When brand standards and accessibility standards collide

A long-standing conflict in email marketing has been the intersection of brand standards and email client support. This is usually most clearly seen in the context of fonts: As many email clients only support web-safe fonts, Arial, Verdana and Times New Roman are among standard font choices when creating emails. Most designers agree this isn’t within their brand standards, so they default to using text in images to fill the brand standards gap.

The problem with using text in images really hits when we look at email from an accessibility perspective. According to the CDC, 26% of Americans live with a disability. Vision disabilities represent 4% of our population, and include people with print disabilities such as blindness or vision impairment, physical disabilities and learning disabilities like as dyslexia. Roughly 1 in 5 people live with dyslexia, and many of them use advanced screen readers to read the bulk of their digital content. What does that mean for you as an email marketer? Those people probably aren’t getting your message at all.

Why not? Screen readers can’t read images. They rely on us to provide a text alternative to the image in the form of the alt attribute. And screen readers frequently cap the alternative text at 100 to 120 characters. This means that if you’re using text as an image for body copy or larger amounts of text, like in the Fall River example below, it’s not getting read. This is a major obstacle to providing an equivalent experience for your users and being respectful of the different ways people engage with your brand. If you must use text as images, do so sparingly.

Large copy blocks should never be used as an image; it’s hard to provide alternative text that long, and screen readers frequently stop reading after 100 characters.

The best solution requires a bit of a paradigm shift out of pixel perfect design solutions with a focus more towards flexibility. As newer devices and email clients come out with better support for webkit and Google fonts, it makes sense to start focusing efforts towards a more long-term solution. The additional inclusion of retina screen resolutions makes using live text even more important. Think about your text in font stacks—focusing on the best font solution first and then allowing a graceful degradation into web-safe and default fonts. Be aware of the impact these changes can have on how your text renders in some email clients, as you’ll find that tight margins won’t fit this concept very well. However, the outcome is clean code that is easily read by eyes and ears alike.

Another conflict in brand standards and accessibility is color contrast. The minimum color contrast ratios can put a little pressure on colors used in the design. Like alternative text, color contrast has a considerable impact on those with low vision, color blindness and dyslexia. In email, this most often affects CTAs or other links, but it also happens in graphics as well. An easy tool to use would be the AIM color contrast checker to quickly check foreground and background colors. Most brand colors already meet minimum contrast requirements while some may require additional tweaking to improve the color contrast ratio. In the same way that selecting live text over images is helpful in the long term, adjusting branding colors to meet minimum color contrast is a forward-thinking solution.

Consider these minor adjustments as accessibility resets rather than redesigns; changes made today increase accessibility of your messaging and impact users and customers for years to come. In fact, once those changes are made, they are easily incorporated into all platforms, providing a consistent experience for all users, regardless of age or ability.

Interested in learning more about how to make your emails accessible for all consumers? Check out our guide, Achieving accessibility in email marketing.

By: Sarah Gallardo | Epsilon