Accessibility is a red-hot topic in the email community right now.
We featured email accessibility in the latest edition of our State of Email Live webinar series—and saw a record number of registrations.
There’s a range of good reasons why senders are laser-focused on accessibility right now:
- Legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. and the Equalities Act of 2010 in the U.K. create legal obligations around accessibility—and penalties for those who fail to comply. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a blind man who sued Domino’s for site accessibility issues.
- Around one in four people live with some form of disability. This includes audio-visual challenges, and conditions like dyslexia, color blindness, and astigmatism that make it harder to digest written content. Failure to accommodate these users means a less engaged audience and lost revenue opportunities.
- Implementing accessibility measures allows brands to craft messages that all customers can read and digest. Many accessibility tactics overlap with established email best practices, so it’s not only impaired subscribers who benefit. Smart use of accessibility enhances brand reputation, amplifies ethical positioning, and increases ROI from the email channel.
Implementing email accessibility sounds like a no-brainer, right? Like many things in life, it’s not always that simple.
We polled over 250 email marketers to see how far along they were with accessibility initiatives at their organizations.
As we can see, it’s a topic that’s front of mind with almost 90 percent of email marketers. But less than 10 percent actually have a defined accessibility strategy.
This isn’t surprising. Email teams are notoriously under-resourced, and implementing email accessibility measures takes time and effort.
Accessibility requires collaboration between multiple teams, including copywriting, design, HTML building, etc.
And while many web browsers have rendering standards to follow as a guide, most email clients don’t.
So, where should email senders start?
Get the basics right
Accessibility starts with a set of basic principles that make emails easier to read.
ADA guidelines require that font sizes should be a minimum of 14 points. It’s also a good practice to make text resizable (not fixed) so readers can adjust it to a comfortable size.
The email below has body copy aligned with ADA requirements.
Here are a few other basic tips:
- Use plenty of white space in emails to ensure content stands out. Full-width buttons should be standard on mobile devices.
- CTA text should be meaningful and descriptive, clearly telling users what will happen after they click.
- Try to avoid overloading your messages with hyperlinks: Where links are used, make their purpose clear. Use them to reinforce things you’ve already covered in your copy.
- Email templates should provide readers with structure by using headings, paragraphs, and tags that make content easy to follow. This is also important for screen readers and smart speakers—more on this later.
- Avoid using full text justification—many dyslexics struggle with this format because it’s harder to identify where to start reading.
- When using video content, make sure the audio has accompanying captions so hearing-impaired subscribers can follow the soundtrack.
Dark mode is a display setting for user interfaces. Instead of the default dark text against a light screen (known as ‘light mode’), dark mode displays a light color text (white or grey) against a dark or black screen.
Dark mode is particularly helpful for people with photosensitivity because it reduces eye strain. It’s also popular with dyslexics, who generally find this format easier to read.
Senders can test if users have dark mode enabled on their devices using a media query. Armed with this information, senders can change colors and text formatting, and show or hide content appropriately.
Dark mode is quickly gaining popularity. Many non-impaired users prefer to read their emails this way.
Good color contrast is crucial for optimal email accessibility.
Emails should achieve a high color contrast for all text elements. Senders should consider readers with astigmatism, as they might find light text on a dark background blurry.
Consider designing for this condition using a semi-transparent layer behind the text, which provides contrast for both light and dark backgrounds.
Emails should always make sense without images.
To ensure messages resonate with visually impaired subscribers, senders should consider how screen readers and smart speakers will interpret the text elements they find.
A key issue is the use of tables in emails. Content in tables is often presented by column (top to bottom), but it’s read by row (left to right). This is difficult for most screen readers to correctly interpret.
Good accessibility means using meaningful alt-text to describe what each image shows. Text should be displayed over images where it can be read, rather than embedded within.
Senders should also be cautious when using non-text content like emojis and GIFs, which screen readers may struggle to interpret.
Use of semantic HTML plays a key role here by clarifying the use of document elements through clear identification of headings, paragraphs, images, and links. This helps screen readers understand which elements are meant to be read and which can be ignored.
How to get started
To make their programs more accessible, email marketers must first undergo a change of mindset.
We’ve spoken with dozens of email marketers about this topic, and they’ve offered solid advice on how to implement accessibility initiatives from the ground up.
- Ask someone: It can be difficult to empathize with situations or conditions you’ve never personally experienced. If you’ve never had to cope with the frustration of dyslexia for example, speak with people who have. Draw on their experiences to design emails that are easier to engage with.
- Sing an ARIA: Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) is a web accessibility initiative. It defines a set of attributes than can be added to HTML elements to make web elements and interactive content more accessible to users with disabilities.
- Try accessibility tools: There are various email software tools—like Validity’s Everest email success platform—that help senders understand how their emails render across multiple platforms and clients. Clever technology like predictive eye tracking also helps senders understand how subscribers navigate their emails.
- Use accelerated mobile pages: Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) provide email senders with a broad selection of accessibility-friendly solutions. Embedding web functionality like image carousels and interactive forms into emails makes messages easier to navigate and engage with. These measures also make subscribers more likely to convert.
- Implement quality assurance measures: Accessibility should become part of every sender’s quality assurance process. Confirming if your emails are accessible to all audiences might require render testing (described earlier), use of automated contrast checkers, using Alexa/Siri to read the emails, and even deploying tools like the Gunning Fog Index to eliminate unnecessary wordiness.
- Embrace accessibility: While this article focuses on email accessibility, its true reach is far broader. Impairment-friendly emails are wasted if the experience isn’t extended across other customer touchpoints, like brand websites and automated call centers.
Accessibility is a complex, evolving topic, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface here. For more accessibility guidence, our friends at the DMA produced an excellent “Email Accessibility Guide” which is freely available.
To learn more about the latest email industry trends and best practices, tune in to our next edition of State of Email Live.
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