Create more accessible email messages in Outlook

Improve email accessibility

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When you send an email to a broad distribution, make sure it’s accessible to people with limited or no vision.

Set HTML as the default message format

  1. Select File > Options > Mail.

  2. For Compose Messages, set Compose messages in this format to HTML.

Change an individual message to HTML format

  • In the message that you’re composing, select Format Text > HTML.

Choose fonts carefully

  • Use simple, sans serif fonts, which don’t use decorative details and are typically drawn with consistent line widths. Examples of sans serif fonts include:

    • Arial

    • Calibri

    • Segoe

    • Franklin Gothic Book

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

  • Use a font size of 12 points or larger.

  • Use a font color that contrasts with the background.

Set the default font for all messages

  1. Select 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.

Change the font in an individual message

  • In a new, blank message, select Message and then change the Font, Font Size, Font Color, and other attributes.

  • To change a font for existing text, select the text, select Message, and then change the font.

Create an accessible signature

  1. Select File > Options > Mail.

  2. For Compose Messages, select Signatures.

  3. Select a signature to edit, or create a new one.

  4. Select the text to format, and apply an accessible font, size, and color.

  5. To add an image to the signature, select where you want the image to be positioned and then select Insert Picture. Browse to find the image, and then select Insert.

  6. To add alt text to the image, right-click the image and then select Picture.

  7. Select Alt Text, add text that describes the image in your signature, and then select OK.

Set an accessible email background or stationery

  1. Select File > Options > Mail.

  2. Select Compose Messages > Stationery and Fonts > Themes.

  3. Select a theme, and then select OK.
    The most accessible themes have strong color contrast but no background images or lines to interfere with message text.

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In the U.S. alone, at least 12 million people use a screen reader, a screen magnifier, or Braille to read email. So it’s best to make any email sent to a broad distribution accessible to people with limited or no vision.

We’ll use Outlook to show techniques for creating accessible messages. But these guidelines apply to any email program.

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.

To set HTML as my default format in Outlook, I select File, Options, and Mail.

Under Compose Messages, I select HTML.

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

If I need to reply to a message I’ve received in plain text, I won’t be able to apply any formatting.

So I select Format Text, and then HTML.

Now I can format this date in bold,…

…and add a hyperlink to the conference center’s website.

Font choice in email messages can make a big difference for people with dyslexia.

Avoid serif fonts, which include tiny tails at the beginning or end of a letter

Serif fonts are also drawn with both thick and thin lines, which can be difficult for people with dyslexia to read.

Instead, choose a simple, sans serif font.

Sans serif fonts are drawn with more consistent line widths throughout the letter.

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

And, always use a font size of 12 points or larger.

I’ve decided to use 12-point Segoe UI in my messages.

I can set the font for a specific message by just changing it on the fly in the Font and Font Size boxes.

For emphasis, I use a combination of color, size, and bold formatting, because color alone might not be enough for people with color-blindness to see a difference.

Instead of changing the font each time I create a new message, I can set it once as my default for all messages.

I select File, Options, and then Mail.

Under Compose Mail, I select Stationery and Fonts.

Under Personal Stationery, I change the font to 12-point Segoe UI for New mail messages

…and for Replying or forwarding messages.

Now all my messages will be formatted with 12-point Segoe UI.

I use the same font guidelines in my signature…

Under Compose Messages, I select Signatures.

I type the signature I want,…

…and then I set the font: 12-point Segoe UI.

I’m also including my company logo with my signature.

I add Alt text to describe it for people who use screen readers.

I also keep the background of my messages simple and clean, so the text stands out. A solid color that contrasts with the text works well,…

…and I stay away from background images.

I can choose or remove email themes here. I select Personal Stationery, and then Themes.

Some of these work well, with strong color contrast and no background images or lines to interfere with the text.

Others are way too busy to be accessible.

So I select No Theme.

With these simple steps, I’ve made sure that my emails are accessible to all my recipients.

To learn more, visit aka.ms/OfficeAccessibility.

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