Andrews, A. 2019, Making graphs and charts accessible, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno

Images of graphs and charts are inherently inaccessible. Information in them is not conveyed at all to people who are viewing them using a screen reader. And, information in graphs and charts can be hard to read for people with colorblindness or low vision. To make our graphs and charts as accessible as possible for all viewers, we should design our graphs and charts with accessibility and universal design principles in mind, and include extra information with our graphs and charts.

Why make graphs and charts accessible

This is not only the right thing to do and the thing to do if we want our information to reach all of the communities we serve, it's required by law, University policy and our legal agreement with the Office for Civil Rights. 

The University of Nevada, Reno ("the University") is committed to diversity and to ensuring that our programs, services and activities are accessible to all. Part of that commitment will be seen in work to safeguard that our website conforms to accessibility standards, thereby satisfying the requirements of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to make this website comply with the ADA (Title II) and Section 504 of the Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act.

-University Commitment to Accessibility

The University seeks Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is universal in design and accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. In the event this is technically infeasible or imposes undue burden, the University ensures an equally effective accessible alternative. All ICT must meet the applicable accessibility standards set forth in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Sec. 508), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA), and University of Nevada, Reno Benchmarks for Measuring Accessibility.

The ICT Accessibility Policy applies to all technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information employed in support of the University's Mission and Core Themes. Examples of this technology include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Website
  • Learning management systems
  • Content delivered in electronic form (e.g. PDF)
  • Software
  • Instructional content
  • Videos

Technology accessibility is an institution-wide responsibility. Technology access for individuals with disabilities must provide comparable functionality, affordability, and timeliness of service delivery. Products and services must be usable by the greatest number of people including individuals with disabilities. 

-University Accessibility Policy

Things to think about when designing graphs and charts

  • Title graphs and charts descriptively.
  • Label axes clearly.
  • Add labels for each line or bar.
  • Add values to bar charts.
  • Use colors that have enough contrast to each other and the chart’s background color.
  • Stay away from combinations of colors that people with colorblindness have trouble perceiving:
    • Blue & grey
    • Blue & purple
    • Light green & yellow
    • Green & black
    • Green & blue
    • Green & brown
    • Green & grey
    • Green & red
  • Make sure the graph or chart is readable in black and white / grayscale.
  • Use patterns, texture and/or symbols in your graphs and charts so that no information in them is conveyed only by color. (Example: Dot the blue line and dash the black line in your line chart and your line chart’s key.)
  • Stay away from special effects.

Include extra information with graphs and charts

Then, include a text summary of the graph or chart and a properly coded table of the data in the graph or chart near the graph or chart. And, in the alternate text of the graph or chart, very succinctly state the type of chart, what key trends it’s showing and “See table for data.” Also describe trends shown by the graph or chart, conclusions, and calculations in the surrounding text.

Features of a properly coded table

  • Caption
  • Column and row headers
  • Data cells associated with their headers
  • No blank or merged data cells

Learn more about the author(s)