Ask any email marketer about the most important aspect of their campaigns. They will typically highlight the careful use of subject lines, preview text, body copy, images, and compelling call-to-actions (CTAs). These are all highly visual and essential components of an email campaign. But what if the recipient has a visual impairment and cannot see these elements?
Thankfully, a raft of technologies is available that can help people with visual impairments stay connected with friends, colleagues, business partners, and brands via email. Collectively known as screen readers, these applications convert the information displayed on a screen to audio or braille.
While screen readers provide access to digital content to people who would otherwise not be able to engage with it, the technology is far from perfect. But, perhaps, we need to look at it another way. Maybe it is the people who design our email content that aren’t perfect.
How Screen Readers Work
Visually impaired people cannot skim-read an email. Screen readers typically present the information displayed in an email in the order it appears. Unless an email has been designed to be accessible and contains navigational aids, they’ll have to read through the entire email.
A poorly structured email will cause screen readers to jump around and deliver a confused message. This confusion is amplified by elements of your email that screen readers cannot comprehend. This includes images illustrating your campaign offers or graphic representations of buttons for navigation and CTAs that are not supported with some carefully worded alt text.
What is Alt Text?
Alt text (alternative text) describes the appearance or function of an image on a web page or email. A screen reader can read that alt text and give the user greater insight into how the image relates to the rest of the page.
Some alt text will simply aid in highlighting the information in a newsletter.
For example, an entertainment website’s newsletter covering an event like the Oscars might want to include an actor’s name and perhaps describe what they are wearing in a photo’s alt text to encourage the user to click through to the full article. At this point, we should remind you that it’s not considered best practice to simply copy the caption underneath your image in the alt text. A caption often only works when the image is viewed. The alt text should create that image in the minds of people who cannot see it as intended.
Other alt text will be critical to the commercial operation of a business. A big “Buy Now” button might as well be a smudge on the screen if it is not accompanied by appropriate alt text.
In reality, including appropriate alt text in your newsletters isn’t difficult. In fact, once aware of the importance of alt text in your newsletters, its omission could be considered lazy and inconsiderate.
Email Accessibility is a Right, Not a Privilege
Email accessibility is not only a nice thing to do. It’s a legal right.
In the United States, email accessibility is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (often referred to as ADA). Under ADA legislation, thousands of lawsuits have been presented in federal and state courts against organizations failing to meet accessibility standards.
A number of big brands, including perhaps most famously the pizza delivery chain Domino’s, have fallen foul of ADA regulations. However, the size of your organization is no defense. When it comes to accessibility, the ADA doesn’t discriminate.
Similar regulations exist in the UK, European Union, and other international markets.
While there have been accusations of “drive-by” litigation relating to accessibility, there is a real need to improve access in the digital world.
If accessibility is ignored, at best, people with visual impairments and other disabilities will be offered a suboptimal experience of your brand. At worst, they will be entirely excluded from your activities. No matter how you look at this, it doesn’t make good commercial sense.
Why Accessibility Makes Good Commercial Sense
Are you ready to close the door to millions of consumers who may struggle to engage with your emails?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12 million people in the United States over the age of 40 have some form of visual impairment. One million of these people are classified as blind. This number is set to grow due to the increasing epidemics of diabetes and other chronic diseases and the rapidly aging population.
Then we need to look at factors like color blindness and dyslexia. Color blindness impacts approximately one in twelve men and one in 200 women. Globally, it has been estimated that dyslexia is a problem for between nine and 12% of the population.
No matter how you look at these figures, it’s evident that any failure to improve accessibility to your emails, webpages, apps, and any other digital media will impact your bottom line.
Alt Text: A Step Towards Greater Accessibility
While accessibility isn’t a cut-and-dried issue, improving the use of alt text in your email campaigns will help enhance the experience of potentially millions of subscribers. In addition, the fact that alt text is so easy to implement into your email campaigns should mean that every marketer is motivated and capable of making these changes.
Alt text is just the first step on the journey to creating a more accessible and inclusive digital landscape. To learn more about how the email and digital marketing experts at emfluence can help you create a more accessible and, therefore, more engaging and profitable campaign strategy, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.