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Seeing the Light: Color Contrast Best Practices for Local Government Websites

The words "can you read me?" over a gradient background with multiple colors. The colors of the text blend with the colors of the background in several places.

Can you see what I’m saying? For many residents trying to access their local government website, the answer might be “not really.” Imagine squinting at a computer screen, trying to decipher light gray text on a pale yellow background. Frustrating, right? This is the daily reality for countless individuals with visual impairments, color blindness, or even those simply using their phones in bright sunlight.

Poor color contrast is a common accessibility issue that creates significant barriers for these users. It hinders their ability to read important information, navigate through websites, and ultimately access vital government services. This isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a matter of equity and inclusion.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide clear standards for color contrast that, when followed, make websites more accessible to everyone. In this guide, we’ll shed light on these standards, equip you with the tools and knowledge to achieve compliance, and empower you to create local government websites that truly serve your entire community.

Understanding WCAG Color Contrast Standards

At the heart of accessible web design lies the concept of the contrast ratio. This ratio measures the difference in luminance between two colors, like the text and its background. The higher the ratio, the greater the contrast and the easier it is to read.

WCAG 2.1, the latest version of the guidelines, recommends the following minimum contrast ratios:

  • 4.5:1 for normal text: This applies to most body text and ensures readability for people with moderate visual impairments.
  • 3:1 for large text: This applies to larger font sizes (18pt and bold or 14pt and bold) and offers more flexibility for headings and other large text elements.

These ratios might seem like technical jargon, but their impact is tangible. Sufficient contrast ensures that text stands out clearly, making it easier to read for people with a wide range of visual abilities.

Dark blue over a white background creates a high contrast ratio and easily readable text.
Light blue over a white background creates a low contrast ratio and very difficult to read text.

Tools & Techniques for Achieving Compliance

Checking and improving color contrast doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Numerous tools are available to help you assess your website’s contrast ratios and make necessary adjustments. Some popular options include:

  • WebAIM Contrast Checker: This free online tool allows you to input foreground and background colors and instantly calculates the contrast ratio.
  • Color Safe: This tool goes a step further by generating accessible color palettes based on your chosen base color.
  • Adobe Color: This powerful toolset offers a contrast checker and a variety of features for creating and exploring accessible color schemes.
  • Coolors: This user-friendly palette generator allows you to create, save, and share accessible color combinations.

Beyond these tools, consider these design tips for enhancing contrast:

  • Choose legible fonts: Opt for sans-serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica, which are generally easier to read than serif fonts like Times New Roman.
  • Use larger font sizes: Increasing the font size, especially for body text, can significantly improve readability.
  • Experiment with color combinations: Don’t be afraid to use bold colors, but ensure sufficient contrast between text and background.
  • Test with different users: Gather feedback from people with various visual abilities to gauge the effectiveness of your color choices.

Case Studies in Contrast

Let’s take a look at real-world examples to illustrate the importance of color contrast:

The Bad

To illustrate the challenges with low contrast designs, we made a copy of our local government page edited to replicate color contrast mistakes we’ve encountered on real websites. This webpage suffers from low contrast, with light gray and yellow text on a white background. Even the large text of the header is tough to make out. This makes it difficult to read, especially for people with visual impairments. The light gray tabs fail to stand out from the white page and may blend in closely to some users.


The Good

Accessibility and legibility is crucial for all sites, even more so for local government websites hosting important public information for their community. When we started designing the website for Princeton Economic Development Authority, we built the website with these principles in mind from the beginning. Their website’s color palette combines dark and light colors together for text, headings, and buttons, creating a high color contrast ratio that is easy to read for most users. The design is clean, uncluttered, and visually appealing.

The Improved

The City of Princeton hired us to replace their longstanding and now out of date website with a modern version updated with a fresh layout and content. The new website, designed with accessibility at the forefront across the site, is a far more usable tool for all in the community of Princeton. After implementing color contrast improvements, the redesigned website is now much easier to read and navigate. The new color scheme is vibrant, engaging, and accessible to a wider audience.

Legal Considerations & Beyond

Ensuring proper color contrast isn’t just a matter of good design; it’s a legal requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Failure to comply can result in lawsuits and damage your government’s reputation.

But the benefits of good color contrast extend far beyond legal compliance. It improves the overall user experience, making your website more inviting and accessible to everyone. When information is easier to find and consume, citizens are more likely to engage with your government and participate in civic life.

Conclusion

By prioritizing color contrast, you can transform your local government website into a welcoming and inclusive space for all. Remember, accessible design is not a constraint but an opportunity to foster a stronger connection with your community.

If you’re ready to see your website in a new light, Starry Eyes Media can help. Our team of experts specializes in creating accessible websites that meet WCAG standards and exceed user expectations. Contact us today for a free consultation and let’s bridge the digital divide together.

Meet Jordan
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Seeing the Light: Color Contrast Best Practices for Local Government Websites

by | May 29, 2024 | Economic Development, Government, Learning, Web Design

Jordan is the Content Marketer and Designer at Starry Eyes, helping with creative projects as well as social media planning, market research, and SEO. He is obsessed with books, soccer, pottery, and various nerdy things. Jordan is a bit of a hipster and is still coming to terms with that. Big fan of trees.

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