Accessibility and emails

Web accessibility has always been a requirement for UMaine websites, and Digital Communications will be increasing our efforts to improve the accessibility of web content on in the coming year. The term “accessibility” refers to our efforts to remove barriers that prevent access to websites by people who have a disability. This month, we focus on email, and pitfalls to avoid when sending a message.

Email is an effective engagement tool— this newsletter, for example, has been well received and gives us opportunity to share our expertise in bite-sized, monthly updates. These days, emails can contain many of the same features as web pages, and therefore the same web accessibility concerns apply.

Images for images, text for text
If you have taken the time to create a flyer for a communication, it is tempting to use an image of the flyer for an email “blast” to your audience; we are all busy, and that certainly can save time. Unfortunately, it gives a poor experience for many of your recipients. Anyone who relies on their computer to resize text or even read the contents of an email to them would be unable to see the content of the image— and mobile users would be presented with the image on their phone screen, perhaps too small to easily read. Even worse, some email programs will load the message without the images, and your entire message would be obscured unless the recipient chose to view the image.

A better tactic is to let images be images, and text be text. You can crop the interesting visual element from your flier and put that in your email— email programs like MailChimp and Constant Contact allow you to add “alt text” to the image as well, which will display in place of the image until the image is loaded. You can then use text formatting underneath the image to convey your message in a way that is accessible, searchable, and visible even if the email program does not display images by default.