Email is a useful communication tool for VA employees. To ensure that all VA employees have access to the information contained within an email, we must ensure that emails are compliant with federal law. Below are easy steps we can take to create accessible emails.
Note: Since email messages using the plain text format do not allow for images or other design features, some of these tips may not apply in all circumstances.
- The body of email messages should clearly and concisely state the purpose of the message. Use plain language appropriate for the intended audience.
- If your email has sections, use the appropriate heading levels.
- Color cannot be the only way to convey meaning. Do not use colored text as the only way to show separation (section headings) or importance.
- Do not use background images or stationary. Emails should be black text on a white background to ensure the appropriate color contrast. If alternative colors are used, color contrast must comply with Section 508 requirements.
- Hyperlinks must be easily recognizable and use meaningful text.
- Use font larger than 11pt.
- Do not use carriage returns to create space between paragraphs. Use the paragraph spacing features in Outlook. Note: Line and paragraph spacing are not available in the online version of Outlook® (OWA).
Email Signature Blocks
A signature block that does not contain images or hyperlinks is accessible.
If you place an image in your signature block (such as the OIT signature logo), use alt text to convey the meaning of the image (alt="Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology").
Images with hyperlinks are acceptable as long as the alt text associate with the image describes the meaning or intent of the image so that the reader knows what to expect if the link is activated (e.g., Facebook logo linked to the VA's Facebook page: alt="Visit the VA Facebook page").
Emails which include attachments must contain accessible attachments, or include in the body of the email the information contained in the attachment. For instance, when a memo needs to be distributed, the current method is to attach the memo to the email with a note making reference to the attachment. (e.g., see attached memo). The majority of Memos are sent out as scanned (.tif or .pdf) image files. Screen readers cannot read scanned image files. To ensure accessibility with attachments, use one of the methods described below:
- Attach non-conformant document (e.g., .scanned .tif or .pdf file) and insert the text of the memo in the body of the email message to match the .tif or .pdf file. Include a description of the attachment at the bottom of the email (e.g.: Attachment – Veterans Day Scanned Memo).
- In addition to a scanned document, provide an additional attachment which is 508 compliant. Include a description of the attachments at the bottom of the email (e.g.: Attachment 1 - Accessible Veterans Day Memo, Attachment 2 – Scanned Veterans Day Memo).
- Image files processed through an OCR program (if user has OCR software) can be made accessible using Adobe® Acrobat DC® to add necessary “alternative text” (alt tags) to remaining images, such as signatures and logos. As these types of files are accessible, it is not necessary to include a description of the attachment.
- Include a link in the email to an HTML format of document. (e.g., “Having trouble viewing this email? View accessible version.”). HTML document can be created from existing .doc or .docx format and re-saved as webpage. Document will need to be uploaded to a webpage that is available to all intended users.
With the rollout of Office 365, checking emails for accessibility is easier than ever. By clicking on the review tab in the email interface, you can now click on the "Check Accessibility" button which will run a check of your email and identify any failures and possible issues associated with the email. Regardless of the recipient, all failures must be remediated before sending the email. If you generate a great deal of email, you may want to add the "Check Accessibility" button to the main authoring ribbon or quick tools section.
The online version of Outlook also allows you to check accessibility.
- In the main toolbar, click more actions (visually represented with three dots)
- At the bottom of the options, click Check for accessibility issues
For more information on creating accessible documents, refer to the VA Section 508 website. The website contains standards for Section 508 compliance, as well as Best Practices for a variety of file types, including .pdf, Word®, and Excel®.
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