Web accessibility plays a crucial role in ensuring your site is legally compliant and providing inclusive and more effortless user experiences, especially when it comes to color.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including websites. In the context of web design, the ADA encourages businesses to follow best practices and standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
With attention heightening around the topic, it’s best to be proactive in responding to user needs and anticipating future laws to ensure the accessibility of your website for any user.
WCAG 2.1 specifically identifies three levels of compliance when it comes to a site’s accessibility: A – rules with which you must comply with by law; AA – rules with which you should comply (optional); AAA – rules with which you may comply (optional and rare).
In this article, we’ll explore each of these levels of compliance and explain why these rules matter for businesses operating in the United States. We’ll also provide several key tips and best practices for ensuring your site is compliant with all relevant laws.
Color plays an essential role in how we understand the world around us. However, the ability to see color or to distinguish between different colors should never be a barrier to understanding the content or function of a website.
For this reason, Congress has enacted rules through the ADA to set a minimum bar for how color is used on websites. These rules also provide guidance for how businesses should use color to be as accessible as possible for individuals with disabilities.
In general, there are four key principles you should aim for when optimizing a website for accessibility:
Color accessibility generally falls under the first and third principles, as they relate to how well a user can perceive and understand the content you present on each page.
WCAG 2.1 outlines the rules and guidelines for each level of website accessibility. In general, the contrast between the text and background color and a user’s ability to perceive and understand the content is the biggest difference between the three levels:
Additionally, it’s important to note that these requirements generally only apply to elements of the website that are essential for understanding the content or functionality of the page in question. Purely aesthetic elements, such as a logo or the details of a background image, are not required to be ADA-compliant since they are aesthetic, not semantic in nature.
Legal action against websites with accessibility issues has been on the rise in recent years, with researchers forecasting more than 4,200 lawsuits by the end of 2023, doubling the 2,300 lawsuits seen in 2018. While around 84% of these lawsuits were against eCommerce sites, the data still presents a growing trend of legal action against websites that fail to meet minimum accessibility guidelines.
However, the more important thing to remember is that following accessibility guidelines is simply good for users.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division puts it best in their guidance on web accessibility and the ADA:
The ways that websites are designed and set up can create unnecessary barriers that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use websites, just as physical barriers like steps can prevent some people with disabilities from entering a building. These barriers on the web keep people with disabilities from accessing information and programs that businesses…make available to the public online.
When 1 in every 12 men and 1 in every 200 women have some form of color vision deficiency, making sure these individuals can perceive and understand the content on your website plays a crucial role in ensuring a positive browsing experience for your users.
Given the importance placed on ensuring ADA compliance and strong color contrast, marketing departments will often gravitate toward a few common strategies for ensuring their sites are as accessible as possible:
With such a large percentage of Americans having difficulty distinguishing between certain colors, it’s plain to see why many businesses are making ADA compliance and web accessibility a priority in their website redesign projects.
The key thing to remember when it comes to the ADA is that your site needs to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust to all of its visitors. In the context of colors, this means ensuring your design doesn’t rely too heavily on color to convey content or functionality, as well as spot-checking different elements around your site for color contrast.
Regardless of how you approach ADA compliance, however, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your design should provide a better experience for your users. Even if it means slightly altering the colors you use on your website or changing your preferred background, ensuring your site is as accessible as possible is a valuable tradeoff that can help you accommodate audience members no matter their impairment or ability.