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Ask MNCDHH: DeafBlind Friendly Emails

You ask, we answer

10/3/2018 8:43:09 AM

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Question: How can I make sure that my emails are accessible to deafblind people?

Answer: It’s important to make sure the content of your email is accessible to all recipients. Deafblind people use different tools to access their email depending on their preferences. One person may prefer to use a braille reader exclusively while another person prefers using a software program that magnifies the screen view in the morning and then an amplified screen reader later in the day. Since there are so many variations, see below for a list of best practices regarding email accessibility for standard emails:

  • Use HTML format. This ensures your email is compatible with different email programs a person may be using. 
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. Sans serif fonts such as Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, and Veranda are good options. Also, make sure your font-size is at least 14 point bold. MNCDHH typically uses Arial Bold 14 font.
  • Make sure there is sufficient contrast between the text color and the email background. For example, if you use white text on a yellow background, the text will be difficult to read. There are a few online resources for checking color contrast, such as WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker. Also, don’t use a background with patterns, texture or pictures as these make it challenging to read the text as well. 
  • It’s important to make sure color isn’t the only way information is conveyed. To emphasize something, put asterisks (*) before and after the word or phrase. 
  • Add alternative text to images. Graphics such as photos and charts should have alternative text describing the image. For example, if you use Outlook right click on the image and select “Format Picture.” From there, you can then select “Layout & Properties” and then “Alt Text.” 
  • When sharing information from a web page, copy and paste the plain text directly into the email along with the link to the web page using meaningful text (more about this in the next bullet). This will make things much easier for people who wish to avoid navigating potentially tricky websites. 
  • When labeling links to web pages, use meaningful hyperlink text that is descriptive yet concise. Hyperlink text should let readers know what information they will find when they click on the hyperlink. Never ever use “click here” because it is too vague.
  • If you add an attachment, let your reader know. Mention what documents are attached in the body of your email. Make sure they are also accessible. This is easy to do with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint by using the Accessibility Checker.
  • When you copy (CC) others on an email, name them in the body of the message. If your email is being sent to a large group you can use a group greeting, such as “Hello Team,” instead of naming each recipient. 
  • Repeat any important information included in the subject line in the body of the email as well. Depending on how one processes emails, one may not see the subject line unless looking for it. For example, if you say “Meet next Friday?” in the subject line make sure you reiterate that you’re wondering if they can meet next Friday in the body of the email as well. 
  • Don’t add any information after signing your name. A person might assume your name is the end of the message, stop reading, and then miss any additional text.
  • If your reader must click a link and sign in to view your email due to a security system, this is not accessible. If you must use a system like this, provide an alternative email address that does not require this process. 
  • When forwarding messages, let readers know you’re forwarding a message and the name of the original sender. Remove the extra clutter in email forwards and only include the name and message of the original sender. Your email recipients will thank you for this. 
  • For longer emails, use built-in formatting styles such as lists and subject headings. This makes it easier to tab through in the correct reading order.

Most importantly, be willing to make any changes a deafblind recipient may ask for in regards to email accessibility.

While the list of above best practices might seem hard or overwhelming, it really isn't! Try out these simple adjustments and you will sense a change in your comfort level. 

Additional information

  • Special thanks to Jamie Taylor (DeafBlind MNCDHH board member), John Lee Clark (DeafBlind community advocate), and Paul Deeming (DeafBlind Services Minnesota) for their contributions to this newsletter.
  • Special thanks to Nikki Peterson for her writing expertise. 
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