Accessible Emails 101

Email structure

Use a clear and descriptive subject line, and keep your email content and structure as simple as possible.

If you need any of the following features, use the following guidance to keep them accessible:

  • Headings: if using headings for sections of the email,
    • Always use the email tool’s built-in heading styles instead of just changing visual formatting (for Outlook, see Format email messages with Styles)
    • Generally ensure each document has a single Level 1 heading (main idea) and nest other subheadings under that, with parent-child relationships
    • Keep headings short, relevant to the text that follows, and clear
  • Lists: Use the email tool’s built-in bulleted/numbered lists for list content (for Outlook, see Add a numbered or bulleted list to a message)
  • Tables: if you must use a table for data that have row/column headings, insert a proper table using the email tool’s functionality (for Outlook, see Add a table to a message)
    • Avoid setting a fixed width for the table
    • Use table headers – here’s how to Use table headers in Outlook
    • Keep table structure simple; avoid merged cells

Media descriptions

If you include images in your message, always add concise “alt text” to describe any images that convey meaning. Here’s how to Add alternative text in Outlook. Besides helping individuals with visual impairments, it’s important to remember that many modern email programs do not load images by default (as a security measure), so about half of your recipients will likely see your alt text before they see the image.

If an image is exclusively decorative (adds no meaning to the email), enter “” for the alt text or check the “Mark as decorative” checkbox in Outlook.

Avoid including images that consist entirely of text; replace them instead with actual text. If you embed a video in your email that contains audio content, be sure to add, edit and/or verify the accuracy of that video’s captions.

Descriptive links

Ensure that all hyperlinked text describes the target (or action) of the hyperlink. Replace any visible URLs with text that describes the target (such as the title of the target page), and create a hyperlink from that text that points to the URL.

Replace “read more,” “click here,” or other generic text with meaningful text (i.e. the title of the target page). Ensure that link text is unique for all hyperlinks in the email, unless the duplicate links lead to the same destination.

Any hyperlinked buttons and/or images in the email should also include descriptions of their targets.


Generally avoid giving your email a background color, as these do not render consistently in all email programs, and some users may employ high-contrast or dark modes for email. Use Automatic text color in Outlook to ensure best readability for all. If you do have foreground text or objects against a colored background, ensure sufficient color contrast between the foreground and background colors.

Avoid conveying meaning exclusively with color. If you want to indicate or bring attention to certain text in a paragraph or objects in a group, make sure you don’t just indicate them with color. Add other formatting, symbols or explanatory text to point out the text you’re indicating.


If your email includes instructions, make sure they are not dependent on a single sense. For example, don’t indicate objects solely by their shape, position, location, size, orientation or sound – make sure they are identified in a way that is understandable by users who can’t see or can’t hear the object.

Be very cautious when using animated GIFs or other flashing or moving objects in your email. Avoid text or elements that blink or flash more than twice a second, as blinking or flashing objects can be distracting, and can cause problems for readers with photosensitivity. Make sure any animated GIFs last no longer than five seconds and is not set to loop continuously. If you can’t be sure an animation will stop moving, replace it with a still image.

Use consistent, simple fonts that are optimized for readability. Sans-serif fonts (like Arial, Calibri, Lato or Open Sans) tend to be most legible, but simple serif fonts are also acceptable. Where appropriate, consider fonts that were designed for accessibility or legibility, such as Andika, Atkinson Hyperlegible, or Lexend (download these font families for free from Google Fonts). Minimize or avoid script or display fonts.

Check accessibility before sending

In Outlook, you can Check accessibility while you work with the Accessibility Checker. Be sure to look for any MailTips from the Accessibility Checker and review any issues it finds before sending your message.

As an extra check, you can have Outlook read a message aloud to you in Immersive Reader mode, so you can check how the message might sound to someone using a screen reader.

Finally, be aware that Outlook allows Outlook users to specify their preference for accessible content. If one of the recipients to whom you’re sending your email has specified that they prefer accessible emails, a MailTip will warn you before you send your message.

Additional resources

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Article ID: 92245
Tue 2/6/24 8:05 AM
Tue 2/6/24 8:05 AM