Imagine you spent your valuable time crafting the world’s most beautiful email template. On top of that, you put together an artfully strategic drip campaign that will lead to the highest conversion rates your company has ever seen. Now imagine almost 20% of your list simply can’t read those emails.

Yikes. Welcome to every marketer’s nightmare.

No need to worry! There’s a few steps you can take to reach that percentage of your list and make sure that everyone can experience your amazing content.

Email Accessibility

You may already be familiar with accessibility on your website, but what about in your emails? Whether you send an email personally or through a marketing automation software, you should be aware of common issues that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to read them.

Since 15% of the world's population lives with a disability that may affect their ability to navigate online content, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it's also good business to make sure your email content is accessible to everyone.

Top Email Accessibility Issues

For our purposes, we’ll focus mostly on emails you send with a marketing automation or email automation tool (like Hubspot, Pardot, MailChimp, etc.). That said, many of these tips are easily applicable to personal emails and will help make sure that everyone, regardless of ability, can read your messages. Let’s dive in!

Writing Accessible Copy

First thing's first. You can’t have an email without copy. (Well you could, but it certainly wouldn’t be ideal.) Screen readers and other assistive technologies work great with your typical paragraph, but there are a few elements of accessible copy that may surprise you.

Readability

While you likely know the importance of your audience understanding your emails, you should also take into account that the average reading level of your visitors is probably lower than you think. The average American adult's reading level is around the 7th or 8th grade, and the UK government suggests that content writers aim for a readability level of age nine. Additionally, people with learning disabilities need text to be as simple and clear as possible.

To start, you can’t go wrong with simple language. Don’t pad your email with long, fancy words (even if you think it makes you sound smart). Also, sentences should be short and sweet whenever possible. To learn more, read our blog post on why readability matters.

Directional Language & Descriptive Links

Phrases like “click here,” “see below,” “click the red button in the top right corner” are problematic for users who use screen readers and those with cognitive conditions. Directing users by referring to direction, location, or colour can leave those with visual impairments in the dust.

Similarly, with screen readers, link text often appears in a list. When you use language like “click here,” it tells the user nothing about the destination. Instead, use language that refers to the content itself.

For example, if I wanted you to see blog on why “click here” is a bad thing, linking to the subject provides a description of the destination so screen reader users (and everyone else) know exactly what they’ll find on the other end of the link. 

Screenshots of emails with descriptive link examples

Linking text like “learn more here” doesn’t provide a clear link destination, while linking something like “visit our blog” tells the user exactly where the link will take them.

Typeface

Here’s what you need to know: Stay away from Comic Sans.

OK, there’s a little more to it than that. While that advice rings true when choosing a typeface for your email content, there’s a lot more to consider. Generally, sans-serif fonts are easier to read online and decorative fonts should be reserved for headlines. For people with dyslexia or low vision, clear typography can make all the difference. Your best bet is to double check that your email templates use accessible fonts and stick to it.

Accessible Email Design

Now that your copy is ready to go, it’s time to consider design elements.

Colour Choice

Colour does more than just make your emails pretty. There’s a science to your colour choice—from evoking emotional responses to boosting engagement. But colour doesn’t hold the same power for every visitor.

In your email templates, make sure that colour contrast levels are adequate so those with colour blindness or low vision can still read the content on your site or view your images. Additionally, avoid using colour as a means to convey information. For example, if an email uses green and red circles to highlight different elements, it won’t be useful for people who can’t see those colours. The same goes for phrases like “click the red button.”

Screenshots of emails with color choice examples

If someone has low vision or colour blindness, red and green circles in your content could end up looking the same, losing their meaning in the process.

Image Use

They say a picture is worth a thousand words—until it isn’t. Screen readers can’t read images and convey their meaning to users (at least not yet…). To convey the same meaning to those who use assistive technology, images should have alternative (alt) text that describes the image. Don’t worry, learning how to write great alt text is simple!  

Since screen readers can’t read image content alone, it stands to reason that they can’t read text contained in images either. If you include text in header or inline images, don’t let half your email’s meaning get lost—make sure the same text can be found either in the alt text or in the email text itself.

White Space

Anyone reading online content needs a little break. In fact, you might need one now that you’re nearing the end of this very blog. Hang tight! You can give your readers a break, and make your emails that much more readable, by incorporating plenty of white space.

While people with dyslexia, learning disabilities, or even eye issues require eye space, it benefits all your readers and can make or break your email results.

Screenshots of emails with white space examples

When email content lacks adequate white space, at best, it looks crowded. At worst, it makes it difficult or impossible for those with dyslexia, learning disabilities, or certain vision issues to read your content.

These tips are not necessarily all-encompassing—especially since web accessibility is always developing as new technology becomes available. That said, they’ll give you a great start on creating accessible emails and reaching the extra 20% of the population that lives with a disability.

To learn more about web accessibility, check out and share our free Web Accessibility 101 infographic!