By Coralie Meade Rodriguez, Senior Production Specialist at Firefly Partners – a women-owned, LGBTQ+ certified, and minority-owned digital marketing agency that develops accessible online experiences that empower progressive organizations to thrive.

Email accessibility refers to the art of crafting email messages in a way that ensures equal usability and understanding for all individuals. It aims to remove barriers for people with visual, auditory, cognitive, mobility, and other permanent or temporary limitations so they can effectively receive, understand, and respond to email communications.

While most businesses are legally mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that the emails they send are accessible, email accessibility is critical because it promotes inclusivity and equal participation in digital marketing, not just for those with limitations. Just in the United States:

  • Over 27 million people have a form of color blindness
  • 8 million people speak a language other than English at home
  • About 68 million people have dyslexia or another cognitive impairment

Email accessibility is a good business practice, and can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as elevate brand reputation. Moreover, nonprofits can expand their reach and engage with a wider audience by improving the overall user experience with accessible communications. By designing emails with clear and well-structured content, nonprofit organizations can ensure that everyone can engage in important conversations, receive essential information, and participate in your mission.

Understanding WCAG Standards

WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It is a set of internationally recognized guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to ensure that digital content, like emails and websites, are accessible to individuals of all abilities. WCAG standards are important as they provide a comprehensive framework and standards for creating inclusive digital experiences that promote equal access to information for all types of people. Success criteria outlined in these standards that apply to emails can include:

  • Sufficient color contrast
  • Proper use of color
  • Logical heading structure
  • Hyperlink text that provides relevant information about the purpose of the link

Three Key Considerations for Email Accessibility

With proper planning, creating accessible emails can be a simple process that results in engaging content and beautiful design. Here are three areas where you’ll want to check for accessibility.

1) Design

Design in email accessibility is particularly important for ensuring that individuals of all abilities can effectively access, comprehend, and engage with email content. Key criteria for nonprofits to consider when designing emails for accessibility include:

  • Ensure that your brand colors pass ADA contrast ratio guidelines of 4.5:1
  • Optimize text color vs background color contrast ratios
  • The font is clear, legible, and easy to read at all screen sizes
  • Break up large blocks of text and use sensible headings
  • Optimize call-to-action (CTA) buttons to have a contrast ratio to their background of 3:1
  • Make sure buttons have adequate empty space around them to click on mobile devices
  • Use images that are diverse, inclusive, and related to your organization’s work and its supporters

2) Content Readability

Email content readability refers to the clarity and ease with which recipients can read and understand the information presented in an email. It not only ensures that individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties can comprehend the message, but also that they can meaningfully engage with your nonprofit’s mission and work. Nonprofits that successfully create readable content:

  • Use plain language for easier understanding for all users
  • Keep line length short (between 45 and 75 characters)
  • Use headers and hierarchy
  • Only center-align text if it is short – most text should be left aligned
  • Avoid all caps
  • Underline hyperlinks and make sure hyperlinks have descriptive text (no “click here” or “read more”)

3) Development

Coding email templates that are accessible is important because it promotes equal accessibility and usability for your nonprofit’s entire audience. When developing custom templates for donation appeals, newsletters, volunteer opportunities, or impact stories:

  • Define the language of your email in the html using: lang=”en” attribute
  • Include role=”presentation” on all <table> elements
  • Provide meaningful alt text on images
  • Use semantic code, which means appropriate headings in order (h1, h2, h3, h4) for clarity, navigation, screen readers, and quick scanning

Our Email Accessibility Checklist is a great starting point for creating visually appealing and functional emails that adhere to accessibility guidelines and promote equal access and usability. Download Firefly Partners’ Email Accessibility Checklist to ensure that all your supporters can connect and engage with your work.

A screenshot of a list of email accessibility best practices - such as using breaking up large blocks of test, including meaningful alt text, and underlined hyperlinks.

Next Steps: Become a Champion of Digital Accessibility Inside Your Organization

Advocating for your nonprofit’s digital content, platforms, and communications to be inclusive and accessible to individuals with disabilities fosters equal participation, engagement, and support from broader and untapped audiences. Here are three ways you can become a digital accessibility champion at your organization:

  • Continue to read and engage with A11y community to learn more: Short for “accessibility,” A11y refers to the community of individuals, organizations, and experts who are dedicated to advocating for and advancing digital accessibility. Staying up to date with innovations in digital accessibility will help you make your nonprofit’s content accessible to individuals of all abilities.
  • Stay vigilant as WCAG standards change over time: Digital accessibility standards are always changing with evolving technologies. Understanding what WCAG criteria is new and what remains relevant is important for growing your supporter base and maximizing your impact.
  • Spread the word!: Share the “why” behind your decisions to help your teammates understand email accessibility. By raising awareness, sharing success stories, and highlighting the challenges faced by people with limitations, you can drive change and promote accessibility considerations in your email design, content, and development.

About the Sponsor

Firefly Partners is a women-owned, LGBTQ+ certified, and minority-owned digital marketing agency. Our mission is to develop accessible online experiences that empower progressive organizations to thrive. We deliver beautiful websites and tailored marketing strategies that help nonprofits and social impact companies achieve their goals. Partnering with more than 500 clients over fifteen years, our experienced team uses best practices to deliver custom, award-winning web solutions that meet our clients’ objectives.

A screenshot of the homepage of Firefly Partners - a women-owned, LGBTQ+ certified, and minority-owned digital marketing agency that develops accessible online experiences that empower progressive organizations to thrive.