Creating Accessible Emails in Outlook

An often overlooked area of accessibility is the creation of accessible emails. As emails exist as a primary mode of communication in much of daily life, it is important to make the content accessible to all users. The following are best practices for creating accessible emails using Microsoft Outlook.

Email Content

To create fully accessible emails, it is recommended to turn off the "Rich Text" formatting and switch to "Plain Text" which removes all text formatting including font and color, bold and italic as well as any multimedia components. 
Turn off Rich Text formatting in the Options tab

If Rich Text formatting is desired, use the following guidelines to ensure accessible content.

Graphics and Images

To create accessible emails it is a good idea to avoid including images and graphics of any kind to begin with as they can be difficult to access and will not load for people who have images blocked in their email account. If images or graphics are necessary, avoid housing the entirety of the informational content of the email within the image or graphic itself and add alt text. Alt text allows the content to be read to those using screen readers and replaces the image for people who have images blocked.

To add alt text:

  1. Right click the image or graphic that has been inserted into the email
  2. Select Layout & Properties from the Format Picture box
  3. Select Alt Text and type the desired text in the "Description" field; a Title can also be added here. The alt text should be succinct and equivalent to the image. There is no need to use descriptive phrases such as "image of..." because the screen reader will identify it as an image for the user. It is recommended to keep alt text to 125 characters or fewer as most screen readers break text up into blocks of 125 characters.  For especially complex charts or equations, a link to an extended text description should be used.
    Add alt text to images using the Layers and Properties tab

 

Tables

Alt text should also be added to tables to make the content accessible to those using screen readers and to act as a stand in should the table be blocked, fail to load or is missing from the email.

To add alt text to a table:

  1. Double click the table
  2. Select Alt Text from the Table Properties box
  3. Type the desired text in the "Description" field; a Title can also be added here. The alt text should be succinct and descriptive of the contents of the table.
    Add alt text to tables using the Alt Text tab in Table Properties

Links

When adding hyperlinks to an email, it is a good practice to use meaningful text as screen readers read the hyperlink text to the user.  Using the entire URL for the link text is unwieldy and using generic phrases such as "Click Here" or the like gives the user no information about the content or context of the link. Screen readers also navigate through documents via creating a list of links devoid of surrounding content to present to the user so having meaningful text is important.

  1. Select the text that requires the hyperlink, then click the [Hyperlink] button
  2. The selected text will appear in the Text to Display box and this will become the hyperlinked text
  3. If necessary, change the hyperlink text
  4. Type the destination URL in the Address box
  5. A ScreenTip can also be added here to display desired text when the cursor rests over the hyperlink
    To add a hyperlink, use the hyperlink button to create a link from selected text.

 

Accessible Text

  • Format documents with high contrast such as black text on a white background to provide higher readability to those with low vision.
  • Ensure the font size is sufficiently large, generally a minimum of 11 points is recommended. 
  • Add an underline or bold font to convey meaning in place of just using color to create emphasis or meaning.

Accessibility Checker

Steps for using the Accessibility Checker are the same as for Word Documents. 

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