Do you find yourself communicating more by email these days? Maybe you are working from home. Or, only going into the office some of the time. Ever receive an email that you simply don’t understand? On the other hand, have you ever sent an email that was misunderstood? These are common experiences for email users. Consider that without thinking about the accessibility of your online communication, you limit being understood. Likewise, you have probably misunderstood someone else’s email because of how it was crafted. Did you ever think that a sensory-friendly email is the answer?
In today’s blog post, you will learn from someone with sensory sensitivities who shares the challenges of understanding email. They are identified, as “Sam”, a pseudonym, at their request.
Emails lack clarity
Many people have never thought about creating sensory-friendly emails. Business, or personal, the thought may have not crossed your mind. Sam describes their experience trying to understand emails as a person with a visual impairment and ADHD. For instance, Sam finds it extremely difficult to find a deadline in an email when it is written in the body of the text. Ever read a long paragraph with important information like a date. And then find yourself hunting for the date again? For Sam, critical details like that, part of a paragraph of text that are the same font and same color, get missed. You can likely think of times you have missed an important detail in an email, too.
Sam explained that large bodies of text are not accessible. Not readable. And poorly understood. Moreover, frustration ensues when deadlines are missed!
How to create sensory-friendly emails
You can create a sensory-friendly emails in just a few steps. Sam has provided simple strategies that make more accessible, readable, and understood by everyone. Not just for people with sensory sensitivities. Everyone benefits from sensory-friendly email.
Make it like an invitation to a party
Sam recommends sending emails with a deadline just like an invitation to a party. That means you highlight the purpose, date, location and/or time. Keep those details separate from a long narrative. Alternatively, repeat them in a way that is easy to find. Write them in the body of the email but then repeat them on separate lines. So you could write, for example, “The project needs to be completed by June 6th. Submit a report via email to me” But to be sensory-friendly, accessible and readable, you could add:
- Project due date
- June 6, 2021
- 5pm ET
- Submit report by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Additionally, it helps to add as much detail as possible. Ever make a mistake submitting something that was due in a different time zone? When giving deadlines, include:
- day of week, e.g. Sunday
- full date: month, date, year, e.g. June 6, 2021
- time of day and time zone: e.g. 5pm AT
Does this seem unnecessary? Maybe for some people. It takes a few seconds more to add in these details. How many minutes, hours or days have you lost when someone else misses your deadline? People absorb information differently from email. Some people, like Sam, have changes in their vision, and/or ADHD that makes details elusive. Make it easy for everyone: write a sensory-friendly email.
Big, bold and bright.
Sam also shared the importance of big, bold and bright. Many people with visual differences are able to see different colors and shapes. So change the size of the font. Use bold fond and strong contrast in colors for emphasis.
Sensory-friendly email includes:
- increase font size
- use bold text for emphasis
- add strong contrast (black on yellow, white on black) to signal importance
Sensory-friendly email does not include:
- light color fonts on a white background
- underline (except for hyper links)
However, when adjusting the color and style of font, it is important to ensure that you use colors that contrast. For example, using yellow font over a white email background would be difficult for anyone to read. Therefore, use dark colors over light backgrounds. Or a light color over a dark background. Think black, or dark blue over white or pale yellow. Avoid pink over white. Grey over black.
To learn more about good color contrast, check out these guidelines.
Simple and direct
Sam also shares that being simple and direct is key to a sensory-friendly email. That means writing about important information first and foremost. Many people use screen readers to read email. That includes people with differences in their vision. That also includes people who are trying to increase their productivity. Some people are also trying to reduce their screen time, accordingly they use a screen reader or text to voice feature for email. Make your email easy to scan with the eye. Make your email easy to read. Use full and complete sentences.
Additionally, people with ADHD have trouble concentrating on the most important details of an email if there unnecessary content. People are also busy! Avoid distractions and confusion. Be polite, yes! Write full sentences, yes. But also keep it as short as possible. Use bullets and lists where appropriate.
Include alternative text on images
Lastly, if you including images in your email, add alternative text to the images. You might have heard it called, “alt text.” Alt text is a description of the image. It is used primarily by people who use screen readers. Alternatively, even adding a caption to an image you include in an email is helpful.
A few simple adjustments to you emails and you help more people understand them. Additionally, check out Outlook’s email suggestions on ways you can make virtual communication more sensory-friendly. Special thanks to Sam for their valuable contributions to this blog post.
Interested in learning more about more ways to become more sensory-friendly? Check out:
- Website Accessibility Includes Being Sensory-Friendly
- Mental health at work: Manage sensory overload
- Sensory-friendly co-working spaces
- Good presentation skills: Make it sensory-friendly
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