial given that 88% of users are less likely to return to a website after a bad user experience (Source: UXCam) Lower bounce rates, higher conversions, and less negative feedback likely associated with a more accessible website should in turn rank your site higher in search engines, thus increasing your chance of reaching more people.
It’s a financial liability
Lawsuits have been brought against multiple organisations that did not provide accessible websites. An article titled “Companies are Losing Web Cases: Spend Money on Web Access, not Lawyers,” court cases were filed by blind people against Blick Art Materials, Five Guys, Winn-Dixie, and Hobby Lobby crafts. In all of these cases the plaintiffs won significant compensation from these organisations. The article title says it all. It’s worth investing in your site’s accessibility.
It’s the right thing to do
The last, and most important reason for improving your site’s accessibility, is that everyone deserves access to the internet in a way that supports their needs. This is echoed in a statement by the United Nations which recognises the access to information and communications technologies as a basic human right.
Alt text: illustration of a guy giving a thumbs up and “you’re a okay” spelled with three a’s before it, next to him
Conversations around accessibility should be had frequently when kicking off new projects with both internal teams and clients to ensure everyone is invested in creating the best possible user experience. The W3C has resources to help you make a business case for improving your organisation’s accessibility that you can find here.
Our team at Catch has expertise in designing and building accessible websites, having worked at the highest level of WCAG accreditation. We’ve worked with Scope (the pan-disability charity), accredited by The Shaw Trust for AAA accessibility, to design and build a range of products and are currently working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People to reimagine their digital presence with accessibility as a key focus.
If you need help starting conversations around accessibility or are ready to get to work, please get in touch. And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for more accessibility related content!