Email Accessibility relates to the creation of email content that is accessible, usable and readable so that the email can reach the greatest amount of readers including readers with disabilities.
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Why Must Emails be Accessible?
In today’s digital age, email is one of the most common methods of communicating information to a wide range of readers. However, emails that lack accessibility markup prevent readers with disabilities from accessing and reading the email content. Creating accessible emails not only provides access to readers with disabilities, it also improves the overall readability of the email for all readers.
In order to create an accessible email, the following items must be taken into consideration:
Most email applications allow users to format an email into a plain text, rich text and/or HTML format. It is important to choose a format that is most suitable for your email content that is capable of reaching the greatest amount of readers.
- Plain Text Format: plain text emails are emails that are simply plain text. This format does not provide any structure or formatting to an email but it is still a useful format as it is compatible with all email applications and can be understood by assistive technology. This email format is recommended for emails that do not require any structure or formatting such as daily correspondence emails. Moreover, in email marketing, plain text format is a useful alternative to have if a reader is unable to fully access the HTML email format.
- Rich Text Format: Rich text email format allows users to incorporate select structure and formatting features including headings, list, bold, underline and links. However, although this format can enhance the look and feel of an email, depending on the formatting used, it may not be compatible with all email applications. Moreover, some of the structure and formatting may not be recognized by assistive technology.
- HTML Format: HTML email format is the most common and recommended format to create an accessible email. This format is capable of supporting HTML web accessibility coding and technique to enhance the readability of an email. However, the accessibility of an HTML email also depends on the complexity of the email. It may be difficult to create highly complex emails, such as marketing emails, into fully accessible emails. Alternative email formats (e.g. plain text) may be required in addition to HTML format to ensure all readers can access the email content.
When email content is organized properly, it makes it easier for readers to process information. Headings and list are simple ways to organize content.
Headings can organize related information by topics or category, thus making it easier for readers to make connections. Headings are also important for assistive technology users as they allow easier navigation to information.
Lists also organize an email content by grouping related material into key points or numerical processes. Ultimately, the more organized the email content appears; the easier it will be for readers to understand the information in the email.
Text an email must always be clear and easy to read. The way text is written and how it is visually displayed on a screen play an important role in the clarity and readability of an email.
Written text is the most important aspect of an email. Written text is what connects a reader to the email and must therefore always be easy to understand for maximum reader comprehension. Written text must be clear and simplistic in an email and the tone and language must be appropriate to ensure the audience remains engaged.
Text that is too small or font that is difficult to read can create barriers to the readability of an email content. If color is used to distinguish text, the color used should be clear enough so that there is enough color contrast between the text color and background color. When the text and background colors are too similar, readers may have difficulties understanding the text. Do not use color or font size to emphasize important content. Screen readers do not translate color or font size to readers, therefore, the reader will miss out on the highlighted information. Instead, we recommend using font styles such as bold, underline and italics to highlight content.
Links are important tools that can redirect a reader to related content. When it comes to accessibility, the link text and link display are important to ensure all readers can access a link.
In order for a link to be functional, a link must be clear and properly describe where the link is going to take a user. Link phrases such as “click here”, “more information”, and “read more” should be avoided as they are misleading to readers.
When adding links, color must also be taken into consideration. If color is used to distinguish a link, the color contrast between the link color and background color must be enough to ensure the link can be easily distinguished. However, color should not be the only method to distinguish a link. BEST PRACTICE is to always underline links.
Depending on the email format used, images can be directly embedded into an email content. If an image is embedded that conveys meaning to an email, a text description of the image is required. The text description of the image must clearly describe the intent of that image in the email. To learn how to write text descriptions for images visit UDC’s Best Practices for Accessible Images page. Text descriptions can be added in the form of a caption or alternative text.
- Caption: text description visible on the page. If using this method the caption can be inserted within the content of the email or below the image.
- Alternative text (recommended)*: text description not visible on the page but available to users who require a screen reader to access information.
- *NOTE: It is not possible to add alternative text in some email applications.
When adding attachments to an email, the files attached must also be accessible. Always review files beforehand to ensure they meet accessibility requirements. In addition, the name of the attached file should also be considered. The file name must always be clear and directly related to the content of the file. Often time users will leave the generic file names, which can be misleading to readers and can reduce the credibility of the material being provided. Properly named attachments provide readers a greater sense of security and will increase the likelihood that a reader will open the attached file. When attaching a video ensure that a transcript or captions are provided.
Video Credit: The University of Alabama, Technology Accessibility - Creating Accessible Emails (total length 41:28 mins)
Creating Accessible Emails Segmented Videos
- HTML vs Plain Text (start time: 2:41)
- Describe Visual Objects with Alternative Text (Alt Text) (start time: 5:12)
- Images of Text (start time: 6:59)
- Hyperlinks (start time: 9:53)
- Color Contrast (start time: 14:32)
- Accessible Font Format (start time: 17:55)
- Build-in Headings and Styles (start time: 21:30)
- Bullets and Numbers List (start time: 27:51)
- Tables (start time: 29:09)
- General Tips (start time: 30:28)
- Stationery and Themes in Outlook (start time: 30:43)
- Accessibility Checker (start time: 34:10)
- Office 365 Web Accessibility Checker (start time: 38:57)