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Font, Size and Color

The size of text and graphics impacts both usability and accessibility. Many non-disabled users want to view on-screen application output in an enlarged font without changing the actual content/formatting of the materials on which they are working. The ability to magnify the application work area may be essential for users with visual impairments, who might otherwise be unable to access the application.

  • Users may have difficulty reading small text, seeing small objects or targeting small icons and controls with a mouse.
  • Small fonts can cause eye-strain and make reading difficult or impossible for many users.
  • Screen elements with fixed sizes may be too small on high-resolution displays or exceed the screen size on small, hand-held devices.

Some common application features can enhance both usability and accessibility.

Display OptionDescription
Magnification Scales everything in the document to a user-selected ratio. Use of TrueType scalable fonts ensures that characters will remain clearly defined at almost any magnification level.
Draft Mode displays all text in a single font and size. Many applications allow the user to choose the draft font and size. Underlining or a similar form of highlighting is often used to indicate text to be rendered with special formatting (e.g., bold or italics). Draft mode also improves performance when running on systems with slower processors or little free memory.
Wrap to Window Re-flows paragraphs to fit the application window, rather than displaying line-breaks for hard copy output.

Color selection for application interface elements is a matter of personal preference for most users. However, for users with visual impairments, color selection may mean the difference between a useable and an inaccessible application. Furthermore, color and contrast requirements may differ from one user to another or for a single user over time.

  • Some visual impairments require low-contrast materials (e.g., yellow text/controls on a white background).
  • Some visual impairments require high-contrast materials (e.g., white text/controls on a black background).
  • Some users may consider a default color scheme quite legible, but find it causes eye-strain over time.

Patterned backgrounds may make it difficult for some users to discern the overlying text — it may be impossible for users with a visual or cognitive impairment. The readability of text against a background may vary greatly when viewed using different font sizes, color depths, screen resolutions, platforms and other display color combinations — including black and white. In some cases, it may be necessary for the user to disable a patterned background and use a solid color.

The use of color alone to convey information may be difficult or impossible to access for individuals who are color-blind, screen-reader users, individuals with low vision and individuals using a monochrome display or some hand-held devices. Whether merely personal preference or necessitated by a disability, a user should be able to manipulate the color and contrast of all application elements. An application should also support all system text attributes specified by the user.


  • Applications should provide a variety of display options (e.g., font, size, color and background selection).
  • Patterned backgrounds should be disabled when a Windows high-contrast setting is selected.
  • font, size or color alone should not be used to convey information.

Evaluation Tip: Print screen-shots on a black and white printer and verify that all information is conveyed.

Applications should use interface controls (e.g., menus, buttons and dialog boxes) that respect system font color and size settings.