10 tips for making your emails accessible

As digital continues to play a bigger role in everyone’s lives, email accessibility is becoming more important. It involves making sure that everyone can access and read your emails, including people with disabilities who use assistive devices like screen readers, magnifiers, joysticks and eye-tracking technology.

Accessibility issues affect more people than you may realize. In fact, more than one billion people worldwide have accessibility issues.1 These can range from visual or hearing deficiencies to neurological impairments like ADHD and dyslexia. If you’re not currently making your emails accessible, you could be excluding a sizable percentage of your audience, and missing out on a tremendous untapped opportunity.

By making your emails accessible, you’re demonstrating that you care enough to consider all of your potential customers and their accessibility needs — and that you’re not excluding anyone — which can create a positive halo effect for your business.

You don’t need to completely overhaul your emails to make them accessible. Many accessibility practices also help make your emails more readable and logical for everyone. In fact, you’re probably already incorporating many of these practices into your emails.

Follow these 10 simple tips for making your emails accessible:

1. Incorporate responsive design.
This helps ensure that content will scale, be displayed optimally and read properly on multiple devices, even on on-screen readers.

2. Keep your copy and design clean and simple.
Verbose copy, run-on sentences, large walls of overcomplicated language and a busy design can be overwhelming. Brief, descriptive copy and subject lines, as well as clean design, can help make your emails easier to digest.

3. Make sure text is readable.
There are 285 million people who are visually impaired worldwide,2
to accommodate them, choose a web font that’s evenly spaced and not too condensed. Avoid type smaller than 14 pixels and make light fonts a minimum of 16 pixels. Be sure you can zoom in to 200% without losing readability or clarity. Also, left-align text and do not make it part of the image or it won’t be read by screen readers. 
Paragraphs of copy that are spaced too close together can be hard to read. Litmus recommends a line height that’s 4 pixels more than your font size.

4. Use sufficient color contrast.
320 million people worldwide are color blind.3 Most color-deficient people can actually see things clearly, but are not able to fully distinguish red, green or blue light. The most common deficiency is red/green color blindness, which means that all colors that have some red or green as part of the whole color can be mixed up.3 To accommodate these subscribers, don’t rely on color alone to convey your message. Make sure your background and type highly contrast and use patterns and textures for contrast. 

5. Add captions to video.
360 million people globally suffer from hearing loss.4 So, if you’re embedding video or linking to it in your emails, add captions so the hearing impaired are able to receive your message. Avoid flickering and strobe animations and large images with bright flashes in GIFs or videos, as these could trigger seizures.

6. Make sure CTAs are readable.
Create bulletproof buttons (built with code instead of an image) to make sure your CTA does not get lost. Make text links meaningful and specific and give subscribers a reason to click (e.g., see our holiday entertaining tips” vs “click here” or “read more”). Also, don’t make subheads linked, as this can confuse assistive technologies.

7. Use Semantic code.
Using tags like <h1> and <p> is basic practice, yet it’s also often overlooked. This helps screen readers differentiate between sections of content and navigate your email, allowing for a better reading experience. However, these tags may sometimes cause rendering issues or inconsistencies if not done correctly, and may not look pixel-perfect to the design

8. Set the HTML language attribute.
Setting lang=“” with the appropriate language ensures that screen readers pronounce words correctly.

9. Use alt text for when images are off.
This not only allows assistive devices to describe content and images accurately, it also enhances the reading experience. Keep alt text short yet descriptive and highlight the relevance of the image to the message.

10. Tell screen readers which content is important or unimportant.
Use role=“presentation” on all tables that need content read to tell screen readers that it’s a presentation table vs a data table. This makes it easier for these devices to go through content, skip unimportant content and read only the text/alt tags. Use alt tag left out to tell screen readers that it’s essential to view the image to understand the email, alt tag left empty (alt=“”) = to tell screen readers that content is not essential and should be ignored, and alt tag with content = for content to be read.

As you can see, email accessibility includes many best practice tactics all marketers should consider. Not only does it make your emails easier for everyone to read and digest — including those with accessibility issues — it also allows you to reach a larger percentage of people who would otherwise not be able to access or interact with your emails. And that can really pay off for you in more ways than one!


1World Health Organization Fact Sheet, November 2016

2World Health Organization Prevention of Blindness and Deafness Program

3Colour Blind Awareness Organization

4World Heath Organization Fact Sheet, Deafness and hearing loss, February 2017