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Email accessibility is about coding, right? Wrong

Published on 30 Jan 2020

Your marketing and communications team has been told that all customer email campaigns must adhere to email accessibility standards. Your impression of what this means relates to how the HTML code makes the email work for people with visual disabilities.

So, you can hospital pass this to your HTML developers, as they are responsible for email accessibility, right?

Our experts view:

Wrong. Email accessibility is not exclusively a coding requirement. In fact, many of the principles that make emails accessible for people with disabilities are applied by your content writers and designers, before the first line of code is written. 

Start with the right content

What is included in the content and how it’s written is the foundation of accessibility. Many of the writing principles – such as concise and relevant subject lines, short paragraphs and simple language – are standard email best practices. 

However, when the email is consumed using a screen reader, these principles should be seen less as guidelines, and more as imperative.

Writers need to experience how an email is going to be consumed. This will help them understand the requirements for additional functional text, that can easily be read through a screen reader. 

For example, the writer needs to provide descriptive alternative text for images; button labels that describe what will happen on the destination page; and text equivalents for visual elements like videos.

Pay attention to accessibility design principles

Designers are responsible for presenting the content in a way that caters to a range of visual impairments, from low vision and color blindness to total blindness. 

The first principle is to use plenty of white space to give the content a clear structure. They also need to ensure a logical flow to the content, as well as select their colors, fonts, and layouts carefully. 

For example, it’s imperative to have sufficient contrast between background and foreground colors and to keep headings, text and bulleted lists left-aligned. Too little contrast makes foreground items (such as text on a background) hard to read. 

Center-aligned content can be problematic for screen readers, as it detracts from the intended structure/order of the content. 

Elements like tables are tricky to get right for a screen-reader. Designers should also be cautious of using blinking, flickering or looping animation, as it introduces a risk of seizures for those that are photosensitive.

In short, email accessibility is not just a coding issue, it requires knowledge and participation from representatives throughout the workflow, and every step needs to build on the good practices of the previous one.

James Hall

James Hall

Commercial Director, UK

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