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Instructions for improving the accessibility of Outlook emails.

First published:
4 June 2020
Last updated:

Improve email accessibility

Millions of people around the world use a screen reader, screen magnifier or Braille devices to read their email. For this reason alone, it is best practice to make any email sent to a broad distribution list accessible to people with limited or no vision.

Nearly all assistive technology is designed to work well with HTML, rather than plain text. With HTML, your messages can include formatted links with display text, lists, headings and alt text for images.

Set HTML as the default format in Outlook

  1. Go to File > Options > Mail.
  2. Under Compose Messages, choose HTML.

Now any new messages you create will be in HTML format.

Choose email fonts carefully

Be sure to use simple, sans serif fonts, which do not contain decorative details and are typically drawn with consistent line widths. Examples of sans serif fonts include: Arial, Calibri, Segoe UI and Franklin Gothic Book.

Avoid italics, fancy script or decorative fonts with curly edges.

Use a font size of 12 points or larger and a font colour that contrasts with the background.

Set the default font for all messages

  1. Go to File > Options > Mail.
  2. For Compose Messages, select Stationery and Fonts > Personal Stationery.
  3. For New mail messages, select Font, set your default font and then click OK.

Create an accessible signature

  1. Select File > Options > Mail.
  2. Select Signatures and either edit your current or create a new one.
  3. Apply an accessible font, size, and colour and save it.

If you have any images or icons in your signature, you should add Alt Text to them by right-clicking on the object and going to Picture > Alt Text.

Improve image accessibility in emails

In email, images communicate all sorts of information - from useful and informative to casual and funny. To make the information available to people with low or no vision, create ‘Alternative Text’ that conveys the same information in words. Use Alt Text to describe what’s important about the image and what information it adds to your message.

Add Alt Text to an image in an email

  1. Right-click the image and select Format Shape > Layout & Properties > Sizing properties > Alt text.
  2. Add an image title and a detailed description of the image – including why the image is important to your email message.

Assistive technology doesn't read the words within images. If there's text within your image, be sure to also include that text in the Alt Text description box.

If the image is complex or at all confusing, add a bit more detail about it in the email itself, to communicate better with everyone who receives it.

Add accessible tables and lists to emails

Sometimes email messages contain information that requires more structure than simple text. Communicate order and relationships for screen readers and Braille devices by adding structure. You can do this by using bulleted lists and tables.

Create a bulleted list

Highlight the existing text and go to Message > Bullets.

Create a numbered list

Highlight the existing text and go to Message > Numbering.

Create a table

Go to Insert > Table and select the number of columns and rows you want.

When adding text to the table, be sure to include header rows for clarity.

Accessible table formatting

  1. Click anywhere in the table and go to the Design tab.
  2. Select the design features you want, such as Header Row, Banded Rows and First Column.
  3. To see more table styles, go to Design > More.
  4. Remember to choose a style with strong contrasting colours.

You can communicate better with everyone by using the built-in features to organise text information in Outlook.