Looking at Email Accessibility Standards by Industry
By Dawid Bednarski
In 2019, our world seems hyper-connected with communication tools and the internet always at our fingertips. But for many people with disabilities, staying connected isn’t always easy, and some activities, like reading emails or browsing the web, can require extra time or added technology.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017 there were more than 40 million Americans with some degree of disability, 7.5 million of whom were visually impaired. Given that the majority of this group belongs to the “netizens of the world”, providing fair and equal access to the web and electronic communication has become a major concern.
If you’re like us and expanding accessible email is part of your mission, then you probably already know the best practices for HTML email accessibility. These practices break barriers and make it possible to reach people who would’ve otherwise been excluded from the digital conversation.
But for some email marketers, accessibility is required in their campaigns. Certain industries, such as financial institutions and governments, must adhere to laws and regulations for web accessibility.
Recognizing the importance of accessibility, governments and organizations around the world have been creating (or adopting) laws and regulations meant to ensure an inclusive approach in the digital age. Let’s have a look at how different industries regulate accessibility.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear. There is no one, paramount law that requires companies and organizations to make their services accessible. That said, we recommend looking at what the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has to say about accessibility.
Dating back to 1994, the W3C is an international standards organization on a mission to “lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web.” In 1995, they came up with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (currently in version 2.1) which is nowadays the go-to document for accessibility standards around the world.
Apart from the WCAG, different industries set their own rules of accessibility, so it may a good idea to know whether your company or organization needs to adhere to these guidelines when designing your email campaigns.
Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, we focus on the regulations that apply in the U.S. You can access the full list of WCAG-compliant documents and regulations here.
With the increasing number of customers using online financial services and mobile banking, institutions and organizations operating in the financial sector must make their services compliant with accessibility guidelines.
In addition to the guidelines set by the WCAG, companies in the financial sector are obliged to adhere to rules set out by The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The document (Title III) “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (…).”
Since the Department of Justice recognizes WCAG as compliant with ADA, email marketers in the financial industry can safely refer to WCAG for guidance.
When it comes to the healthcare industry, Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) states that “the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities.”
Another point of reference for healthcare providers is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which enforces “equal access to electronic information and data comparable to those who do not have disabilities (…).”
Section 508 also regulates electronic communication, so it’s important to review its guidelines as well as other basic accessibility best practices. For one, you should make sure that your e-mails pair visuals with relevant text descriptions. This will allow the recipients to use screen readers and braille displays for assistance.
Accessibility guidelines for government bodies are set forth in The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and sections 504/508 of the Rehabilitation Act. While section 504 sets the ground for preventing disability discrimination by government bodies and institutions, section 508 regulates fair access to electronic information and information technology.
So, what does this mean for email marketers?
The government refers to WCAG 2.0 for its internal accessibility policies so you can safely use the document for guidance. You can also consult this website for specific recommendations.
Similar to other sectors we’ve mentioned, accommodation service providers have to render services compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That said, email marketers in the hospitality field can refer to WCAG for guidance as it’s the go-to document for the hotel industry.
Email Accessibility Is Here to Stay
Even if you know accessibility practices, you should take the time to get familiar with these regulations to make sure your email campaigns play by the rules.
And for those email marketers who may not work in these industries, don’t ignore accessibility best practices. Creating an accessible email may be the difference in helping you reach a wider, more engaged audience.
You can save yourself some time checking your email for accessibility standards by using Email on Acid’s Campaign Precheck. It’ll walk through your email and check it against some of the most important accessibility guidelines, including:
- Color contrast
- Link design
- Alt text
- Language and more!
Campaign Precheck will find accessibility issues and help you fix them directly in the app, so you don’t have to go back to an email editor or start from scratch. Try our accessibility tool free for seven days!
About the author
Dawid is a freelance copywriter and blogger at OctoScribe where he provides content services and helps B2B tech companies talk human instead of code. When he’s not writing about tech, he’s enjoying the simplicity of analog photography and daring bike trips with his wife.
Author: Email on Acid
The Email on Acid blog is on a mission to share email best practices, industry news, and solutions to most annoying email client bugs. Plus, we like to have a little fun along the way. Learn how to join the party and contribute to our blog.