Don’t Get Eclipsed by Color Contrast

Infographic with the phrase: The Ultimate High Contrast Setting. Has a photograph of the solar eclipse with #Eclipse2017 and the Accessibility Partners logo. Shows a screenshot of Windows High Contrast settings, with the user selecting "High Contrast Solar Eclipse"

To many of us, the color wheel evokes an elementary school art class or a college elective. To those more design-centric, it’s a pivotal tool for implement chromatic schemes and brand a company with eye-catching hues in a rainbow of possibilities. As we discuss color contrast on the day of the historic solar eclipse, it makes us think about the role light has with color. The solar eclipse is when the moon totally eclipses or blocks the sun. It’s not visible to everyone, and you can only see a total solar eclipse if you’re in the path where the moon’s casts its darkest shadow, the umbra.

We see a parallel when we think about web accessibility, both in terms of high contrast and color contrast. Both deal with luminescence, or light and color, and within the field of accessibility, there is overlap. Web users with visual disabilities (including blindness, macular degeneration, cataracts, low vision, and more) see things differently and must have a different way to perceive content.

WCAG and Section 508

According to the standard followed in WCAG AA 1.4.3: The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. There are exceptions for large text (needs a ratio of 3:1), or incidental text (Text or images of text that are part of an inactive user interface component, that are pure decoration, that are not visible to anyone, or that are part of a picture that contains significant other visual content. Then there is no requirement), and any text that is part of a logo or a brand name.

Section 508 is strict that applications should not override user selected contrast and color selections. Needless to say, color is important and so are the modes of access to color. Similar to how people view the eclipse with sanctioned eyeware or their own box solutions, accessibility too enables people to experience the same experience in new ways. Whether you use Windows High Contrast settings, your own palette or lens, or others, keep in mind that everyone perceives color differently. Check your contrast at WebAIM, and don’t forget to keep checking as you develop any web or software content. The solar eclipse might be rare, but your website can be viewed hundreds or thousands of times of day! Keep it colorful and inclusive.