Creating Accessible Emails

Your goal in creating accessible emails should be to maximize the readability of the email. Additionally, make sure that all information is presented in a way that ensures that all recipients will be able to access it. It should be noted that these principles apply to emails designed for mass distribution. Feel free to use all the GIFs and emojis you want when sending individual emails.

Creating accessible content includes simple and basic steps. The primary steps needed to create accessible documents are the same whether you are using Microsoft, Canvas, or Adobe.

  • Font: The font should be clean and easy to read. Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, and Verdana are preferred. Make sure the font is large enough that it can be read without assistance.
  • Appearance: Make sure there is a high contrast between the text and background. Standard requirements is typically 4.5:1 Also, create lots of white space to improve readability.
  • Color for emphasis: Related, one in 12 men are color blind (and 1 in 200 women). Information should never be conveyed only by color; for example, red font to emphasize a deadline. Use color-agnostic features such as bold or font size.
  • Built-in Functionality: Use built-in functions like columns, numbered and bulleted lists, page breaks, and indents. Also, check your work with Office’s built-in accessibility checker to highlight and fix potential issues.
  • Alternative text (alt-text) for images: Alt-text provides information about the picture for screen readers; for example, a picture of FDR might say “Franklin Roosevelt, surrounded by aides and photographers, signing the Lend-Lease Act into law in 1941.” You can add alt-text to an image by right-clicking, choosing “Format Picture” and adding your description.
  • Descriptive hyperlinks: Remember that screen readers will read the text of the link. Instead of hyperlinking “Click her to download the document” or “…” use descriptive words in the hyperlink, like “Click here to see a graph of enrollment over the last five years.”
  • Document Properties: Screen readers are multilingual. You can set your language in the document properties.
  • Descriptive Filename: Opening and closing files can be very difficult for some individuals. Make sure you have a descriptive file name such as “Potential Student Financial Aid Information” rather than “Doc1”

Additionally, here are some specific principles for Outlook.

  • Flyers: when embedding an informational flyer or image in your email, include the key information as text above the flyer, so that recipients unable to view the image can still access the information
  • Signature: Evaluate your signature for accessibility. Does it follow the principles above: readable text, high contrast, no image unless it has alt-text, no color to convey meaning?
  • Stationery: Avoid using stationery. Anything that changes the background will usually impact the color contrast of the email. Additionally most stationery is not dynamic and will not resize when the email is viewed on a mobile device.
  • Attachments: Remember that all attachments should be accessible as well.

Convenient guide from Microsoft regarding creating accessible Outlook emails