5 Ways To Make Your Emails More Accessible

5 Ways To Make Your Emails More Accessible. MI Academy Website Link

It’s embarrassing to admit, but nowadays the internet is what keeps the world spinning. We are on the internet for work, for fun, and for all those annoying “adulting” tasks we apparently need to complete to be a functioning human and participate in society.

And of a great deal of our time on the internet is consumed by email. In fact, according to a massive study by McKinsey, on average 28% of work time is spent on email with the average employee checking their email on average 11 times per hour.

Now, I’m not telling you this to make you realise how much of your time you are wasting mindlessly scanning emails (although, that would be a good blog too). I’m stating these facts to really drill down how important reading emails is for both personal and professional life. Now imagine if you couldn’t understand 90% of the emails you receive….

This is the reality for many people who are vision-impaired.

If you’re a marketer, it’s likely you’ve spent hours, if not days or weeks of your life, creating emails. Checking every tiny detail, optimising send times, testing subject lines and perfectly aligning every element. But how much of that time is spent on email accessibility?

What is email accessibility?

Email accessibility is largely concerned with user experience (UX) and design (UI).

“it means making sure that everyone can receive and understand your message, regardless of any disabilities or assistive devices they may be using” – Litmus

Why is email accessibility so important?

285 million people worldwide are considered to have visual disabilities. Of these, 36 million are blind, and 246 million have low vision.

These people are professionals, parents and everyday humans who, like like me, need access to email to do boring old “adulting”.

As marketers, it’s crucial that we are educated to make accessibility-conscious decisions when contributing anything to the shared digital space. Relying on someone else’s competence to translate a message from an email would be daunting. We need to ensure everybody is able to trust that what is delivered through a screen reader does not distort the purpose of an email.

Now you know why it is so important, here are 5 Ways To Make Your Emails More Accessible.

#1 Alternative Tags & Link Text

An Alternative tag, also known as ‘ALT text/tag’ is a feature applied to an image to provide a text alternative for search engines and screen readers.

Screen readers utilise alternative tags to provide text descriptions for any visual content. For any imagery that is included, an appropriate corresponding ‘alt tag’ is an absolute must!

Any visual content that is not labelled correctly will be unrecognisable or incomprehensible by a screen reader, and will drastically impact vision-impaired reader’s experience.

Some best practices for writing Alt tags…

  • Be specific, write about exactly what’s there and don’t make assumptions
  • Don’t include ‘image of’ or ‘picture of’, a screen reader can identify that already.
  • Avoid using adjectives out of context. e.g. the landing page was delectable. (A landing page is not edible, so this adjective does not make sense in this context)
  • If text is part of an image write it out
  • Only write alternative text for non-decorative images. Images that stand to make a point.

For Example, if you were to include this image in your email…

Golden retriever puppy sitting on grass

The Alternative tag should be something like,

ALT Tag = Happy golden retriever puppy sitting on grass

Link text is essentially the same thing but refers to links within your email. They are necessary for providing a readable description of the link address and purpose. The same rules for writing alternative tags can be followed for writing link text.

An example of good link text would be…


Link Text = MI Academy Contact Page

Following best practices when writing these will ensure those that are visually impaired will understand the desired impact of your email.

#2 Colour Choices

It’s important to remember that visual impairment does not merely refer to the loss of vision, but also a number of other conditions such as colour-blindness.

By definition, colour blindness refers to the reduced ability to distinguish between certain colours – most commonly shades of red and green. People with colour blindness are unlikely to use a screenreader, but may still face challenges when interpreting your emails, or anything on the web.

When designing your emails, it’s uber important to remember that any visual cues using multiple colours (or different shades of one colour) may not carry the same meaning for someone with colour blindness.

Take the example below. A person with colour blindness will not be able to quickly identify which field they missed in the form.

Two login forms showing text boxes highlighted with green and read vs text boxes highlighted in a singular colour
A poorly designed website form

How do you fix it? Use secondary cues such as text reminders or icons (exclamation points in the example below!)

A website form designed for colour blindness
A website form designed for colour blindness

But it’s not just red and green. Here are some more combinations of colours that are hard to distinguish between: 

  • Red & green.
  • Green & brown.
  • Green & blue.
  • Blue & grey.
  • Blue & purple.
  • Green & grey.
  • Green & black.

Although we’ve discussed how we can make imagery accessible, we shouldn’t rely too heavily on it!

#3 Text Spacing & Sizing

Here’s one that’s relevant for everyone, but especially those using vision aids such as glasses or contacts. Pretty, pretty PLEASE size and space your text appropriately.

Text that is ill-spaced, sized or formatted can make reading anything beyond the first three words of your email near impossible. And not only impossible, but downright annoying.

When it comes to email, the recommended font size is anything larger than 16pt for body copy, with a line-height of 1.5. 

It’s also recommended to avoid stylised fonts (looking at you Comic Sans lovers!) for anything longer than a few words. Yes, it may look nice (unless it’s Comic Sans), but ‘looking nice’ should always be a secondary objective of your email, comprehensive is number one!

We don’t really think this one requires an example, but here’s one to up the cringe-factor anyway.

Example of email with poor text sizing and spacing

#4 Subject Lines & Pre Header Text

Subject lines and pre-header text are two of the most important elements of email creation hands down. However, this is especially important for a person with vision impairment.

Purposely ambiguous subject lines are among a marketers favourite click-bait strategies. However, if they are not paired with a context-driven pre-header you could be doing yourself, and a large portion of your audience, a huge disservice.

You see, subject lines weren’t created for you to test your latest dad joke on your audience. They serve a very real purpose in helping us understand if the email is a) relevant to us, b) worth-reading and c) not spam!

So! Next time you’re writing your subject line and pre-header, remember that although your witty joke might grab the attention of some, ask yourself; if read aloud by a screenreader will it land? Would it make someone think ‘oh, this email is relevant to me!’? Or, will it force them to keep scrolling?

Furthermore, remember to be uber careful of what emojis you use. Screen reader or not, there’s a high chance these won’t show for everyone so they should never replace a word or meaning.

Using a subject line analyser such as this one from CoSchedule is a great way to ensure you remain concise and contextual.

Screenshot of Coschedule's email subject line tester

# 5 Plain Text Emails

A plain text email contains only text—no images, stylised fonts, or hyperlinked text. 

These emails are used by individuals who prefer to open emails without these particular features for a number of reasons, including safety concerns, internet quality, etc. But most importantly, plain text emails are used by screen readers to translate text to speech for those with vision impairment.

Your email provider should automatically generate a plain text version of your emails, however, it is your responsibility to revise and edit this using best practices.

When using images or buttons within your email that connects to a link, ensure you are editing your plain text email to avoid double-ups that may cause confusion when being translated by a screen reader.

Here is an example of how a plain text email should be edited.

Two plain text emails. Email #1 showing correct format vs email #2 showing poor format

This Litmus blog is a great guide for writing and editing plain text emails.

We NEVER send emails without test sending first and this goes for your plain text campaigns too!

A helpful tip for testing plain text emails is to use an immersive reader or text-to-speech tools built into your computer. This allows you to hear for yourself how the email reads.

In conclusion, email accessibility should be the standard for all businesses in today’s day and age – it’s a matter of inclusivity that simply cannot be overlooked!

From here, we challenge you to reflect on previous campaigns to see if you’ve checked off these 5 accessibility best practices. If not, dedicate some time across the next week to famarilise yourself and your team with the ins and outs of email accessibility.

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