Why WCAG Guidelines Are Vital for Creating Effective Dashboards

By: Philippe Barzin | May 25th, 2023

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to ensure that web content is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Learn why it’s important to create dashboards for the visually impaired, the rules of color contrast, and how to apply these principles today.

ChatGPT seems to be all the craze these days, but have you heard about WCAG?

If you’re not familiar, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that provide a framework for making web content accessible to people with disabilities.

Why create dashboards for the visually impaired

There are several reasons why dashboards should be designed for visually impaired people—the most obvious of which is making them available to as many people as possible. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always a given. Here are five important reasons why you need to ensure your dashboards are designed for the visually impaired:

  1. Accessibility: According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide live with some form of visual impairment. By designing dashboards for visually impaired people, we can make data accessible to a wider audience, promoting inclusivity and equal access.
  2. Legal compliance: In many countries, including the United States, websites and digital products must comply with accessibility laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Failure to comply with these laws can result in costly lawsuits and fines.
  3. Competitive advantage: By designing dashboards that are accessible to visually impaired people, businesses can differentiate themselves from their competitors and demonstrate their commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. This can lead to increased customer loyalty and positive brand recognition.
  4. Innovation: Designing for visually impaired people requires creative problem-solving and innovation. By embracing accessibility as a design constraint, designers and developers can develop new and innovative solutions that benefit all users, not just those with visual impairments.
  5. User experience: Designing dashboards for visually impaired people can improve the user experience for all users. For example, providing alternative text for images and using high contrast color schemes can make data easier to understand and improve readability.

Color contrast

Color contrast is the difference in visual perception between two colors. Color contrast is important for web accessibility to ensuring that text and other visual elements on a web page are easily readable and distinguishable for all users, including those with visual impairments. The WCAG provide several rules for color contrast to ensure that web content is accessible to people with visual impairments:

Contrast ratio: Level AA requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text. WCAG Level AAA – ideal – requires a contrast ratio of at least 7:1 for normal text and 4.5:1 for large text. (14pt or 18pt bold).  Here is an example of non-compliant color contrast:

web content accessibility guidelines

This seems okay at first glance, but the foreground color is #FFFFFF and the background color is #0099E5, with a contrast ratio of 3.1:1. It does not pass the test.

  • Text color: Avoid using color alone to convey important information or to distinguish elements, such as links. Ensure that the text color is sufficiently different from the background color to meet the minimal contrast ratios.
  • Background color: Avoid using background colors that make text difficult to read, such as low-contrast combinations of light gray on white or yellow on white. Yup, all these nice-looking pastel dashboards are not a good idea.
  • Images and graphics: Ensure that the contrast between the text and any images or graphics is sufficient to meet the contrast ratio. For example, avoid using light-colored text on a light-colored image or graphic.
  • Testing: Use color contrast evaluation tools to test the contrast ratio of your web content. There are many free tools available online, such as the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker. I personally like the TPGI one.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your web content is accessible to everyone, regardless of their visual abilities.

Getting started

Here’s the TPGI interface (just use the color pickers for the foreground color and and make sure it identifies your current contrast ratio): 

web content accessibility guidelines

If you pass, congratulations! You just enabled your dashboard to help 1.3 billion more people worldwide. If you fail, I have another tool for you: the Accessible Color Generator.  It will give you suggestions on how to meet the AAA guidelines:

web content accessibility guidelines

Designing dashboards for visually impaired people can improve accessibility, legal compliance, competitive advantage, innovation, and user experience. Following WCAG, particularly color contrast guidelines, can ensure inclusivity and accessibility for everyone. Try using online tools like the TPGI interface or the Accessible Color Generator to test and improve your dashboard’s color contrast. 

Drop me a line to share what you think or any additional points I did not cover.

WCAG references
  1. “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview” by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): overview of the WCAG guidelines, their purpose, and how they apply to web content. It also explains the different levels of conformance (A, AA, and AAA) and provides links to the full guidelines and supporting resources.
  2. “Creating Accessible Dashboards” by Deque University: tips and best practices for designing accessible dashboards, including recommendations for color contrast, text alternatives, and keyboard accessibility; also includes examples and case studies.
  3. Visual Best Practices by Tableau: designing accessible dashboards specifically for data visualization; provides recommendations for color, text, and layout, and includes examples of accessible dashboard designs.
  4. “Accessible Color Palette Builder” by Accessible Colors: allows you to create a color palette that meets the WCAG guidelines for color contrast; input your primary and secondary colors and the tool will generate accessible variations.
  5. “Color Contrast Checker” by WebAIM: allows you to test the color contrast of your web content and provides feedback based on the WCAG guidelines; input your foreground and background colors and the tool will calculate the contrast ratio and indicate whether it passes or fails.
  6. https://chartability.fizz.studio/
  7. https://a11yweekly.com/
  8. https://pa11y.org/
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