How to Design an Accessible Web Site for People with Color-Deficient Vision

February 19, 2024

Modern Web design frequently relies on the strategic use of color to communicate information effectively. For instance, red might signify an error or a value missing from a field, while green is often associated with success. While these color-coded cues enhance the user experience for the majority of users, they pose significant challenges to the 300 million individuals globally with color deficits.

In this article, I’ll explain the importance of crafting color-accessible Web sites and explore some practical tips on designing Web sites that are friendly to individuals who have some form of color-deficient vision.

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Understanding the Importance of Designing a Color-Accessible Web Site

Contrary to the misconception that the term color-deficient vision implies, individuals whose vision has color deficits can perceive pigmentation, but they perceive colors differently and struggle with distinguishing specific colors. The three primary types of color-vision deficiency are as follows:

  • red-green color-vision deficiency—This is the most prevalent type of color deficit and causes confusion between red and green.
  • blue-yellow color-vision deficiency—This form is less common and leads to confusion between blue and yellow.
  • monochromacy—This is the rarest form, in which individuals cannot perceive any colors.

While a focus on color accessibility primarily aims to enhance the user experience for those with vision impairments, it also offers tangible benefits for your business, including the following:

  • including all users—As a business owner, embracing digital inclusivity becomes a moral imperative. Regardless of factors such as race, skin color, region, and physical ability, creating Web sites that cater to all users aligns a business with ethical standards.
  • improving the general user experience—Color-vision deficiency accessibility guidelines not only benefit users with visual challenges but also enhance the experience of those with normal vision. Prioritizing accessibility also leads to increased organic traffic, lower bounce rates, and improved conversion rates.
  • legal compliance—Ensuring color accessibility is not just good practice, it is often a legal requirement. Failure to comply with accessibility guidelines may lead to legal repercussions, depending on your location. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) highlights the potential for legal action if we deny users with disabilities equal opportunities to access digital platforms.

Avoiding legal complications is not just a matter of adhering to regulations but also of safeguarding your business’s public image and financial returns. Legal issues can deter potential customers and negatively impact your brand reputation.

Best Practices for Designing for People with Color-Deficient Vision

Designing an accessible Web site for individuals with color deficits doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning color altogether. Instead, it requires taking a deliberate approach to color usage. Let’s consider some key best practices for designing with color-vision deficiency in mind.

Don’t Rely Only on Color

A fundamental aspect of color-deficiency accessibility involves ensuring that you convey vital information on Web pages through some additional means other than color. This guideline applies to diverse Web-page elements such as buttons, charts, icons, and graphs. As I’ll discuss next, there are two practical ways of implementing this guideline.

Color Deficient–Friendly Data Visualizations

Complex data visualizations, including bar charts and graphs, can pose challenges for individuals with a color deficiency. To address this problem, consider alternative ways of communicating information within graphs that do not rely solely on color. Here are some tips on how to make data visualizations color-deficient friendly:

  • Choose the right colors. Select colors that are easily distinguishable by everyone, irrespective of their color deficits. Given the various color-perception issues, it can be challenging to cater to all users, but you should avoid color combinations such as green/red, blue/gray, green/brown, and green/blue.
  • Incorporate different shapes, patterns, textures, or labels. Enhance readability by incorporating various geometrical shapes, line patterns, fill textures, or labels in your plots. This ensures improved clarity for all users, including those who have color-vision deficiencies.

Color Deficient–Friendly Buttons

In designing user-interface components for Web sites and applications, it is crucial that you never rely solely on color to convey their meaning. Whether you’re designing maps, charts, or buttons, avoid using color alone to signify important information. Instead, to ensure a user experience that works for everyone, incorporate shapes, icons, and words into your designs.

Incorporate Textures and Patterns

Patterns and textures play a crucial role in helping color-deficient users visualize content. This is especially the case when dealing with data visualizations such as graphs and pie charts. Given the significance of color differences in these visualizations, opting for colors with a low contrast ratio can hinder interpretation by color-deficient users. Therefore, I recommend taking the following approaches for formatting data segments:

  • Use patterns and textures. Integrate patterns and textures to facilitate users’ distinguishing between different segments effortlessly.
  • Add text labels. Enhance clarity by including text labels for each segment, making interpretation even easier for users. This is particularly helpful for those with color deficiencies because it helps them comprehend the information you’re presenting.

Add Labels

Incorporating labels on your Web site significantly enhances the user experience for color-deficient individuals. While textures and patterns serve as effective design elements in charts and graphs, the inclusion of labels further improves their clarity. This becomes crucial for users with color-vision deficiencies, who might struggle in distinguishing different colors or shades without descriptive text.

Labeling is particularly vital in differentiating items on your Web site, in addition to using color. For instance, on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, descriptive text labels are indispensable in enabling color-deficient users to differentiate between a red, orange, or green shirt.

Adding text labels to color filters not only enhances their accessibility for individuals with color-vision deficiencies but also benefits users with normal vision. Colors such as white, off-white, and light gray, which can be challenging to differentiate on monitors, become more easily discernible with text labels.

As an additional advantage, the inclusion of labels helps users who rely on screen readers, empowering them to make more informed buying decisions.

Use Bold

Individuals with color-vision deficiencies find it easier to comprehend thicker, more pronounced lines. To enhance visibility, avoid using thin slivers of color and ensure that links are bold and well defined. This strategy is particularly effective in emphasizing elements such as call-to-action (CTA) buttons.

Employ Value Contrast

In designing an accessible Web site for individuals with color-deficient vision, prioritizing value contrast is paramount. Value—that is, the lightness or darkness of a color—becomes crucial for those with color deficiencies. Ideally, you should use distinct contrasts in value to enhance visibility and legibility. You should also utilize dark text on a light background or vice versa to ensure essential information is easily discernible by readers. This approach not only accommodates users with color-deficient vision but also enhances the overall usability and inclusivity of your Web site.

Avoid Combining Certain Colors

Certain color combinations pose challenges for color-deficient users, due to either their low contrast ratios or users’ difficulties in differentiating certain colors. Avoid using the following color combinations in your user-interface designs whenever possible:

  • Green-Red
  • Green-Blue
  • Green-Brown
  • Green-Black
  • Green-Grey
  • Blue-Grey
  • Light Green-Yellow
  • Blue-Purple

These color combinations can be challenging for people with color deficiencies. Plus, the use of most of these color combinations for your Web site would result in themes that are not aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, it is important to use color combinations that are not only suitable for color-deficient users but are also aesthetically pleasing.

Pay Careful Attention to Color Contrast

Proper color contrast is crucial for individuals with color deficiencies, especially for red/green, red/black, or blue/yellow color combinations. Without sufficient contrast between differently colored elements, individuals with color-vision deficiencies could struggle to differentiate between them.

Adjusting brightness and tone isn’t just a good practice for color-vision accessibility; it is a fundamental design principle. Achieving contrast through both brightness and tone rather than relying solely on pigmentation not only supports accessibility but also contributes to a more aesthetically pleasing design.

Ensure that your color palette accommodates individuals with various types of color-vision deficiency. Utilize a tool such as Adobe’s Accessible Color Palette Generator to check whether your Web-site designs are color-deficient safe.

Ensure That Text Is Legible

Legible text is crucial for an inclusive Web design. To accommodate individuals with color-vision deficiencies, prioritize achieving high contrast between text and background colors. Use dark text on a light background or vice versa to enhance legibility. Steer clear of low-contrast combinations that could impede the legibility of text for those with visual impairments. Also choose clear, easily readable fonts to ensure a positive reading experience for all users, irrespective of their color-vision abilities. Prioritizing legibility contributes significantly to the overall accessibility and usability of your Web site.

Mark Required Form Fields

Color-deficient users could struggle in differentiating between required and optional fields if color were the sole indicator. Instead, opt for the following alternatives:

  • Use an asterisk (*). Mark required fields with an asterisk (*) for their clear identification.
  • Label them as Required or Optional. Enhance clarity by labeling fields with the words Required or Optional, providing an additional visual cue.
  • Remove optional fields. Simplify the form by removing optional fields—thus, reducing potential confusion for color-deficient users.


Designing color-accessible Web sites is not just a technical consideration but represents a commitment to ensuring digital spaces are welcoming to everyone, regardless of their color-vision abilities. The insights I’ve shared in this article underscore the significance of thoughtful design practices for individuals who have color deficiencies.

From embracing the use of diverse patterns and textures to paying meticulous attention to color contrast, each design element contributes to a more inclusive digital experience. By adhering to these best practices, we can not only enhance accessibility for millions of people but also foster the creation of a more ethical, user-centric, and legally compliant online presence. Remember, accessible design is not just good for business; it is a cornerstone of a more equitable digital future. 

CEO and Founder at Be Accessible

Los Angeles, California, USA

David GevorkianDavid started Be Accessible because of his passion for Web-site accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions, creating Web sites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating Web user interfaces that are usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.  Read More

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