Accessible color and contrast

Many people have difficulty distinguishing certain colors or colors with low contrast. Users with low vision, color blindness, monochrome screens, screen rendering problems, light interference, and other issues rely on secondary, non-color cues. RIchard Morton of gives a revealing example:

Ishihara color test

If you can see the number 74 in the main image above, you may have normal colour vision...and if you can see 21 like me, you may have a red-green colour vision deficiency.

As many as 1 in 8 men and 1 in 200 women have the common form of red-green color blindness (NEI).

Don't use color alone to convey important information

Add secondary cues

Never use color (or any other sensory cues [position, shape, sound, etc.]) alone to visually convey important information. If color transmits something meaningful on a page (such as a link, required field or active state), provide a secondary method to communicate the information. For example, one of the most common methods of indicating a link is to underline it.

Color should not be the sole visual cue. Use a secondary cue for users who are color blind.
What if I can't see the color red very well? Underlining links helps users detect linked text.


In addition to underlining text, you can also use bold-face, patterns, icons, text descriptions, etc., to add secondary non-color visual cues.

Add clear directions and labels

Instructions should not rely solely on color. For instance, referring to the "red button" is confusing to users who are blind. If you use sensory indicators, also include a text identifier in the directions and as a label on the element.

Confusing for blind or colorblind users Add labels to directions to help users.
Click on the red button. Click on the red submit button.
Select the green arrow. Select the green "Next" arrow in the lower right.

Make sure colors have sufficient contrast.

For people with color blindness or other vision problems, high-contrast text on the page and in images makes your content much more legible. Try to achieve at least these visual color contrast ratios:

  • Regular text must have at least a 4.5:1 contrast ratio between text and background.
  • Links must have at least a 3:1 contrast ratio between link and non-link text.
Insufficient contrast Sufficient contrast
Low-contrast font colors make it extremely
difficult for users with low or color vision
deficiencies to read your content.
Low-contrast font colors make it extremely
difficult for users with low or color vision
deficiencies to read your content.


For color contrast on complex images like infographics, charts and graphs, see the article on  Complex images.

Color contrast of ASU brand colors

You can test ASU brand color combos for compliance with WCAG using this handy ASU Contrast Grid created by Victoria Polchinski of Enterprise Technology's UX Research.

ASU brand color contrast grid

How to test

Manually evaluate several pages (the homepage, a representative internal page and any pages that contain unique elements). If color visually conveys important information, ensure that an alternative method of conveying that information is present, including secondary cues and textual directions or labels.

A quick way to evaluate contrast is to take a screenshot of a page and change it to black and white. If elements are difficult to distinguish, increase the contrast ratio.

Contrast checkers

Relevant W3C WAI documents

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