Dear Graphic Designers: Are your designs creating costly accessibility problems for your clients??

“What do you mean my website isn’t accessible because of the visual design?” the live audit client asked with irritation. I responded “Some of the colours you’re using make it difficult for people to see the information. In fact, the graph you’re using makes it impossible for 1 in 12 men who are colour blind to use.” “But we spent a lot of money on design“, the client explains, “why wasn’t the graphic designer aware of this; why didn’t the designer design for accessibility?”

It’s a hard question to answer. But as of this year, many more organizations will be asking it.

As of January 1, 2021, Ontario organizations with more than 50 employees are required to meet a new requirement with regards to their website.

Under the Accessibility for Ontario Disabilities Act (AODA) the website standard has moved from WCAG 2.0 A to AA. An extra A might not sound like a lot, but it brings visual design into the mix. That means graphic designers who designed websites that didn’t take accessibility into account, may have inadvertently made their clients websites inaccessible.

Graphic Design should remove barriers rather than create them.

Stack of Graphic Design BooksThe unfortunate part is that the only thing missing is that graphic designers aren’t aware of the issue. No designer that I know would consciously want to create issues and additional costs for clients and employers down the road. But it happens. Telus, a large Canadian cellular company is a perfect example. They discovered that their branding colours, including their logo, weren’t accessible. They spent years slowly shifting their colours, so customers wouldn’t notice the gradual change, to meet colour and contrast requirements. Think of the enormous cost of redoing websites, business cards, print, signs etc.

Is it only colour?

Laptop with squares of different colour blocksBut it’s not only colour that designers need to focus on. In fact, the number 1 issue identified this year by the annual audit of the top 1 million website pages visited, was contrast. The survey was conducted by WebAim ( It revealed that a shocking 86.4% of home pages were below the pass threshold for low contrast text. And low contrast affects everyone including you. Have you ever struggled to read or see content on a cell phone on a bright day?

Accessibility’s superpower: It focuses you on the visitor.

As a graphic designer do you want to:

A great way to ensure designers stay focused on functionality is baking accessibility checks right into the design process. Why? Because functionality is what web accessibility is all about. Its main purpose is to ensure everyone, including those with disabilities, have access to the information that they seek. And that means you need to focus on the visitor.

Good design focusses on providing the visitor with information quickly and easily. Great design makes it functional and beautiful.

How can you determine if your current website has a problem?

Tools and live audits. We have listed a few free tools on our website. A favourite is WebAim’s Wave Tool. Just enter your website and this automated testing tool will provide you with many of your website’s accessibility issues. On the results page, select the Contrast tab. Not only will issues be identified, but the tool allows you to play around and adjust the foreground and background colour till you pass. It’s an amazing education tool and highly recommended.

Our CMS Web Solutions one-hour live accessibility audit of your website is also an inexpensive and eye-opening way to identify problems. We’ll provide you with a recorded session which includes tools and solutions for the client, graphic designer, developer, and content producers.

So what is stopping organizations from focusing on the accessibility of design?

It starts at the top. Our experience indicates that leadership simply isn’t aware. Accessibility laws are being put in place around the world. Organizations are rapidly becoming aware and starting to demand that designs meet accessibility standards. And what organization wouldn’t want to make it effortless for their customers to buy their product or service?

So if you’re a designer, why not come hop on the accessibility path with us?

You’ll be better for it. And we’ll all benefit.