Creating Accessible Email

Why make emails accessible?

Email is one of the most important forms of communication to many of us in the community. Email is fast, efficient, and creates a record of the communication. Like documents, accessible email communications ensures that they are usable by the widest range of users. This is important because, perhaps unknown to you, an email recipient may be a person with a disability who uses assistive technology such as a screen reader which reads aloud information on the screen such as text or image descriptions provided through alternative text (Alt Text).

Which Format to Use?

When composing a new email message, there are 3 formats to choose from:

  1. Plain text email will suffice for most small, routine correspondence. The advantages of plain text are that it can be read by any email program, is compatible with all email systems, and is compatible with all assistive technologies. Limitations of plain text are that you cannot apply document structure and the links are limited to full URLs.
  2. Rich text allows you to add formatting to your text. You can make text bold, add underlines, and insert links. Rich text does not allow you to add “semantic structure,” such as headings, which helps those using assistive technology screen readers in handling long, complicated documents. If you create a heading using bold text, a screen reader user will not know that the text is meant to be a heading. Also, rich text is not displayed the same in all email applications.
  3. HTML email is a good choice when you wish to add more formatting and structure to a message. HTML supports semantic headings, images with alternative text, links, and lists. When your emails contain any of these features, HTML is the format to use.
  4. Since HTML supports semantic headings, images with alternative text, links, and lists it is the best format for ensuring the creation of accessible emails. Set HTML as the default email setting. Choose FILE >> OPTIONS, Under Compose messages, in the Compose messages in this format list, click HTML. Click OK to accept your changes, and close.