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The Basics - Accessibility

Accessibility Guide

“We are all responsible for creating a less disabling society.” Jonathan Mosen, Chief Executive of Workbridge

It is important to have accessibility in the DNA of our organisations and teams. Let’s start with the most basic thing – making sure our communications channels are accessible. HRNZ would like to thank Anh Duong, Digital Business Analyst and UX at Site Safe New Zealand Inc., for putting together this Accessibility Guide – The Basics as a great addition to our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion toolkit.

View the full guide below or download the PDF using this button.

Download PDF | Accessibility Guide


Email is a vital communication tool, but accessibility barriers can prevent some recipients from viewing or understanding messages. People read emails differently, either under different conditions (outdoors lighting versus indoors lighting), or using different devices (e.g., assistive technologies). Whether sending everyday emails or marketing messages, applying accessibility principles ensures clarity for all recipients. Our guide covers best practices to create inclusive emails, which benefits everyone.

1. Use Plain English

How this benefits?

Only 16% of New Zealand adults possess high literacy levels. Plain language benefits everyone, especially if they:

  • are unfamiliar with the subject and its related jargon.
  • have limited computer skills.
  • have English as their second language.

How to improve accessibility using plain language

  • Use simple words and sentence structures.
  • Opt for straightforward language, especially when conveying critical information or important updates,
  • Avoid overly complex language or confusing jargon.
  • Be concise.
  • Use bullet points or numbered lists to organise information for easy reading.
  • Properly format bulleted points. Adding “-” or emoji at the beginning of each list item is not screen reader friendly.
  • When using an acronym, spell it out in full, with the abbreviation in brackets in its first use.

For assistance in using plain language, refer to:

2. Headings and text format

How this benefits?

  • Screen readers are software applications that convert digital content into speech or Braille output for visually impaired users. People without visual impairments use visual cues, like larger text with different colours, to identify headings. However, screen readers cannot interpret these visual cues. They rely on properly marked heading tags like Heading 1, 2, 3 to scan content. Without well-organised headings, screen reader users may struggle to navigate and understand email content effectively.
  • Additionally, individuals with cognitive issues (dyslexia), or English being their second language may also benefit from clear email organisation.

How to improve accessibility using headings and text format

Use heading format like Heading 1, 2, 3 when writing a long email to break the content into sections, instead of using a larger font size, bold text or changing color. Heading format organises the content in a logical way, helping screen

  • Avoid blank paragraphs to separate the content as this will disrupt the screen reader flow. Formattext using line and paragraph spacing instead.
  • Plan out headings and sections of the email before writing the content. After finishing writing your email, read only thesubject lines and headings to see if it’s easy for the user to scan and understand the content of the email without reading it in detail.
  • Ensure headings and subject lines are descriptive and accurate, avoid long-winded headings to facilitate easy scanning.

Tools to help

3. Add Alt Text to Images

How this benefits?

  • Including alternative text (alt text) for images is essential for visually impaired recipients who use screen readers. Without meaningful alt text, they are unsure of the valuable information they might be missing, as they cannot perceive the image's content.
  • Alt text is also proved valuable for users who may have difficulties in loading images or those who have disabled image display in their email clients.

How to improve accessibility using alt text

  • Ensure that non-decorative images have alt text as a clear explanation of the image's content.  Good alt text allowsg users to comprehend the information even without viewing the image.
  • Keep alt-text short and descriptive, like a tweet.
  • Phrases like "Image of..." or "Picture of..." are unnecessary for alt text as screen readers can identify image elements.
  • Avoid images of text if possible and use actual text instead. If you must use an image of text, include the entire text within the alt text to ensure understanding.
  • If an image is a link, the alt text should indicate where the link will take the user. For example, a Facebook logo icon that is linked to the organisation’s Facebook page should have the alt text as “[Organisation’s name] Facebook”.

Tools to help

  • How to add alt text in email
  • Outlook: Right-click on the image and select “Edit Alt Text…”. See Outlook instruction.
  • MailChimp: Add alt text in the legacy email builder or new email builder. See MailChimp instruction.
  • Gmail: After adding an image, your image options will be displayed directly below the image. Select "Edit alt text" to add.

See detailed examples and instruction for writing alt text:

4. Be Mindful of Color

How this benefits?

  • Consideration of colour contrast is crucial for various groups, including individuals with visual impairments or colour vision deficiencies, as well as the elderly who may require clearer visual cues.
  • Individuals exposed to bright sunlight, where screen glare is prevalent, also benefit from higher colour contrast.
  • Some readers can’t distinguish between certain colours due to colorblindness or situational reasons, so careful consideration when using colours is essential.

How to improve accessibility using colour

  • Avoid relying exclusively on colour to convey information, e.g., red for incorrect and green for correct.
  • Always combine colour with symbols, text and/ or other visual cues to ensure readability for all users.For examples, link text should be underlined or bold instead of just having a different colour from paragraph text.
  • Opt for high contrast colour combinations for text and background, such as black text on a white background or vice versa, to ensure clarity and legibility.