How to Promote Accessibility in Your Email Marketing Campaigns

Making good on this commitment requires a change in aesthetics and in mindset

Approximately one in four people in the United States, a total of 61 million Americans, live with some form of disability. Conditions vary widely in severity and functionality, but the fact remains that accessibility must be baked into every element of a company’s business and marketing strategy, especially given the shift to hybrid work and digital offices. Otherwise, organizations run the risk of alienating and excluding 25% of the U.S. population.

For email marketers, our primary concerns are audio-visual challenges and conditions like dyslexia, colorblindness and astigmatism, which make it harder to digest written content. We recently surveyed over 250 email marketers to gauge their approach to accessibility: While we found that 89% of respondents are either considering implementing accessibility initiatives or currently doing so, only 7% agreed their company has a fully defined accessibility strategy.

There seems to be a disconnect here between awareness and action, through no fault of individual marketers; email teams are historically underfunded and underresourced. Email marketers may want to bolster their inclusion efforts on a broad, organizational scale, but this isn’t always realistic or possible.

Implementing basic aesthetic changes goes a long way. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure your email marketing campaigns are accessible for all recipients.

Change your aesthetics

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides legal guidelines for promoting accessibility and threatens penalties for those who don’t comply. For instance, the ADA requires font sizes be a minimum of 14 points so text is larger and easier to read, and there must be sufficient contrast between the text and background colors.

Keeping the ADA in mind, consider the following when working on your next campaign.

Embrace white space. Don’t overload your emails with too much text, hyperlinks or images. Be generous with the amount of white space you leave to ensure important content stands out and calls to action aren’t buried. Avoid using full text justification, which makes it more difficult for dyslexic recipients to determine where to start reading.

Enable dark mode capabilities. You can also use a media query to glean whether recipients have dark mode enabled on their devices. Dark mode is a boon to photosensitive viewers because it reduces eye strain, placing light text on a dark background. Marketers should alter text formatting and color to make sure messages are compatible with dark mode so users with this setting enabled can digest written content.

An important caveat here is that folks living with astigmatism can find light text on a dark background blurry, so use a high color contrast for all your text elements. You can achieve this by adding a semi-transparent layer behind your text, which will provide contrast for both light and dark backgrounds.

Keep it simple. Pare back your use of images and tables. Emails should always make sense without visual aids, especially because these are inaccessible to visually impaired recipients using screen readers or smart speakers. Always consider how assistive devices will interpret the elements you include in your messages—so if you must include a photo, make sure you employ meaningful alt text to describe what each image shows. This will display text over your images where it can be easily read, instead of embedding descriptions within the images themselves.

Change your mindset

Implementing aesthetic changes is one thing, but changing your approach to accessibility is a whole different ball game. Given the dearth of email programs deploying strategic accessibility efforts, email marketers must undergo a collective change of mindset if we want to effect positive change within our industry.

To better grasp how inaccessibility impacts everyday recipients, ask folks living with disabilities to share their experiences. Without the lived experience of navigating life with a disability, how can we understand the effect that seemingly minute moments of exclusion, like hard-to-read emails, can have? For instance, connect with dyslexic folks and ask them to describe their challenges with suboptimized emails. Use what you learn from these conversations to design campaigns that are easier for everyone to engage with. 

Make accessibility a core part of your quality assurance processes. If you learn the content of a campaign isn’t compatible with screen readers, don’t hit send. Confirm your emails are accessible to all audiences the same way you’d check for typos or incorrect hyperlinks. You can complete render testing, use automated contrast checkers and even employ screen readers like Alexa or Siri yourself to make sure they can digest your content.

Your ultimate goal should be to ensure accessibility efforts don’t stop at easy-to-read emails. Accessibility should be a priority across all customer touch points, like your website or call center—otherwise you run the risk of gatekeeping your product or service from a quarter of the U.S. population. Furthermore, many accessibility tactics are also established best email practices, so non-impaired subscribers will interact more positively with your emails, too.

If your marketing team has the resources, consider investing in tools that help senders understand how emails render across different platforms. Technology like predictive eye tracking also helps senders understand how recipients navigate emails.

As we settle into doing the majority of business online, accessibility must be at the forefront of email marketing strategies. These measures won’t just allow your brand to craft messages that resonate with all customers, you’ll also see a boost in your brand reputation, amplified ethical positioning and increased ROI from your email channel.

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