Older adult accessibility Issue 1: Contrast and Readability

Posted by Paul Crichton Head of Accessibility on 27th June 2017.

“Reading is too much like hard work when the text and the page background colours are too similar.”

Several people in our interviews talked about contrast. That’s not surprising. Peak eyesight comes around the age of 30, and as we get older our eyesight generally get worse – by the age of 65, corrective eyewear is near universal.

In addition, our sensitivity to contrast gets worse. Some of our respondents were especially scathing about grey text on a light grey background combination. Older adults also suffer from diminished light perception, which means that everything is just that bit darker and murkier.

Does your website have a problem?

Look at your website on a mobile device on a sunny day. If the glare from the screen makes it hard to read, then you may have a contrast issue. There are a variety of free tools that are available to measure contrast, such as Vision Australia’s Colour Contrast Analyser


When you are prototyping designs, try some with real content instead of placeholder copy. This will make you read rather than scan text, which may help you recognise if there is a problem.

How to make things better

For normal sized, body text a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 is recommended by the W3C in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as a minimum. The highest level of conformance requires a contrast ratio of 7:1. To give those figures context, the contrast ratio of black text on a white background is 21:1, so there is plenty of scope to use a wide colour palette.

Remember too, to think about the contrast provided by links embedded into text, and make sure that they can be easily differentiated. Reduced colour sensitivity makes it harder to distinguish similar colours like black and navy blue. It is good practice to include a second visual indicator – such as an underline – to make sure that links can be easily seen.

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Next: Older adult accessibility issue 2: Text size and readability


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Introduction to digiboomers

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