Email accessibility and standards are not exactly the talk of the town. However, they are important and do need to be reviewed.

Email marketing is becoming one of the most prolific ways to communicate with your leads. As such, personalisation and the “standards” in email accessibility and communication are becoming massively important.

We live in a world where communication and the technology that surrounds it, isn’t always readily available to everyone. For many people with impairments or disabilities, such as blindness or hearing loss, staying connected can be incredibly challenging.

Trying to connect with others or even, staying up-to-date with technology can be difficult for some. Even something many of us take for granted, such as browsing the web can prove, to some, almost near impossible. The concept of accessibility standards is around making content accessible to all, no matter the obstacles they may face.

Having accessible emails IS important. This is why developers are constantly looking for new ways (and formats) in which this can be developed and deployed. 

Already want to know MORE about email marketing and strategy? Have a look at previous instalments on email marketing.
‘step by step guide for email marketing strategy’
‘email marketing metrics’

Looking at the numbers within Accessibility 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.3 billion people worldwide live with some form of visual impairment. Of those, 217 million have some form of visual impairment that has become a severe.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.3 billion people worldwide live with some form of visual impairment.

Of those, 217 million have some form of visual impairment that has become “severe”.

Over 40 million Americans (of around 327 Million total) have some degree of disability that requires a form of accessibility. Of those 40 million, at least 8 Million have a form of visual impairment.

Accessibility is key. Giving everyone a fair chance evangelises equality by providing no demographic with and advantage over another.

In 2015, the yearly amount of emails sent was around 246 billion. If we take that figure and think how many of those emails can be opened by visually impaired people…

How many people are actually interacting with your emails?

For many industries, email accessibility may not be the first thing they think of when it comes to creating emails. However, they may be focused on other email practises long before accessibility even comes to mind.

However, why should it be an afterthought? By achieving an accessible email, you are now reaching hundreds of “new” leads who would be unable to connect with you otherwise.

Did you know, around 1.1 Billion people will have some form of disability worldwide?

For a lot of industries, accessibility really needs to be considered. However, a good example is within the financial sector. Banks are required (by law) to adhere accessibility regulations.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

Looking back to October 1994:
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established. This is an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web.

5 years later in 1999, The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were established and are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines. These were published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of W3C, the main international standards organisation for the Internet.

However, these are not laws. They are simply guidelines to follow and different industries will set different terms and conditions. 

Aesthetics for Accessibility 

If you’re looking to implement accessibility within your emails, and think it might be something you need to look into, we can set you on the right path.

Visual impairments are among the highest disability within the world so, how an email looks is a very important.

So, one thing to always consider, is it accessible?

Colour contrast
An image of a colour blind test
1 in 12 men are colour blind while only 1 in 200 women have the condition.
98% of those with colour blindness have red-green colour blindness.

The contrast in colour within an email can be a very important factor for accessability and “Ratio” is key.

The variation between background and foreground could make or break your emails. The example above is a colour blindness test and features the numbers 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 16. Can you see them all? If not, consider how many of your potential leads possibly can’t either!

Even if you can see all the numbers, the example stills demonstrates how a poor contrast ratio would make text in your email incredibly difficult to read. This is not text exclusive either and applies to all visuals within you email.

Contrast ratio is important for subscribers of a newsletter. They may suffer from visual impairments and white text on a bright colour bright background would be unreadable. 

Colour contrast guidelines 

WCAG has set standards for web accessibility, including ratio contrast minimums. This is a “calculator” that assigns a number between 1 and 21. This number indicates how much of a contrast your background and foreground colours have.

If you look at the contrast guide below, the worst possible contrast would be 1.19 : 1 (white on light grey). However, while 15.04 : 1 (white on black) is a very good contrast although, not “perfect”. 

Examples of contrast ratios
Here we have the contrast guidelines.
The colour ratio between the background and text is an important aspect you have to take into account.

Any email should have a minimum contrast ratio of 4:5:1 for standard size text (approximately 14 to 16px depending on the font). For text larger than 23px or, bold text that is larger than 18px, the contrast ratio should be 3:1.

Get yourself up to par with the accessibility regulations! 

Accessible Links 

Making links accessible is another key example of how YOU could be missing a trick with accessibility.

It’s the little things that make up the detail and links are another email element to consider for colour blind subscribers. Depending on the factors such as colour deficiency, they may not be able to see or notice that lovely CTA you have just made.

If we refer to the colour blind test above and look at our example below, we have can see how an example link within an email (acting as a CTA) could be easily missed. 

Examples of link stylings
Accessibility is crucial in making sure the lead clicks that CTA you want them too. Make sure you make your CTA’s look like CTA’s.

Looking at the link example, by replacing the text boldness with an underline makes the link stand out. For someone who is colour blind, this would be suitable as they could see the underline but, not the colour adjustment on the CTA. 

Making fonts accessible 

On the subject of text, and its boldness (CTA) a good rule of thumb is to make sure your font is no smaller than 14px. Anything less than this could be hard for people to read but, don’t feel you are restricted to this size.

One thing to be mindful of though, if you are using a heavy font, bumping up the size would make the text considerably bigger. If however, it was a “lighter” font, bumping it up to 16px (for example) wouldn’t be a disaster.

To understand the difference, we use 16px for this blog. 14px would look something like…

Still, not the end of the world but, potentially harder for some people to read.

Logical Structure

Keeping a logical structure (or flow) through emails is a standard. Having a logical reading order ensures that, in general, readers will read left to right… sequentially. Keeping a reading flow along with a flowing email standard, would help people with disabilities such as dyslexia.

Even if your text reads left to right, if it aligned differently, it could make it hard for people with dyslexia to read.

Yes, it is visually appealing but, it could be hard for people with disabilities and, even harder on smaller devices such as mobile phones or small tablets.

Keeping these bodies of text aligned to the left would fix this problem. There are many technologies available now that are helping people with such disabilities, helping them read and use technology such as computers, tablets and smartphones.

A few of the available technologies include “screen readers”, screen magnifiers and even eye tracking technology. Though these tools exist, many people with disabilities and impairments are going to be able to access email and not everyone will have these technologies available to them. You need to cater to the entire audience base. 

Developer structures 

Developers can create emails and web pages using Semantic code to accommodate for those who don’t have high-end tech to help them access your email content. As an example of this code, simply using the header tag <h1> and the simple paragraph tag <p> , allows screen readers to distinguish the difference between them and makes the content easier to digest.

Setting language attributes.

By setting the email language, screen readers and search engines are then able to pronounce or display email copy in certain way. The computer, in most cases, will go with a device default setting otherwise.

This would make the message much harder (if not impossible) to understand for those who have a different native language or speak multiple similar languages.

The language attribute can be set within a HTML document to dictate the language which the document is being written in. This piece of code would look like lang=’en’ and would be declared before anything else within the HTML. 

Setting ALT text and making images accessible

Making emails accessible is an essential part of a well structured email and for this to happen, images should have alt text (alternative text) associated to them. This is crucial in simple cases (such as image blocking Outlook) all the way up to a reader who can read your text but, only sees a blurry image.

This needs to be considered for every feature of every email, even if you are not one for considering accessibility, you really should be. The following are things to consider when looking at adding alt text in emails. 

  • Use descriptive Alt text but, don’t write War and Peace – If your contact is using a screen reader, it is able to describe to them what is being shown. Try to avoid the same alt text for multiple images and be short and to the point… for example, check out Mr. Magoo at th beginning of the blog!
  • Using titles – Some developers believe that putting a title for the image along with alt text can be descriptive and helpful. BAD DEVELOPERS! This confuses most screen readers and even worst, the people using them making for a very bad experience… don’t do it.
  • Not all images are equal – If you are using an image purely to make your email look nice and not provide any information, leaving the alt text empty will cause a screen reader to ignore it.

(ARIA) Accessible Rich Internet Applications 

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (also known as ARIA) was introduced by W3C with the idea of adding descriptive information to HTML elements thus, enhancing the experience for people who use screen readers. 

While ARIA is primarily for web pages, it can be applied directly to the email code to help visually impaired users navigate and digest the content that has been sent to them. Within and email, ARIA focuses on HTML elements like: 

  • role=’presentation’
  • role=’article’
  • role=’img
  • role=’listitem’

ARIA acts as the first instalment in technology that is making email much more accessible. The downside to this, developers still have to follow practise and follow the guidelines for examples like ARIA to work.  

Looking towards the future of accessibility with emails  

Looking further towards email accessibility in the future, who knows what it will bring?

AI is becoming increasingly popular, along with the use of voice commands in new technology. Tools such as Amazon’s Alexa are now digital assistants that are being more commonly used all over the world. They have been strongly adopted by users who rely on the use of AI and the new technology to stay connected.

Communicating with voice may be the people have and with the rising popularity of stand alone devices, the use of voice commands is ever present.

Siri has since dropped usage percentages over the last few years but, is still the most prolific digital assistant in recent years. 

Interested in the future of email marketing have a look and ask yourself these questions.
‘5 email marketing questions’

How can voice assistants read email and communicate 

If asked nicely, Alexa is able to read the HTML version of any email, as long as the inbox is connected of course. However, any content in the email (such as blocks or content only for desktop/mobile), can be seen by Alexa and she will have no problem reading all of that hidden content but, will be kind enough to ignore any HTML comments, <!– example –>, that have been made.

Auditory Call to Action (CTA) 

Both Siri and Alexa finish an email with a question… ‘How would you like to reply?’. This is a type of auditory CTA prompting the user for an action.

The benefit of having an auditory CTA is that is can be used in many different ways thus encouraging email engagement even before a user has even opened your email.

In conclusion, the standards of email 

In conclusion, email accessibility is making great strides and technology is making that happen. With the ever increasing deployment of personal assistants, screen readers, email accessibility becoming exceptional. However, both parties need to do there part in making that happen and developers have to consider the constructs that need to be in place for that to happen.