Role of color psychology in accessibility

January 20, 2022

Improve accessibility with the use of colors and contrasts

Think again if you think accessibility is just about wheelchair ramps and disability claims. Accessibility is about good design for each one of us. Most of us feel awkward using our phones in ways others might find strange – like holding it farther from the eye.

Inclusive design ensures that products and services are designed to be accessible to a range of people regardless of their age, gender, ability, ethnicity, and more. It puts people under the spotlight in the design process. From the design perspective, it is not a limitation. But an opportunity to reach out to the maximum audience with ubiquitous ease of use. 

Inclusive design is an inherent aspect of all good design. It should be a crucial part of the process, not a bolt-on at the end. That’s why color plays a vital role right at the beginning of the process. 

The psychology of color and its impact on design 

All of us have favorite colors. We like to paint our homes in a specific shade too. It is because these colors evoke unique emotions in us. And when it comes to accessibility, choosing a color goes beyond the reason one simply likes it. The choice of color can impact visual aesthetics and stimulate emotions that can influence the viewer in a particular way. 

An experiment by Hubspot[The Button Color A/B Test] proves just that. The team made an exciting discovery while A/B-testing green and red button colors for conversion rate. The expectation was that green would perform better, thanks to traffic lights. But surprisingly, red outperformed green by 21%. They concluded that it could probably be because red is a more attention-seeking color. 

How can color address the challenges of different audiences 

Empathy is a vital aspect of the inclusive Design system. Designers need to think of the limitations and motivations that inspire and influence all types of humans. The prime intention of an inclusive design system is to consider diversity and address it with suitable solutions. 

When designing for a color-blind audience, blue seems to be a good choice. Red and green are the most affected by color-vision deficiency, while nearly everyone can see blue.[Reading is the primary activity of the Web] To say it more definitely, almost everyone can differentiate blue as a different shade from others. 

Similarly, people on the autism spectrum have a wide range of conditions. Many of them can face difficulties with cognition when using the web. That’s why navigation and layout should be consistent across the entire site. Performing similar actions on similar user interface elements should produce similar results. They may also have contrast sensitivity [Sensory challenges for autistic pupils], so using suitable color contrast is advisable. 

While different people have different abilities and limitations, at their intersection is inclusive design. It connects diverse people in similar circumstances. For instance, situational and ability-based impairments have similar user needs. Take the example of having a larger font size. Usually, it is intended for people with visual impairment or senior citizens with reading limitations. But it can also greatly serve a person in a moving car with a lesser attention span. Designers may start with one set of people in mind and eventually benefit a larger population.

The magic of color contrast 

In digital media, finding shades that offer sufficient contrast between text and background can help boost accessibility – especially for people with low vision impairments and color deficiencies. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)[Intent of this Success Criterion] has put forward strategies, standards, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities. It has suggested a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 as the minimum Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG)[4] 2 standard for regular-sized text. 

W3C further elaborates that the highest attainable grade for accessibility is AAA, which requires a 7:1 contrast ratio. But since it may not be feasible to reach AAA level across sites, the goal is to achieve the highest level in crucial spaces like headlines, action buttons, and a few others. 

How greys can help in contrast 

In accessibility, the brighter shades are made more visible with subtle shades. The colors white, black, and grey are well-perceived by most people with functional vision. Designers can pair these colors in foreground/background combinations of confusable colors. 

Choosing bright colors

 When it comes to maximum accessibility, colors and contrast are not the only aspects. The color’s brightness, luminance, or intensity plays a vital role. The colors have to be bright enough compared to the adjacent colors to be apparent and easy to understand. 

Utilizing colors smartly to maximize accessibility 

Text is the core of a web page. But typography, icons, buttons can impact accessibility in a big way. A few examples are underlining links on hover or marking required fields with an asterisk. A combination of typography and image also adds to ease of use. Some familiar examples are the word “Next” paired with a right-pointing arrow or the word “Home” with an outline of a house. In the right colors and contrast, this intelligent blend of visual and text goes a long way in maximizing accessibility.

Enabling enhanced user experience with personalization 

Web accessibility is not about placing users in a funnel and pushing them down one path. It is about creating an uninhibited digital ambiance to create a user journey effortlessly. Personalization enables users to customize their own experience with minimal work. 

Personalization can hide extraneous information for people who are distracted by lots of information and find it difficult to focus on crucial details. Thus, they only get to see the content they wish to perceive. 

Personalization allows users to change numerical information into visual cues for people who have difficulty understanding numbers. For example, a temperature of 32°F/0°C can be conveyed as a person with a hat, scarf, and mittens, and the text ‘very cold’.

Future of web and mobile accessibility 

The future is likely to see the web more accessible for diverse people, going beyond just disabilities. Universal design or ‘design for all’ [Present and future of web content accessibility] will emerge as a working philosophy for creating web pages. It may also automatically lead to an adjustment of web environments to match user characteristics like impairment or age. Technology is also likely to develop to adapt the web to the user’s environment like low light or mobile device viewing. Together, it will make the world wide web accessible in every way. 

About the Author

Integra Editorial

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