Icon of a color wheel


Pretty or pretty hard to read?

Color can bring your instructional material alive, but using color the wrong way can create many accessibility issues. Best practice – prioritize readability over creativity.

There may be items on this page that are inaccessible for individuals with some forms of disability. These items are necessary for illustrating differences between accessible and inaccessible content. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Shelby@thada.org




Color can cause a lot of readability challenges for many students, but one group that finds color especially challenging is our colorblind students.

The National Eye Institute reports that 1 in 12 men in the U.S. are have some form of colorblindness. Think about that – 1 in 12 of your male students is colorblind. 

It is also important to note that colorblindness is not considered a disability under the ADA, which means that colorblind students are not necessarily disclosing this limitation to their university or their professors. They’re just… used to navigating through education without accommodations. 

Example of a PowerPoint slide from my class.

Screenshot of a PowerPoint slide using six different colors.

Student response to this very PowerPoint.

I really like your PowerPoints. I am keeping them for future use. My one complaint is that some of them are not colorblind friendly.

Former Student

What my student was actually seeing.

Screenshot of a PowerPoint slide using six different colors but with a colorblind filter applied.


Color Contrast

It’s tempting to use color to diversify boring old black and white text and screens. Color can make PowerPoint slides, course shells, and any document more creative, attractive, and engaging. But we have to make sure we’re using the right colors combinations. Using contrastive colors is key! 

Use very dark colors on very light backgrounds.

Use very light colors on very dark backgrounds.

Avoid using dark colors on dark backgrounds.

Avoid using light colors on light backgrounds.


Emphasize Importance

Sometimes we use color to emphasize the importance of something:

The deadline for the assignment is this Thursday.

But a color blind student sees:

The deadline for the assignment is this Thursday.

Communicate Meaning

Sometimes we use color to communicate meaning.

Nouns are in green and verbs are in orange.

The cat is going home.

But a color blind student sees:

Nouns are in green and verbs are in orange.

The cat is going home.

Also, consider that a blind student using a screen reader will also not be able to understand the meaning of this sentence. 

How do we fix it?

Using color for emphasis is not a problem, as long as not having access to that color doesn’t change the meaning of the information you are trying to share.

If seeing color is necessary for understanding the information, then you will need to devise a new way to share that information. For example, in the following example, I am still using color to highlight the different parts of speech, but my introductory text is more explicit, which allows a student who is color blind to still follow the information, and a student who is blind to still understand the information if it is being read by a screen reader.

The nouns are “cat” and “home”, and the verbs are “is” and “going”.

The cat is going home.


What to avoid.

Start by initially avoiding the following color combinations, which are especially hard on color blind people:

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

See it how they see it.

This website page on Coloring for Colorblindness allows you to play with color and see how those colors transpose for various forms of colorblindness.

Color contrast checker.

If you’re someone who is a little more savvy with color (e.g., familiar with how to use Hex Codes), then this website page called “Contrast Checker”  allows you to actually compare the accessibility of two different colors. As a note, a good contrast ratio is at least 4.5:1.

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