“Accessibility” is a term you have probably heard in email marketing circles, and one you will soon be hearing more often. What is it, and why does it matter to brands? Here’s a quick primer on accessibility in email marketing and some quick tips to get you started building your own accessible emails.
Web accessibility refers the ease with which people can access a brand’s online content and communications, including email. Typically, it concerns guidelines that designers, developers, and content creators can use to build digital communications so that people with disabilities can use and engage with them in meaningful ways. Disabilities that affect how people are able to access content online include visual and hearing impairments, limited mobility, and cognitive or neurological disabilities, among others.
Many people with disabilities use devices like screen readers and special keyboards to explore and interact online. Making your emails accessible simply means that you’ve built them in a way that allows these devices to understand and navigate your content.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), no business, organization, or entity that serves the public can discriminate against any person with a disability. This includes employers, schools, hotels, restaurants, theaters, you name it. As the world becomes more digital, the laws that prevent discrimination against those with disabilities are expanding to include online experiences.
So the short answer is that anyone who manages digital communications for a brand needs to know about accessibility. The long answer is that as accessibility becomes a more known — and enforced — issue, certain kinds of brands will likely feel the pressure sooner and more intensely.
This includes major brands that communicate with large audiences, organizations that receive government funding or grants, or industries with a higher amount of regulation, such as hospitals, airports, and pharmaceuticals.
There are two ways to think about this question. The first considers accessibility as a requirement brands have to complete in order to avoid regulatory issues. While important, this glosses over the real reasons behind accessibility.
The second acknowledges that accessibility is a vital part of many user experiences. Stop for a moment and contemplate how you might complete a simple task, such as checking your email, if you were visually impaired or limited to the use of a keyboard. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 Americans lives with some kind of disability, whether it’s vision or hearing impairment, difficulty moving or grasping, or a cognitive, emotional, or neurological disability. This includes:
8 million Americans with vision impairment
More than 7 million Americans with hearing impairment
Nearly 20 million Americans who have difficulty lifting or grasping objects
If you ignore accessibility in your emails, then you’re ignoring the opportunity to talk to and engage with these users.
Here are some quick tips that will immediately make your emails more accessible.
Avoid over-generalized calls-to-action. Many visually-impaired users who use screen readers tab through content quickly as a way of scanning your email. A CTA that simply says “click here” doesn’t give someone using a screen reader any context. Use more descriptive CTA language to clarify the action you want them to take. Apply these same rules to link text, as well.
Keep important messages in the text. Don’t embed key messages or CTAs in images or infographics. Screen readers won’t recognize them, and users will miss important information. Instead, keep your important messages and CTAs in the HTML where they are readily available to screen readers and other devices.
Use color wisely. Don’t rely on color alone to communicate your message or direct an action. Color blind or visually impaired users may not be able to fully interact with your email content. Also be sure to use high enough contrast so that users don’t have trouble differentiating between copy and the background of your email.
Left align your text. Accessible design best practices also say to keep it at least 14px. This will make it more readable for users in general, but especially for users with visual impairment and dyslexia.
Always include alt text. You should be doing this anyway, but even more so if you want a quick way to improve your email accessibility. In addition to simply including them, make sure that your alt tags are clear and descriptive.
Use semantic tags. These include <h1>, <h2>, <p>, etc., tags that allow screen readers to understand the hierarchy of your email so that users can quickly scan content. These tags get a bad rap for causing rendering issues in email. You can get around it, though, by restyling your margins.
Accessibility in email is not a trend that’s going away anytime soon. It’s a growing best practice that helps brands connect with millions more users every day. For other ways to elevate your email marketing, check out more email marketing best practices.