How to Implement Accessibility in Email

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Meaghan Peters

One of the great things about email is its adaptability. The platform continuously evolves to create new ways to serve and engage subscribers. In recent years, accessibility has emerged as one of those opportunities, and today it’s a key component of truly thoughtful — and legally compliant — email marketing programs.

Accessibility is about making sure your email can be read or heard and, most importantly, understood by everyone in your audience. That includes people with additional visual or cognitive needs and people who use assistive technology, such as screen readers. Ultimately, this means that your email can be accessed by as many subscribers as possible — and that’s a win-win for everyone.

Accessibility means that your email can be accessed by as many subscribers as possible — and that’s a win-win for everyone.

Sound important? It is. So we consulted with a bevy of WDGT experts, from copywriters to designers to technology folks, to get the lowdown on accessibility and how you can start incorporating it for your subscribers.

4 reasons to consider accessibility

  1. It’s the right thing to do. People are diverse, meet them where they are! Think of email accessibility as another arm of customer service — it’s a way to foster a good relationship with your audience and make sure their needs are met.

  2. It increases your audience and potentially improves your metrics. You spend soooo much time planning, strategizing,editing, and executing your emails, it only makes sense to optimize the send so that the most people possible can access it. You don’t want to leave potential engagement on the table.

  3. It’s another way to customize the subscriber experience. Personalization is more than just “Hello [first name!]” What if we also thought of customization in the way we provided our content? As a sender, you can make sure that your email is as optimized as possible for the various ways people may want — or need — to interact with it.

  4. It’s part of ADA compliance. Email hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as physical or web compliance, but it qualifies as “online” and should absolutely be a consideration.

You’ve convinced me — where do I start?

Great! So a good way to start is by layering some baseline best practices into your copy, design, and development processes, including:

Accessible Copy

  • Use plain language. When possible, avoid jargon and acronyms. Use common words and write sentences that reflect about an 8th grade reading level. Think about the complexity of the information you’re providing — what does your audience need to know?

  • Avoid the wall of text. Left justified text is easier to read than center or full justified text. It also helps to chunk text in smaller paragraphs. Keep your sentences short: think 20 to 25 words.

  • Write meaningful link text. On screen readers, link tools will speak the text links out of context. And voice recognition software allows readers to speak the link they want to click. So if all your links or buttons say “read the story” or “share this article” it can cause a lot of confusion. Similarly, screen readers speak URL links one letter at a time, so it’s important to provide link descriptions for them too. The trick is to briefly tell folks why they should click, e.g., get more guidance on link text.

Accessible Design:

  • Choose high-contrast colors. Some color combinations can be hard for people to distinguish, like a dark purple background with dark pink text. So make sure the contrast is stark. There are tools that will help you determine this, like

  • Use legible fonts - For the majority of your copy, use san serif fonts like Arial, Tahoma or Verdana, which are more accessible and easier on the eyes than serif fonts. We recommend a font of 11 points (14 pixels) or higher for readability.

  • Go for the bold. When emphasizing words or phrases that you want to stand out, use bold rather than underline — and italics only sparingly. Underline is best used to mark links.

Accessible Code:

  • Follow semantic hierarchy. Use headline (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>) and paragraph (<p>) tags around your copy. This allows screen reader technology to recognize content groupings and determine the hierarchy of information, or how the different chunks of information relate to each other.

  • Provide alt text for images. Alt text provides important context for people who can’t access the images or use screen readers. If there’s text in the image, the alt text should match it. Otherwise, the alt text should succinctly provide the same content and function as the image itself.

Again, this is just a starting point for incorporating accessibility into your emails. There are many, many more considerations you can — and potentially should — incorporate.

Accessibility is an ongoing process

If all of this feels overwhelming, we get it. One thing to keep in mind as you begin implementing accessibility standards in your email program is that you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to demonstrate an actual good faith effort. So start with the list above, and once you’ve got the basics incorporated, you can take it to the next level. Accessibility can and should be an ongoing process and goal.

Need help figuring out how to make your email marketing campaigns more accessible? Give us a shout at — we live for this stuff.