Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building Vibrant, Diverse, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!



Inclusive, Accessible Email Messages

By Mike Thompson, 21 March, 2022

Write Inclusive Accessible Email Messages -  email icons and people networking overlaid with hands typing on a laptopCommunication plays a vital role in building diverse and inclusive communities. Email messages are a common means of sharing information within the community, but if they exclude certain groups, they can create a sense of "otherness" and hinder community building. It is crucial to remove barriers and promote accessible and inclusive communication to build vibrant and inclusive communities.

But... if these email messages are not inclusive and accessible, they may not serve to bring the community together at all. They may end up doing the opposite instead. This point cannot be overstated enough! Think about it for a moment. If you receive an email message that was sent to the entire community that excluded you because of your age, gender, culture, race, and/or disability, what does that do? This sends a clear message that says, "You are not one of us" and "You don't belong with us" ... Creating the ultimate "otherness"! There is no possible excuse that makes this okay! People with disabilities have already heard every excuse imaginable. The right thing to do is fix the problem. Remove the barriers that prevent us from building diverse, vibrant, inclusive, accessible communities!

Yikes! This is probably not what we intended. But this is what happens. This is not only a barrier to building the kind of community we all want to be a part of, but it is also destructive to the community-building process.

So what can we do instead?

This kind of practice should be replaced by the establishment of just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”.
- Universal House of Justice


What makes an email message inclusive?

To communicate effectively within a community, it's important to consider who the message is intended for and how it's being communicated. Using language that is inclusive of everyone, like "Hello everyone," rather than exclusive, like "Hi guys," is a good start.

Additionally, it's important to avoid using jargon or technical language that may not be familiar to everyone in the community. For example, assuming that everyone knows what Zoom or DM means may exclude those who are not tech-savvy.

If we don't take the time to be inclusive in our messages, we may unintentionally create barriers and exclude people. So, it's crucial to be mindful and ensure that our messages are accessible and welcoming to all.

Can you think of other examples of things that make an email message more inclusive?

Yolanda behind a computer desk burried up with a stack of keyboards
Yolanda working to update a computer at the office.  The keyboard was not working so she asked if we had any others she could try.  I brought her a few more.  She is now burried in keyboards just for fun!


What makes an email message accessible?

Accessibility is a term that is used to describe the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. In this case, an email message.

To make an email message accessible, it's important to understand how people with disabilities read it. Although people with disabilities use computers and email, knowing how they do it can aid in creating accessible emails.

For example, Blind people use assistive technology such as a screen reader or a Refreshable Braille Display. A screen reader reads out the text on the computer screen, while a Refreshable Braille Display has rows of pins that raise and lower to display Braille letters.

So what does this mean for you? You don't need to know Braille or produce anything in Braille as a part of your accessible email message. It's important to understand that Screen Reader technology and Refreshable Braille Display require text to be translated for use by a blind person. They cannot currently translate pictures or images, only text. This is important to keep in mind when attempting to make materials accessible.

Does this mean that you can't use pictures or images in your email messages if you want them to be accessible? No. Of course not. You can and should use pictures and images in your email messages just as usual. That is, keep doing it but with one small addition. That addition is called "Alternative Text" or "Alt Text" for short. ALT Text is simply a brief description of an image that is added in a designated place for embedded images in documents such as email messages.

Alt-text doesn't change how an image appears, it simply provides a text-based description for people who cannot see the image. A screen reader will read the Alt Text, giving the user context and meaning that the image is meant to convey. Alt Text can be likened to describing an image for a radio audience or over the phone.

Alt Text is used to describe pictures and images because it is an internationally recognized standard that has been in use for decades. This is necessary because there are many types of screen readers, document types, and email clients, requiring a standard approach that works across all platforms. That set of standards is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standard. This covers both web based and non-web based documents; Including email.

The WCAG standards are there for everyone to reference anytime they are needed. They are also kept up to date as technology continues to evolve. These standards cover a wide variety of things that make documents accessible to people with all types of Disabilities. This even includes people who are simply aging and are having trouble with things like shaking hands and being able to click on small items that are too close together.


How does a Blind Person use a Screen Reader?

Let's learn how Blind people use a Screen Reader to access information from the computer. Understanding this will help us create accessible email messages by knowing what changes to make.


How does a Deaf/Blind person use a Refreshable Braille Display?

Let's watch a video of a Deaf/Blind person using a Refreshable Braille Display. Pay attention to Haben Girmas' message that disability doesn't hold anyone back and that the barriers that exist are created by society. It's up to all of us to work together to remove those barriers, and this is important for building a diverse, inclusive, and accessible community. Her message is powerful and relevant for those of us striving to remove barriers.


With Knowledge, let's take Action!

Now that we understand how our Blind and Deaf/Blind friends will experience our email messages, let's consider some basic tips for making them accessible. These guidelines mostly involve common sense and following simple accessibility guidelines.

  • Improve the readability of your email by using larger font sizes

Text smaller than 14 pt on a desktop or laptop screen can be difficult for many people to read, and it can appear even smaller on mobile devices. It's best to use a font size between 14 and 16 pt to ensure readability. Additionally, keep in mind that older people in the community will appreciate this.

  • Use fonts that are easy to read

Before using a fancy font in your email messages, consider how accessible it is. Some fonts are easier to read than others. Stick to standard sans serif fonts like Arial, Tahoma, and Calibri for better accessibility.

  • Use color wisely

Ensure that important information is not conveyed solely through the use of color.

  • Use Alt Text with your pictures and images (unless they are decorative)

Alt Text is the standard way to provide descriptive information about a picture or image, as we learned from the videos. Different email clients have various ways to add Alt Text when including an image.

There are two basic parts to consider when adding the Alt Text.

  1. The method for how to add Alt Text to an included image
  2. The content of the description that goes in the Alt Text block. The next part can be challenging, as it requires some thought on your part. Although adding Alt Text is straightforward once you learn how, deciding what to say requires some consideration. This article is a valuable resource for learning about How to Write Meaningful Descriptive ALT Text for Images.

These links will show you how to add Alt Text to images using some popular email clients:

To create alt text for pictures in Google Gmail using a PC and the Web Interface:
Simple Steps

  1. Sign into your gmail account.

  2. Compose your email and insert your image.

  3. Click on your picture to select it and then below the picture, click on "Edit Alt Text".

  4. In the dialog box that opens, add your alt text in the text box provided.

  5. Click on "Apply".

Can you think of other examples of things that make an email message more accessible?


Other Important Considerations

If your email message contains more complex content such as tables or other special media formats, it is a good idea to consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for specific details on how to handle them.

Sending and Forwarding Email to the Community

If you send or forward email messages as a community leader, you play an important role in making sure they are accessible. Knowing whether an email message is or is not accessible is one of them. Making sure that the content of the message does not violate community ethical standards is another. For example, before forwarding an email message, it is important to consider if it contains any hate speech or racist content that violates basic community ethical standards. This sends a message of exclusion and creates an "Otherness." It is important to ensure that the message aligns with building a diverse, inclusive, and accessible community before forwarding it.

As a community leader, it's important to be responsible for the content you send out to your community. Just because someone wants their message to be sent out doesn't mean it should be. You have the responsibility to ensure that the content is accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. If the content isn't accessible, it's okay to tell the sender it needs to be fixed before it can be sent out. You can even offer to help them make it more accessible. By doing this, you are removing barriers and helping to build a diverse, vibrant, inclusive, and accessible community.


Final Thoughts

Imagine if every member of our community took a little bit of time to learn how to make their email messages accessible. It could make a big impact on our community dynamics. The way we communicate with each other is important, and inclusion and accessibility are key to building a diverse, vibrant, and accessible community. Let's take responsibility and make sure that our messages are inclusive and accessible.


Also See: Creating Accessible Emails from Harvard University


Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

Share or Print with: