Commentary

Designing for Visually Impaired Consumers

Marketers can start better serving visually impaired customers today by making a few simple changes to email campaigns.

More than 285 million consumers worldwide are visually impaired, yet brands often fail to account for this group when designing content. Companies that don't cater to consumers' specific needs risk losing them. In fact, according to a surv ey from RightNow, 89 percent of U.S. adults who’ve stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor experience began doing business with a competitor. Not being able to fully see an email, or getting a headache from bright email images certainly qualifies as a poor experience.

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Brands should think about accessibility in everything they create, including emails. Not only does this ensure that people with visual disabilities don't miss out on key communications, it’s also just the right thing to do. Consumers with visual impairments shouldn’t have to worry about figuring out ways to communicate with your brand, it should be done for them. The good news is that it’s not challenging to do.

What email marketers can do to help

There are many types of visual disabilities that brands should take into consideration. In addition to blindness, there's low-acuity, or low vision, which decreases the sharpness of images and content. There's also ghosting, which causes a person to see double; cataracts, which causes cloudy vision; and color blindness, which makes it hard to distinguish certain colors.

Marketers can start better serving visually impaired customers today by making a few simple changes to email campaigns.

First, marketers need to account for screen magnifiers and screen-reading software. Nearly 13 million Americans – and tens of millions more consumers around the world – rely on such assistive technologies. Screen readers struggle to process text scattered across the page or presented in multiple columns. When text gets jumbled on its way from a desktop to a smartphone, carefully crafted email pitches become nonsensical.

Instead of arranging text in multiple blocks and columns, marketers should have text flow from left to right, and always have it aligned to the left, not centered. That structure helps screen readers deliver words in the right order. In addition, regular fonts should never be smaller than 14 points and light fonts shouldn’t be smaller than 16 points.

Marketers should familiarize themselves with voiceover technology

Take VoiceOver, Apple's multiplatform accessibility application. Users can drag their fingers across screens to have devices read content aloud. The technology can even describe objects and facial expressions in photos. Similarly, Speaking Email, a mobile app that reads emails to consumers while detecting and omitting unnecessary information like legal disclaimers and signatures, gives people the content they need in a clean and concise manner.

By understanding the ins and outs of these apps, marketers will be able to make the right design decisions for the visually impaired.

Second, marketers should employ color wisely. Images that use too many blue, red, green, or bright hues look off to the world’s 100 million colorblind consumers. To help colorblind customers, email marketers should use font colors that contrast sharply with an email's background. They should also avoid making click buttons red or green, the most difficult colors for many colorblind consumers to see.

If designers do use these two colors, they should choose radically different hues, as Google Maps does. Though the app marks up traffic conditions with red and green, its maps are still clearly readable in grayscale.

Third, marketers should remember that many people, particularly the visually impaired, opt out of viewing graphics. Over four in 10 Gmail users have images blocked on their accounts. If email designers put content in an image instead of a text box, many customers will miss crucial details.

That's why designers should familiarize themselves with "alternative text" for images. Alternative text displays a description of an image when a viewer opts out of viewing the image itself. A graphic where the phrase "20% Off" is spelled out using small pictures of purses, for example, could employ the alternative text "20 percent off all handbags." Email designers should also give consumers the option to view the plain-text version of emails. Plain text cuts out HTML formatting and hyperlinks and is much more appealing to some visually impaired users.

Companies need to familiarize themselves with the best practices for reaching hundreds of millions of visually impaired customers. Doing so enables them to win the loyalty of a growing subset of consumers and makes their products more accessible to everyone.

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