The advertising industry spends billions a year to put flashy, well-designed ads in front of you with crafty messaging delivered in coercive ways to get you to spend money on the things you (may or may not) need. It is an industry of creative minds merging with data heads to make sure their ads are seen at exactly the right time, but what happens when the ad is delivered at the right time and in the right location, but the customer doesn’t see it? This is happening every day, but not because the customer doesn’t want to see your ad.

In Australia, there are approximately 357,000 people who are blind or have low vision – that number combined with the approximately 8.4% of the population who have colour blindness creates a sufficient segment of the population who could simply not see your ad. These numbers are expected to continue rising as our population ages and the need for accessible advertising will increase. Simple design flaws can be found almost every day in advertisements; things like using white text on an orange or light blue background, or the currently favoured grey on light grey designs – these all are inaccessible to large groups of the population.

If you are reading this and thinking back over your designs in horror, don’t worry you are not alone, I’ve spent a few nights awake thinking of how my designs would have failed simple accessibility. The good news, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) written by the W3C have you covered. Whilst they are designed specifically for web content, WCAG 2.1 covers a range of colour contrast and readability issues that apply for printed media as well. The way WCAG 2.1 analyses colour contrast is through a very technical mathematical formula and even luckier for us there a group of companies that have released contrast checkers, so we don’t have to crunch the numbers ourselves. WebAIMContrast Checker, and Accessible Colours all have created online contrast checkers and the Paciello Group have created a downloadable checker for both Mac and Windows users.

Matthew Putland, Senior Accessibility Analyst at Centre for Inclusive Design, recommends having a contrast ratio of at least 7:1 for your text and allowing a 4:5:1 ratio for small text and a 3:1 ratio for larger texts. “Large text is defined as being 14pt and bold or 18pt or higher, which most text on a poster would likely meet unless the poster is more informative and text-heavy. These lower contrast ratios can give your designers more flexibility around what colours to choose, as often the 7:1 ratio can be restricting at times” said Putland.

At Centre for Inclusive Design, we’ve compiled a quick six-point guide for you to consider when designing any sort of advertising:

  • Consider how much content is being portrayed, the busier the poster is the harder it is for people with cognitive disabilities to read – this also helps people without any disability, no chance of your message getting lost.
  • If you’re doing printed advertisements, consider the paper and location. High gloss paper often has a sheen over it that will reflect nearby light making your ad harder to read for everyone. Digital billboards should also take note.
  • Colour plays a huge role in design but refrain from using it to indicate information alone – always try to pair it up with text to portray the right information. Males (who make up 8% of the 8.4% of those with colour blindness) commonly suffer red-green blindness, so rethink that Christmas brochure before it goes to print.
  • Font and font weight are an easy fix, skinny fonts with large serifs to look fancy often make readability difficult for those with vision impairments and cognitive disabilities. Play it safe and find a good sans-serif font that looks great in bold.
  • If you’re having trouble working with your brand colours, consider adding shading behind the text or adding an outline to define it. White text with a black outline can work with pretty much every colour scheme and still pass colour contrast tests.
  • There are no “good” or “bad” colours for vision impairment, and there will always be a degree of personal choice for what colour pairing they prefer. Providing enough contrast will help ensure that no matter what their preference is your advertisement is still readable.

Centre for Inclusive Design is a social enterprise that helps government, educators, business and community organisations design and deliver products, services and experiences that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible. For more information visit

This article was written by Scott Sumner and technical information was provided by Matthew Putland.