Accessibility: Beyond the Buzzword

Accessible design is so much more than color contrast

Neil Shankar

Stop the madness

Accessibility is #trending in the design community as of late. Specifically, there’s one aspect designers can’t seem to get enough of: color contrast. If I see one more contrast tool on ProductHunt, I’m going to lose my mind.


Micro-history lesson

  • You may be familiar with the *magic ratio* of 4.5:1 between text color and background color. This ratio is the “AA” standard for color contrast as set by WCAG 2.1.
  • The WCAG, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a list of criteria for accessible websites. Our magic ratio is 1 of the 58 criteria on this list.
  • The WCAG is maintained by W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium. W3C was founded by—and is currently directed by—a guy named Tim Berners-Lee, who literally invented the internet.
  • W3C released the first incarnation of the WCAG in 1999. Nearly two decades later, accessibility, or #a11y, is a big deal on my Twitter feed.
We’re good on contrast tools, folks.

What you can do

As I’ve previously written, color contrast is a great entry point. But accessible design is so much more than color contrast. If you want to dive deeper, here are some things you can do:

  • Make sure your UI design is compliant with the entire WCAG 2.1 AA list. Reduced motion is especially important, in my opinion. Then go for gold: try to hit the AAA rating in at least one category.
  • Learn more about your government’s accessibility initiatives. In the USA, a body called the General Services Administration maintains a list called Section 508, which is essentially a version of WCAG 2.1 that .gov websites are “required” to follow. Very few of them do, without consequence.
  • Write a VPAT, or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, and make it publicly available. A VPAT is the perfect place to tell the world how compliant your site is.
  • Try using a screen reader for a day. It will build empathy and, most likely, frustration. Channel this frustration into making the internet better.
  • Reach out to teams who maintain websites with accessibility violations. Offer your help. Hold them to a higher standard.
  • Invest effort into inclusion, usability, and localization. Accessibility is fundamentally connected to these causes.

At Google, our mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The world needs more than good color contrast.

Neil Shankar is a designer on Creative Engineering at Google, embedded through Left Field Labs. Visit tallneil.io.

Google Design

Stories by Googlers on the practice of design. For editorial content and more visit design.google

Neil Shankar

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UI designer by trade. Front-end developer by training. tallneil.io

Google Design

Stories by Googlers on the practice of design. For editorial content and more visit design.google