You’ve probably thought about diversity and inclusion at your company, especially from the perspective of hiring and employees. But have you thought about how inclusive your email content is? If you’re not following email accessibility best practices, you could be excluding 20% or more of your readers. Get your message to as many people as possible using email accessibility best practices.

What is (email) accessibility?

Accessibility is about making places, information, and things available to everyone, including people with permanent, temporary, or situational disabilities. That’s a lot! In this article, we’re focused on email accessibility: How you can make your email content accessible to everyone. Because everyone wants emails that are easy to read and understand. Making your emails accessible helps.

What about that 20%? Why email accessibility matters

About 20% of the population has some type of disability. This statistic varies based on what a source considers to be a disability. Conservative estimates that consider only the most severe disabilities cite a 12-15% rate. Broader definitions that include conditions like dyslexia and color blindness (which are relevant to emails) cite rates of 20% or more. Many disabilities and situations will change how an individual experiences your email content. Here are some examples: 

Sight-Related Accessibility

Examples of Permanent Disabilities to Sight:

  • Blindness
  • Low vision
  • Color blindness

Examples of Temporary Impairments to Sight:

  • Cataracts
  • Pupil Dilation

Examples of Situational Limitations to Sight:

  • Dim screen on a low-battery device
  • Screen glare (bright, sunny day)
  • Emails viewed without images (slow internet, network policies, personal preference)

How your email can be more accessible in all of these examples:

  • Good contrast between text and background
  • Text is actual text, not an image of text
  • Use meaningful alt text
  • Hyperlink text that describes what you’re linking (“contextual links”)

Cognition-Related Accessibility

Examples of Permanent Disabilities to Cognition:

  • Photosensitive epilepsy
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Dyslexia
  • ADHD

Examples of Temporary Impairments to Cognition:

  • Second-language learner

Examples of Situational Limitations to Cognition:

  • Distracted or tired reader

How your email can be more accessible in all of these examples:

  • Avoid fast GIFs with rapid changes in contrast
  • Write succinctly and plainly

Best practices to make your email accessible

The guiding principles of accessibility come with a useful acronym: POUR. Your email needs to be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. 

What is Perceivable email content?

Your email is perceivable when your contact can identify the content and its interactive parts, like links or AMP elements. Many people will perceive your email visually. Others will use screen readers to hear the content read aloud, or they may use Braille readers to read the content through touch. 

Make your email perceivable by using text, not images of text. Style your links to look different from the rest of your text, but don’t use color alone – underline it, too. Using only color to indicate links may not work for people with color blindness. If you link an image, make it visually clear that it’s a link by including something that looks like a button. With so many people reading your email on mobile devices, you can’t rely on a hovering cursor to indicate an image is clickable.

Email courtesy Really Good Emails

What is Operable email content?

For content to be operable means it’s interactive in the way it’s meant to be. Links work, users can scroll when the email is longer than their device, and emails need to work on many devices, and in different email clients. Recipients should be able to navigate the content of your email by scrolling or using keyboard navigation, like tabbing through links. Most likely, your email can be navigated in these ways, but we have seen examples before where something like an iframe (which is usually best to avoid, anyway) in an email made scrolling impossible. Test your email template to make sure it works as intended.

What is Understandable email content?

‘Using big words makes you sound smart’ is a myth. Studies show that overly-complex writing sacrifices credibility, even with our most highly-educated audiences. Make your writing easy to understand! For example, banish the word “utilize” from your vocabulary and just use “use”! All of your readers will appreciate plain language. This is especially true for people reading in their non-native language or those who have some cognitive disabilities. 

What is Robust email content?

For your email content to be robust means it can be accessed using any technology that’s made for people to use for email. That includes mobile devices, screen readers, or even a smartwatch! Start by making sure your text is at least 14px large, and check that your text has good contrast with your email background. Don’t use images of text. Not only will a screen reader miss the message, but the image won’t scale well for different screen sizes, and it won’t show up in an inbox search.

Inbox Search Example

Inbox search example showing how image-only emails will not show up in search

I’m in the market for rugs, and I’ve joined a few companies’ mailing lists over the past month as I’ve researched options. Now that I’m ready to buy, I search my inbox for “rugs” to see if there are any deals to consider. Unfortunately, the emails from Home Depot and Overstock don’t show up in my inbox search results because their mentions of “rugs” were in image-only emails.

 

The emails we send should be easy to read and understand for everyone, including people with disabilities.

In addition to the email accessibility best practices we’ve spelled out here, the team at SparkPost is here to help you make accessibility an intentional part of your entire email creation process, from start to finish. Our new Email Accessibility Checklist will guide you to make positive changes to your emails and make sure everyone is able to enjoy your message.

~ Snaedis Valsdottir, SparkPost Product Manager, Email Cloud Delivery

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