The advancement and omnipresence of assistive technology and AI-powered digital assistants help people with and without disabilities interact in the digital world. However, the use of technology is only half of the way toward creating an inclusive environment. The other half is creating and designing accessible content. After all, the machine can read what is on the screen, and it is our task to design content that the technology can interpret in a meaningful way for people who rely on it.
We’ll go over accessibility guidelines that you can apply when you write your next email.
Use fonts that are easy to read; you can’t go wrong with Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Helvetica, Tahoma, or Verdana. Avoid decorative and cursive-based fonts as it may be difficult to distinguish the individual letters, which could be a challenge for everyone, particularly people with dyslexia. Keep the paragraph font size to 12 or 14 pt and avoid ALL CAPS.
Keep the paragraph left-aligned. Even though center-aligned paragraphs may look cool, they may be difficult to read if they are longer. Dyslexic people would have difficulties reading text that is centered on the page.
Use bullets or numbering list features
Using lists is a great way to make the content accessible as lists organize content in an ordered, linear manner, which makes it easy for screen readers to determine the logical reading order. Ordered lists and nested lists (lists within the lists) are recommended for accessibility instead of using tables to organize content.
Avoid using tables in emails
Information in tables is distributed in cells organized in rows and columns. Unless the cells are properly tagged to indicate the reading order, the screen readers cannot determine whether to read the information vertically or horizontally. When you right-click on the table you inserted in the email body, you can select the accessibility inspection option. However, unless you are familiar with the markup language (text-encoding system) that controls an email’s structure and formatting, you couldn’t properly tag the table cells, and that is the reason we advise against using tables in emails.
Embedding screenshots of tables in the email body text is not the best solution either, as you will have to manually add the text that appears in the table into the alt text field on the image, as described below.
The best solution is to type up the text in the email body and organize it as a list.
Add alt text to the images
Alt text (sometimes referred to as alt attributes, or alt descriptions) stands for alternative text, which is a brief description of the content of the image. Assistive technology reads alt text out loud to people with disabilities so they can comprehend the image content. When you add an image to the text of your email, right-click on the image and add the short image description in the alt text field.
Adding alt text is particularly important for embedding event posters in the body of an email. Make sure that you paste any text that appears in the poster into the alt text field, and that you repeat the most relevant information from the poster in the email body text.
An image of text is not processed as text
Your colleague took a screenshot of a PowerPoint slide containing the bullet-pointed text they saw in a presentation they attended virtually and emailed it to you. Screen readers and digital assistants cannot distinguish text in that screenshot. An email recipient who relies on screen readers would not be able to interact with the content of that email. If you do include a screenshot of text inline, always add alternative text to the image and type up the most important information from the image in the email message.
Pay attention to color contrast
If you highlight an important phrase in your email, use the color that makes the text stand out. For example, if the font color is black, and you highlight text using dark grey, the text will be lost in the background. Light background requires dark text and vice versa.
Make links accessible
Screen readers and digital assistants read out loud text on the page. If you make the link title the same as the URL, the person using the assistive technology will hear the entire URL starting with https//… That is daunting. Instead, use descriptive link titles like “read more about our campus resources.” Avoid using “click here” or similar as a link title, as those phrases may sound confusing when screen readers vocalize them.
Attach only accessible documents to emails
The email attachment feature lets you send a file(s) with your email message. The attached document or image must be accessible, and you will use different tools to make documents accessible, depending on the type of file. Learn more about the accessibility features of different types of documents.