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Creating Accessible Email

Email accessibility follows the same rules and guidelines as accessibility for Microsoft Word. The following best practices are provided to help you maximize the accessibility of your emails.

The email content should be properly defined with headings and styles, images should contain alt tags, lists and tables should be properly formatted, spaces should not be used for layout, and color should not be used to convey meaning.

See Creating Accessible Word Documents for details. In addition, review these topics:

Avoid Image-only Email

A commonly-used strategy when sending email to advertise events is to send an image of the poster for the event. This has major drawbacks:

  • The text will not be accessible to readers who have visual impairments.
  • Readers may be blocking images from their email--this is quite common with mobile phones.

You need to provide a text-based equivalent to the information contained in the poster image. Begin your email with all of the relevant information in text, then add your image.This approach privileges textual information over the method of presentation.

You could begin with the poster image, but people using screen readers may ignore your message, assuming the message is inaccessible. When providing alternate formats, it's best to lead with the most accessible information, or at least an indication that an alternate format is available.

Another strategy is to provide a link to an alternate, accessible version of the email hosted on a website. From a marketing perspective, this is a less desirable solution, since it requires readers to load an additional page. You always want your message to be as easy as possible to access.

In all cases, your poster or advertising image should contain alt text. It isn't a good idea to try to communicate all of the relevant information in the alt text--the information may not be available to people who access their email with all of the images blocked.

Differences in Mail Clients

An email client is a program that can send and receive email. Clients can be on your desktop, like Outlook 2013, or on the web, like Gmail or Outlook for Office 365. You may be able to access the same email from both a web-based client and a desktop client. Please be aware that not all email clients have the same accessibility or formatting tools available.

In general, desktop clients have a wider range to accessibility features available than web clients. Here's a list as of May 2017.

Outlook 2013 for PC - Desktop

  • No Accessibility Checker
  • Headings are available on the Format Text tab
  • To add alt text, right-click the image and select Format Picture. The interface should look familiar from Word.

Outlook for Office 365

  • Accessibility Checker is in the drop-down options below the composition window
  • Semantic Headings aren't possible
  • Alt text can be added in four different ways:
  1. right click on image and select Insert Alt Text
  2. use the Fix This button in the Accessibility Checker
  3. Click on image, then click arrow in the lower left, then select Insert Alt Text
  4. Click on image, then click the button in the styling toolbar that looks like a picture with a nametag in the lower right corner (between the strikethrough and indent buttons)

Outlook 2016 for PC

  • Accessibility Checker is available on the Review tab
  • Headings are available on the Format Text tab
  • Alt text in the Format Picture pane (right-click and select Format Picture)

Outlook 2016 for Mac

  • Accessibility Checker is available on the Options tab
  • Headings are not available unless you copy and paste well-formatted content from elsewhere
  • Alt text in the Format Picture pane (right-click and select Format Picture)

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