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Making employee emails and internal communications accessible to all staff is (fortunately) becoming a mandate in more and more organizations.
In January of 2017, Section 508 was made part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This updated the guidelines for Federal agencies in the US to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The update was meant to realign standards of accessibility with recent communication and technology innovations.
We are committed to helping you make internal email and communications accessible for all employees.
So let's jump right in and talk about how Bananatag helps communicators stay 508 compliant and meet all accessibility requirements.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility refers to the quality of being easy to use or understand.
In internal communications, accessibility often refers to websites, tools, and technologies that are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.
Most often, making employee communications accessible means setting design standards for ease of use, taking into account the needs of individuals with visual, hearing, cognitive, or mobility impairments.
Designing for accessibility benefits everyone.
Making your communications accessible to everyone helps give everyone the same opportunities and access to information, no matter their ability or circumstance.
And generally, taking accessibility into account when you are designing your communications means that it will be easier to understand and read for everyone, regardless of the devices they are using or the speed of their internet connection.
What are the accessibility requirements for employee email communications according to Revised Section 508?
According to the GSA Government-wide IT Accessibility program, all web content that is employee-facing and transmitted through email needs to meet Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0.
They fall under three principles:
- Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Not all of the guidelines listed for compliance are specifically applicable to employee emails because of the nature of the platform.
So, here's a summary of the applicable guidelines you ought to follow for your employee emails if you'd like them to be 508 compliant:
Guideline 1.1 - Text Alternatives
Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language
Example: Providing descriptive alt text for images.
Guideline 1.3 - Adaptable
Create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure.
Example: Making your emails mobile-friendly and easy to read on different devices, without losing any information.
Guideline 1.4 - Distinguishable
Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
Example: Not just using colour as a visual means of conveying information and making sure all visual presentations of text and images of text have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
Guideline 2.4 - Navigable
Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
Example: The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with the context of the email.
Guideline 3.1 - Readable
Make text content readable and understandable.
Example: Your emails are written in a human language in which the content can be determined.
Guideline 3.3 - Input Assistance
Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Example: Labels or instructions are provided when content requires user input.
Guideline 4.1 - Compatible
Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Example: Emails can be read in full with assistive technologies like a screen reader, without losing relevant information.
To read more in-depth about these criteria and the success criteria for other electronic content, visit the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2 Reference site here.
What kind of organizations need to make sure they meet accessibility requirements?
While everyone should care about how accessible their internal communications are, there are higher standards and penalties for not meeting accessibility requirements in larger organizations and more regulated industries.
According to US law, any company that does business with a federal agency must be 508 compliant.
We mainly see that our government, financial, healthcare, legal, and education customers are the most concerned with meeting accessibility requirements.
Is Bananatag accessible?
Bananatag's email designs are easily read by screen readers. We also have many features inside our email designer that can assist you to make sure your content is 100% compliant with accessibility standards.
If I send employee email with Bananatag, will it automatically meet accessibility requirements?
No. Though you can be 100% compliant using Bananatag, we don't require communicators to use all of our accessibility features.
We leave it up to the individual communicators and their organization to decide what features are best for them.
For example: Inserting alt text for images is required for accessibility compliance. Bananatag has a field for this but we do not require it to be populated in our designer in order for the email to be sent.
Another example: Color contrast and specific font sizes are required for accessibility compliance. In Bananatag we let you choose text colour and background. If you chose to put orange text on a red background, you would also fail accessibility tests. But Bananatag won't stop you from sending an email that hideous (and hard to read).
How can I make my employee emails more accessible?
Even if you don't need to be 508 compliant, accessibility is still important. After all, you want all employees to have access to the information you spend so much time and energy writing and curating for them!
Here's some things you can do to make your employee emails more accessible for everyone:
1. Choose a minimal, focused design
Make it clear what you want employees to get from the email and draw their attention to that information with your design. Clutter and visual noise will be hard for anyone to interpret, and is especially challenging for people with visual impairments or those living with attention deficit disorders.
2. Be conscious of design best practices
Understand how design principles like the use of white space, fonts, their sizes, styling, and orientation, color matching, and visual hierarchy all impact how your information is perceived by the reader's eye.
3. Make sure the most important information is in text
Sometimes to make a design pop we might embed text in an image, or write information over a photograph. Though it may look nice, people with visual impairment won't be able to get that information from their screen reader or other accessibility tools.
4. Be smart about your alt text descriptions
Alt text is the text that appears on a page or website if an image doesn't load or can't be displayed.
So if the image isn’t loaded by a recipient (and plain HTML is loaded instead) or if the recipient is using a screen reader, the alt text will be used instead of the default file name for the image (i.e. ‘team photo’ can be set as the alt text vs. displaying the original file name like img0352.jpg).
The way it works for links is similar. In order for a link to be readable by screen reader, links must all contain either plain text, or alt text describing where the link goes.
When people using screen readers open your email, the alt text is what the screen reader picks up in place of the image. So, if you're using an image, make sure the alt text gives an accurate depiction of what you're displaying in the image or includes the information you are trying to convey through the image.
Example: Instead of using alt text to repeat your caption, write a description of the image like: "Smiling factory worker wearing safety glasses, gloves, and hearing protection while working in a warehouse."
5. Put yourself in their shoes
If you can, try to read the email in as many ways as possible.
Try reading it with a screen reader and listening to the audio version the email.
Open it on different devices to see how it displays.
Try and put yourself in your reader's shoes.
And if you know any people in your organization who have challenges reading the emails as they are currently designed, it doesn't hurt to ask for their feedback.
6. Write for everyone
Using complicated language, long sentences or jargon in your email can make digesting the information in the email more difficult for everyone.
Be as clear as possible, use simple language, and never use a big word when a smaller, clearer word will do.
The Bottom Line
Bananatag provides all the necessary tools to make sure your employee newsletters and internal emails are 100% compliant with accessibility standards, but it is still up to the communicators tasked with newsletter creation to use those accessibility features.
Think of it kind of like shopping—The Gap allows you to choose the clothes you want, but they are not responsible for you picking a "good" outfit.
If you have any questions about Bananatag's accessibility features, our other cool features, or if you want to find out more about how Bananatag can help you send better emails, go ahead and book a call with one of our friendly account executives using the button below.