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Use of Color and Contrast Minimum (MS Word)

Background and Purpose

Color Use:

Don’t use color (or font, style, location on the page, etc.) as the only way of conveying information.

People who cannot differentiate between certain colors and those using monochrome displays and printers may not be able to see information conveyed solely with color.  Also, assistive technologies like screen readers won’t identify color or color changes.  If, for example, red is used as the sole means of denoting high priority content then some people may not know about its priority level.

Color Contrast:

Similar to the problem of using color as the only way to convey information, content authors need to be sure that there is sufficient contrast between the foreground and the background of their content.  Without sufficient contrast, people who are visually impaired may have a very difficult time seeing the content in a document.

The Purpose of this checkpoint is twofold:  First, to identify any information that is conveyed solely through the use of color and to ensure that the content is being conveyed some other way.  Second, to verify that there is sufficient contrast between the content and the background of the document.

Important Note:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and WCAG 2.0 (and, by extension, the Revised Section 508, t00) specify that there should be a minimum contrast ratio between foreground text and background color of 4.5:1.  Go to the webpage on how to meet the WCAG 2.0 checkpoint 1.4.3 for additional information on how to satisfy the color contrast requirements.


  1. The pages in the document that use color and therefore may potentially have color issues will be listed in the CommonLook Office panel.  Select the first page in the list.
  2. Use the “Show Filter” button to display a filter that removes color.
  3. Click and hold on the filter (or use the arrow keys on your keyboard) to move the lens over the document, identifying any information that may be conveyed solely through color use (for example, charts where color is the only means of identifying distinct data sets).
  4. If it is determined that information is conveyed solely by color, then edit the document until all such information is also conveyed using other means (for example, with a textual description).
  5. Use the arrow to the right of “Task” to continue verifying the other pages in the document.

Screenshot of the Color Checkpoint panel with the "Show Filter" button highlighted and the filter turned on.

Guidelines and Standards

This checkpoint is relevant to the following regulations, guidelines and standards:

DocumentPublishedScopeConformance Criteria
Section 508 – 2001 Regulations (USA)2001“Web-Based Information & Applications”(c)
W3C WCAG 2.0
(REVISED SECTION 508 – 2017)
2008Web ContentSC 1.4.1
SC 1.4.3
Health and Human Services – HHS (USA)2013PDF File 508 ChecklistID 1.13
ISO 14289 (PDF/UA)2012PDF TechnologySection 7.1