Creator: Accessible Libraries
Date of Update: August 23, 2023
This checklist contains best practices to ensure that people with multiple print disabilities can easily consume the content of an email. It is possible that some people may have very specific needs that are not included on this checklist. Contact us if you have more best practices that should be included in this list.
Follow this checklist to make your emails accessible!
- Use a heading structure in your emails.
- Ensure images have meaningful alt-text.
- Use descriptive links.
- Consider your use of colour contrast, formatting, and font.
- Don’t use tables for layout.
- Email attachments should be accessible.
- Avoid using animations.
- Use simple language.
- Consider the length of your email signature and when to use it.
A simplified version of the email checklist is available for download:
Use a heading structure in your emails.
Use headings for any section title or subtitle in your email rather than simply bolding text. Headings make your email easy to navigate from one section to the other. Ensure headings are hierarchical and follow a clear structure. For example, h2 comes after h1 and so on.
Ensure images have meaningful alt-text.
Ensure images have alt-text that describes what the image contains. It’s important for screen reader users, SEO, and email clients that display emails in text mode. When an organization’s logo is included, it isn’t necessary to describe every detail of the logo, but it is important that the alt-text states what it is and if it contains any textual information, such as the company name or slogan.
Use descriptive links.
Draw attention to links by using a bold font. Ensure hyperlinks are formatted as links with clear, descriptive text describing where they will take the user. For example, do not use “click here.” A good example is “2022 Giller Prize shortlist” or “click here to explore the literary awards.”
Ensure links are active before sending a message.
Consider your use of colour contrast, formatting, and font.
Make your email easier to read by choosing accessible colour contrast, formatting, and font choices.
- The text should use an automatic black on a white background.
- Ensure links and buttons are visible using a ratio of 3:1 between the element (link or button) and the surrounding text.
Avoid using only colour to convey meaning or draw attention to a specific part. The use of bold, underlining, or colour can sometimes be useful for users with dyslexia, but it’s important for this information to stand out for people who cannot see it. If you’re conveying something like a deadline, it might be helpful to have the deadline in its own paragraph with the most important part of the deadline information in bold. You can also use characters to highlight information. For example, add asterisks next to a deadline.
Format and Font
- Use a sans serif font such as Arial or Verdana.
- The text should ideally be in 14–16-point font with good line and character spacing to prevent kerning and aid in ease of reading.
- Avoid using centred or fully justified paragraphs.
While emails in plain text format are screen-reader friendly, they can be problematic for low-vision recipients who rely on magnification. Plain text emails do not always reflow to fit the email reading pane on desktop or mobile devices. Reading a message may require panning left and right to access off-screen content. Ensure that your email content is reflowable for different screen sizes.
Formatting when Replying to and Forwarding Emails
When replying or forwarding a message, there is often an option to change the appearance of the original message by using indention or indention prefixed with a vertical line. It can be challenging for any recipient to respond to a string of emails in this format. It is especially complex for those with low vision because as the messages descend from new to old, the indentations increase in size. In turn, the text will display in an incrementally narrower column which is challenging to navigate and read. Microsoft provides step-by-step instructions for this change for their products. The steps for other mail systems are similar.
Don’t use tables for layout.
Do not use tables as a method to create a layout for the email. When tables are used for layout, it is difficult for people using assistive technology to read and navigate the content. Instead, use headings and lists. Tables should only be used to show tabular relationships.
Email attachments should be accessible.
Ensure attachments being sent with the email are accessible (use the accessibility checkers to determine if the attachments have accessible features). Ideally, the format should be in an accessible format such as Word. A PDF, even when it has been remediated or created to be accessible, can be difficult to read with several assistive technologies.
For more information on creating accessible documents, check out:
Avoid using animations.
Ensure animations are kept at a minimum as they can be distracting and pose hazards for some people – if animations have flashing elements, they can cause seizures for some individuals.
Use simple language.
Ensure the content can be understood by all individuals. Try not to use complex terms, acronyms, or symbolism/metaphors.
Consider the length of your email signature and when to use it.
A sender’s full signature, contact details, additional acknowledgements, etc., are warranted in the first message but can be somewhat redundant in subsequent exchanges. The extra text that takes up space can slow down the process for anyone who may need to comb through an email chain for information, but especially those who use magnification. Only include your full signature in the first email message of the thread.
Airy, P., Ilhan, A., Halna, F., et al. (2017). Email accessibility: Best practices for designers and developers. Email On Acid. https://www.emailonacid.com/blog/article/email-development/email-accessibilty-in-2017/
Microsoft Support. (n.d.). Change how the original message appears in replies and forwards. Microsoft Support. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/change-how-the-original-message-appears-in-replies-and-forwards-1207f4ea-f7cf-4cdf-9298-5982fa2e5e2f
Mistry, J. (2022, February 27). Email accessibility: Your ultimate guide. Litmus. https://www.litmus.com/blog/ultimate-guide-accessible-emails
World Wide Web Consortium. (2019). How to meet WCAG (quick reference). How to Meet WCAG (Quickref Reference). https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/