We may not think of email as digital content, but it is, with many of the same elements as web content and the potential to reach a broad audience. Email can be designed to be accessible by following the guidelines for digital content and by observing additional best practices.
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Email that includes attachments should include enough information in the body text to communicate the purpose and content of the attachment.
If the attachment is a document file (.doc, .pdf), this may mean simply naming and mentioning it in the email body.
If the attachment is an image file (.pdf, .jpg, .png, etc.) with meaningful information embedded in it (e.g., a flyer for an upcoming event) this may mean reproducing the meaningful information in the email body itself. If the attachment is an image of text, that text must be reproduced in the email body.
Making links in email accessible means making them perceivable (links should be visually distinct from surrounding text) and making the purpose or destination of the link understandable. As much as possible, the text of the link should itself communicate the destination or purpose of the link by being meaningful, understandable, unique, and efficient.
Link text should be understandable and should describe its purpose or destination, most often using the exact language of its destination.
The link to a page titled “Fine Arts Library” should read, Fine Arts Library, not “Our Library” or “more about this library.”
Link text should make sense to a human reader. The complete URLs of webpages are usually not understandable and should generally not be used as the only indication of a link’s destination.
The link to the “Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan” should read, Stamps School of Art & Design DEI Plan, or similar, not https://stamps.umich.edu/pdf/DEIPlan2017-2018.pdf.
NOTE: where some users are likely to see print-out or offline version of email, a complete URL may be useful to include, in addition to link text. For example:
If several links within the content lead to different destinations, the text of each link should be distinct. Similarly, if several links lead to the same destination, their link text should be identical.
Link text should be no longer than necessary, usually not more than 140 characters.
Although email may contain only simple and short messages, it can often benefit from structural elements: paragraphs, lists, and bolding.
Use paragraphs to separate distinct ideas, even when short. (The white space between paragraphs makes each section more readable.)
Use lists to indicate a set of options (a bulleted list), a series of actions (a numbered list), and other groupings of information.
Use bolding to call out the most important information, such as an action item or a scheduled date and time.
For example, this email:
We have our annual retreat on Monday morning beginning at 10:00 am. Agenda items include our strategic plan, event planning, and reassessing our unit structure. Please remember to review our mission statement and come with comments.
can be revised as follows:
We have our annual retreat on Monday morning beginning at 10:00 am. Agenda items include our
Please remember to review our mission statement and come with comments.
Color should be used sparingly in email. Good contrast between foreground and background must be maintained.
To make text perceivable, there must be sufficient contrast between text color and the background or surrounding color. Contrast is basically the difference between lightness and darkness, regardless of the color or hue. Email text should be dark on light background in neutral colors.
Images and gifs may be added to email to enhance a message or communicate information. Some recipients may not be able to access these visual media. To make images and gifs accessible, include a brief description that communicates their content and purpose in context directly in the email body.
Thanks for a great week of work, team. Enjoy the weekend!
[image of kitten relaxing in a hammock]
NOTE: Animated gifs can be problematic in email because users may not have a way to stop them from automatically playing. Moving or blinking content can be distracting or even harmful to some users (including users with some seizure disorders or mental health conditions). Only use an animation when there is a good reason to do so, and do not use rapidly flashing animations.
Platforms are available for generating HTML emails that can take advantage of additional structural and stylistic elements. Be careful to use best practices for accessibility when using such programs. (See web content accessibility for relevant concerns.)