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10 Tips to Optimize Email Accessibility

Dec 13, 2018

What is email accessibility? Simply put, it’s the art of crafting emails that everyone can use and understand — including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, mobility, or other disabilities. Email accessibility means honoring diversity and practicing inclusion, two fundamental values in today’s business world, but also making sure your company updates, promotional information, and all communications reach all of your customers or potential customers.

In fact, for those analyzing the impact of email accessibility solely from a business perspective, revenue generation might be its most compelling advocacy argument. According to Emma, the email marketing platform, 59% of B2B marketers say email is their most effective channel for revenue generation. When we consider that the CDC recently reported that 25% of US adults have a disability, that’s a huge market segment that shouldn’t be ignored.

By ignoring accessibility best practices, companies exclude a large percentage of their audience, missing out on important opportunities. That makes ensuring email accessibility not just important for compliance — but essential to the bottom line.

So, how exactly can a company make their emails more understandable and user-friendly?

10 tips to improve email accessibility

  1. Keep the content simple. Aim for simple, concise, and understandable writing. Complicated syntax and words drastically reduce readability, potentially steering readers away from the message you’re trying to convey.
  2. Use larger font sizes. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but consider aiming for font sizes 14 pixels and larger. This helps many people, including some people with dyslexia or low vision.
  3. Use color mindfully. Color is an important element of branding and design, but it presents accessibility challenges when not used thoughtfully. Colors should have sufficient contrast to be visible to most people, with most text requiring a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1. Additionally, color by itself should not be the only means of conveying information or prompting a response. You can check the contrast of any web page using the a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator.
  4. Balance text with images. Breaking up long chunks of content with images can go a long way toward keeping your readers engaged, but also makes it much easier for some people to consume. For example, some of your email recipients might understand visual depictions more than long sentences, or might benefit even more from visual accompaniment to reinforce what they’re reading.
  5. Have a text alternative for images and non-text content. Around 253 million people live with visual impairment. Alt text ensures people who can’t see your image understand what it is and why it’s important.
  6. Make it design responsive. A responsive email helps content display optimally and read properly on different devices, including smartphones and tablets. Think of how important this is today and moving forward, as mobile usage continues to eclipse desktop. Remember, even on a desktop, some people may zoom their displays to high levels — it’s important that doing so doesn’t cause issues with content or functionality. Read: Improve Mobile Website and App Accessibility.
  7. Use semantic elements. Use paragraph and heading tags just as you would on a web page, so everything renders correctly and people can consume and navigate the content without issue.
  8. Use a role of “presentation” on layout tables. Using tables for formatting purposes is not in-line with accessibility best practices, but it’s a common email practice — if you’re going to use tables for formatting and layout purposes, be sure to add role=“presentation” to the table elements. This will instruct assistive technologies to still read the content but ignore the properties of the table.
  9. Use meaningful and clear hyperlinks. Hyperlink text should be clear and descriptive. “Click here” doesn’t offer people using screen readers, for example, much information about what action the link will perform if they’re navigating in certain ways like through a link list. Writing descriptive copy for your links will help people decide if they want to further engage. When it’s appropriate, even try including the full title of the destination page. Read: Quick Guide to Accessible Hyperlinks.
  10. Add captions and transcripts to your videos. We sometimes think of people who are deaf as the only people who benefit from captions and people who are blind as the only ones who benefit from transcripts. If this were true, that would of course be reason enough to include these elements — but what about when someone is on a train and they don’t want someone hearing what they’re watching, or when someone needs more time to digest the content and want to read the transcript? These scenarios and countless others highlight the need for text alternatives to time-based media. Many platforms, like YouTube, offer auto captioning that you and edit to make more accurate.

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