Contrasting advice – what colours are best for accessibility?

People with dyslexia needed for a very short – but very important – survey. 

In our efforts to make sure our online content can be used and understood by the widest possible audience, we’ve been learning more about the rules of accessibility.

In the UK, public bodies and charities like us with a disability-focussed remit are legally obliged to follow the UK government’s Web Content Accessibility Guidance. This is to make sure that anyone can access and understand our  online information, whether or not they have vision, hearing, speech, motor or cognitive impairments – or a combination of them. 

For example, if someone can’t hear our video voiceover, we need to make sure they can read it instead. If a visitor to our website doesn’t read English, they should be able to access translations of our written content. Alt text on images should be available for those who can’t see our images – not just in the case of visual impairment, but if their bandwidth drops and the images don’t load. 

All of these recommendations we’ve learned about make absolute sense to use to follow. Except one – and we’re in a quandary about it. 

Accessible text contrast  

The guidance says that text should be at least four-and-a-half times darker than its background or vice versa – in other words, highly contrasting. 

However, it’s not uncommon to find that recommendations from dyslexia organisations stress the opposite to be best for their main audience, who can struggle the most with reading.

In fact, The British Dyslexia Association’s style guide recommends that designers of written materials for dyslexic readers should “avoid using contrast colours. Use dark (not black) text on a light (not white) background. Use less contrasted colours, such as cream-black. Avoid yellow-black, white-blue, and combination of grey. Each individual has their own most comfortable colours as long as it is not overly contrasted.” 

Dyslexia Scotland’s own dyslexia-friendly written communications guidance also recommends low-contrast colours, for example use of dark blue text on cream, pastel or off-white backgrounds.  

Have we been getting it wrong?

We know that it’s pretty difficult to get it right for everyone, but are we inadvertently excluding lots of the population by trying to be as dyslexia-friendly as possible, we are asking ourselves. 

Has the UK Government got it wrong, we dare wonder – is their recommendation inadvertently causing the dyslexic population to be excluded? 

Is there potentially a perfectly happy medium when it comes to finding the best text-background contrast for all readers, dyslexic ones included?  

We need to find out. And obviously we need the input of the dyslexic community. 

If you are a person with dyslexia, please help us by doing this very short survey. The survey asks you to rate the readability of a sentence in 6 colour combinations. 

Your responses could help us to make sure our content and materials are as accessible as possible, for as many people as possible. Plus, we’ll be able to refine our guidance for the web designers, UX designers and graphic designers who can make all of the content you view much more accessible to you. It’s all part of making Scotland more dyslexia friendly. 

Designers – have you been issued with optimum text/background contrast ratio guidance when designing for dyslexic readers? How does it compare with the WCAG recommendations of 4.5:1? We’d love to hear from you too. Contact [email protected]