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A guide to writing accessible emails

Emails come in two formats, Plain text or HTML. HTML emails include images, colours and links and look more designed.

Plain text emails are more likely to be accessible because there isn't as much to go wrong. So long as you have included a subject line and well-written prose.

Guidance for plain text emails is:

  • Include a clear subject line
  • Make the text readable
  • Use simple words
  • Group related information together
  • Use headings and bullets to simplify your message
  • Keep the reading level to below 9. You can use an application like Hemmingway or Grammarly to help you to simplify your text
  • See also more detailed guidance on formatting, page structure and readability as described in the web page checklist.

Emails that include HTML

Use of HTML emails gives you more work to do. The more complex your email, the more you'll need to think about accessibility. Guidance for HTML emails is:

  • Follow the guidance for plain text emails above. In summary, use a subject line, keep the email clear to read with a reading age below 9.
  • Do not include any text on images that you don't explain in words or cover with some alternative (alt) text
  • Use a font size of 14px or larger, do not use thin fonts, make sure the text is readable and the user can change the size to suit
  • Follow the guidance on the use of colour, imagery and multimedia This includes aiming to have good colour contrast; don't rely on colour alone and ensure videos are captioned
  • If you are using layouts with tables, you should design your email as you would if you were designing a web page. For example: make sure the text can be navigated without a mouse and reflows to fit all devices.

Taking these steps will make your emails better for all users.

Testing your emails

As with creating web pages and other types of document there are testing tools you can use. Here are a few suggestions (we've not tested these ourselves):

User testing

No tool or simulator can quite replace talking to people living with different disabilities. Testing your email with disabled users will give you more accurate feedback. You can also try using a speech reader yourself to hear how your email sounds.

Screen readers built-into operation systems:


External sources of information on accessibility:

AbilityNet - Creating accessible emails
Microsoft - Make your Outlook email accessible
Litmus - The Ultimate Guide to Email Accessibility