Let’s imagine the following scenario: you are a teacher, and your student is reading your email on their phone while traveling on a crowded train, but the font size is too small for the mobile device, so they have to keep using the pinch-to-zoom gesture to zoom in and out. That may be a challenge while holding coffee, a bag, and a pole.

Digital Assistants

Many people use digital (virtual) assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc. Activated by voice, digital assistants can perform a plethora of tasks, such as checking the weather, playing music, placing calls, and reading emails out loud. Creating accessible emails makes life easier for busy college students and faculty who rely on digital assistants.

Assistive Technologies

Let’s discuss how people with disabilities interact with email content. They most likely use some form of assistive technology defined by the Department of Educational Services (DDS) of the State of Connecticut as a “piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities (DDS).” CUNY Assistive Technology Services (CATS) provides support to CUNY faculty and students using those technologies.

Adhering to the accessibility standards, assistive technology software is integrated into the computer and mobile device operating systems with features that help users with:

  • hearing
  • vision
  • physical & motor challenges
Accessibility on Desktop & Laptop Devices

On PC and laptop devices, the keyboard and the mouse are used to navigate the screen reader. In iOS, accessibility options can be accessed from the System Preferences menu. In Windows operating systems, select the Ease of Access (Windows 10) or Accessibility (Windows 11) option from Settings. You can test out your operating system’s accessibility features to better understand how people with disabilities use these technologies. Recognizing how assistive technologies interpret on-screen elements will help you in the process of designing accessible content, including emails. 

Accessibility on Mobile Devices

The data aggregated by Statista shows that almost 60% of users worldwide access the Internet via mobile devices. Mobile devices have built-in accessibility features that aid users with hearing, vision, and physical/motor impairments using touch and swipe navigation.

Screen Readers

People with visual impairments often use screen readers that convert the screen content (e.g., text, images, and buttons) into speech and braille. In the video below, Marc Sutton from the University of California, San Francisco’s IT department demonstrates how screen readers help a person with visual impairment read and skim through the text at various speeds; he also illustrates how the design that does not adhere to accessibility standards prevents a person with disability interact with the content even though they are using the assistive technology.

In the video above, Sutton explained how poor design can leave out many people from the daily interactions that most of us take for granted. You don’t have to be a web developer to implement the best practices in creating accessible content. In the next section, we’ll go over some simple guidelines that will help you write accessible emails so that no reader will be left out.

Universal Design for Learning

Teaching & Learning professionals advocate for the Universal design for learning (UDL) approach to adjust the learning content, teaching methodology, and strategies to the needs of all learners’ needs and abilities. The UDL principles encompass designing content that provides the learners with multiple ways to grasp information, options to express their knowledge, and alternative ways to engage with the content. Accessible email correspondence is a crucial component in course interactions regardless of modality.

Accessibility Laws and Policies

CUNY Policy on Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination

The policy establishes equal opportunity and non-discrimination practices in the City University of New York, defines prohibited conduct, and outlines procedures for reporting discrimination and/or retaliation.

Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life…

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity operated by recipients of federal funds.

Ableism

Ableism refers to “discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior” (Ableism 101). In the context of the topic of this microlearning course, failing to engage in designing accessible email content and adhering to disability rights and laws would be considered a form of ableism. In the next unit, we’ll present easy-to-adopt practices that will assure email compliance with accessibility standards.

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