Creating an Accessible Email

Seven simple steps to create an accessible email in Outlook 2013

Make sure your emails are reaching your entire audience by following these steps

  • HTML supports semantic headings, images with alternative text, links, and lists it is the best format for ensuring the creating of accessible emails. Set HTML as the default email setting.

    Outlook 2013: File tab > Click Options, then click Mail > Compose Message, Select HTML from the drop down menu next to Compose Message in this format. Click OK.

  • There are many fonts to choose from for email. However, not all fonts are created equal when it comes to accessibility. There are some fonts that are most commonly recommended do to both their readability and availability across a variety of computer operating systems. 

    Arial — Veranda

    Generally, sans serif fonts work best as screen with low resolution make serif fonts more difficult to discern. No matter which font styles above is chosen, the font should be at least 12 point or larger.

    Changing the Font Size in Outlook 2013

    In Outlook 2013 you can change the default font size from 11 to 12 or higher. The steps to doing this are outlined below:

    1. In Outlook 2013, go to the File tab and select Options.
    2. Select Mail from the left navigation panel.
    3. Select the Stationery and Fonts... button.
    4. Select the Personal Stationery tab.
    5. On this tab you will see three Font... buttons. Select The one under New mail messages.
    6. In the Size: box select 12 or a higher number if you wish.
    7. Select OK to go back to the Personal Stationery tab.
    8. Do steps 5 through 7 again for the other two Font... buttons to change the default font size for Replying or forwarding messages and Composing and reading plain text messages.

    Now when you receive, reply, forward, or send a message the default font size will be size 12.

  • Good Contrast

    People with low vision or color-blindness have difficulty reading text on screens when text color doesn’t strongly contrast with the background. Always choose a color of text that has a high level of contrast form the background. Emails with low contrast can be difficult, if not impossible to read for people with low vision.


    Outlook does give the option of changing the color or texture of the background, or even placing a picture behind text, it is recommended to keep the background white.

  • Microsoft Outlook allows illustrations to be added to emails, such as; Picture, Clip Art, SmartArt, Charts, and Screenshots). Any email (including University Wide Notices) that contains text that is embedded in a graphic image (jpg, png, gif, etc.) will not be readable by screen readers. It is very important to add alternative text and/or captions to all images to ensure the message is received by everyone in the audience.

    If you are adding an illustration, place the cursor where the illustration is to be inserted, go to the Insert tab and then choose the type.

    Wrap Text

    After inserting the illustration, Right Click on the image, pick Wrap Text, then choose In Line with Text from the context menu. Selecting this option will ensure that the image will be seen by screen reading software.

    Adding Alternative Text and Captions

    Alternative text and captions are read by screen readers, allowing the content and function of the illustrations to be accessible to those with visual or certain cognitive disabilities.

    To add Alt Text to an image; Right Click on the image, click Format Picture, then choose the Layout & Properties Icon, choose Alt Text. This applies to any time of image whether it be an AutoShape or Chart Area. When the Alt Text is selected, you then insert a Title and Description of the image.

  • Signatures in Outlook provide a way to add name and contact information to emails the same way every time without re-typing. 

    To do this, go to Insert tab, choose Signature, and then Signatures. Signatures created here can be read by screen reading software and are accessible.

    Steps for adding Signatures:

    Once the signature is created, it can be added to emails by picking it form the list created. Insert tab, Signature, and then either choose one already created, or make a new one.

  • To add a hyperlink to email:

    1. Place the cursor where the hyperlink will appear, or simply highlight the text in the email to become a link.
    2. In the Insert tab, click Hyperlink and a dialog box will open.
    3. In the Text to Display box, type in the name or phrase that briefly describe the link destination. If text is highlighted, this box will already be filled.
    4. Enter a URL, a location within the same document, an email address, or even link to another document.
    5. If choosing a URL, type it into the Address box. Click OK.
  • Add content here.

Effective Emails

  • Use BCC to protect email addresses unless everyone knows each other.

    Use address book with mail groups & validate often. Avoid typing addresses free hand; many addresses are similar; watch auto fill.

    Fill in addresses last to avoid sending an incomplete email by mistake.

  • Make your messages stand out and make it easy for the person to decide when to read your message. A good subject also makes it easier to locate your message later.

  • Keep it short and to the point. Use the inverted pyramid; Most Important, Less Important, Least Important.

    Don’t use all caps because that is like yelling.

    Proofread & spell check before sending the email. For URL links use SNIPURL to shorten long URLs or enclose in < >.

    Identify who you are and respond promptly.

  • Post attachments first, so that you don’t forget to send it.

    If the attachment is a PDF, do not copy and paste into the email because it creates it as an image and that isn’t accessible.

  • Include all of your information.

    If you must include a quote, keep it short.

  • Chill Out avoid snarky replies, wait 24 hours to reply if need be.

    Never say in an email what you wouldn't say in person. Once “Send” is hit, you’ve lost control of the email.

  • Protect yourself:

    Delete browser history, cache, cookies, and passwords after using a public Internet connection.

    Never include personal or financial info in an email, and don’t share passwords.

  • For personal email, folders need to make sense to the user.

    For official company email, the company file plan should be used.

    Use separate email channels for separate communities.

  • Let your sender know you got the email even if you don’t have a response at the time. People expect a response within 24 hours.

References/More Resources

Outlook 2010: Creating Accessible Emails

Accessible Features in Microsoft Outlook

Color Contrast Analyser

To find Color Code Numbers:

To Check Level of Contrast: