Accessible Emails and Newsletters



The Law
The law
  • Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires uOttawa to provide, upon request, an alternate or accessible format of emails (internal or external).
  • The request must be made by or on behalf of a person who requires an alternate or accessible format in order to understand the message.
What are you required to do under the law?
  • You must include in all your email and electronic messages the procedure for requesting an alternate or accessible format.
  • If you receive such a request, contact the person to find out what kind of accommodation or format is needed (MS-Word document, rich text format, high contrast, etc.)
  • The alternate or accessible format has to be provided as soon as possible. 

In this workshop, you’ll learn how to create an alternate or accessible
format, redirect readers to an alternate or accessible format and create
newsletters and emails in an alternate or accessible format (within the limits of the tools used).

What are you not required to do?
  • You do not have to provide an alternate or accessible format of all your electronic messages (only if one has been requested).
Provide a way for the recipient to obtain an alternate or accessible format

Copy and paste the following phrase(s) at the top of your message:

  • In French:

Si vous désirez recevoir ces documents sous un autre format, veuillez nous contacter par téléphone au 613-562-5800 (XXXX) ou par courriel à

  • In English:

If you require this communication in an alternate or accessible format, please contact us at 613-562-5800  (XXXX) or

Provide instructions for obtaining an alternate or accessible format (PDF attachment)

Copy and paste the following phrase(s) at the top of your message:

  • In French:

Veuillez noter que certains documents dans ce message sont offerts en format PDF seulement. Si vous désirez recevoir ces documents sous un autre format, veuillez envoyer un courriel à Si vous ne disposez pas d'un logiciel pour visionner les fichiers PDF, vous pouvez télécharger Adobe Reader sans frais à partir du site Web Adobe.


Si vous désirez visionner les documents de cette section sous un format accessible, veuillez envoyer un courriel à

  • In English:

Please note that certain (the) documents attached to this message are available in PDF format only. To inquire about receiving these documents in another format, please send an email to xxxx@uOttawa. If you do not have PDF viewing software, you can download Adobe Reader for free from the Adobe website.


To inquire about receiving the documents in this section in an alternate or accessible format, please send an email to


Creating accessible emails
Creating accessible messages

You must take accessibility into consideration when you create your message. This workshop addresses the basics of accessibility so that you can create accessible messages in Outlook and use common newsletter editing tools.

Some newsletter tools require you be able to access the HTML code. If this is the case, create your newsletter like you would create a regular webpage.

To learn how to create accessible documents and webpages, you can attend workshops on accessible writing and creating accessible Web content (visit the Accessibility training  page to register)

Creating Outlook emails in HTML format

(You can configure Outlook to do this automatically)

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click Mail.
  4. Under Compose message, select HTML from the dropdown menu next to Compose message in this format.
  5. Click OK to save.

Creating Outlook emails in HTML format

Creating Outlook emails in HTML format
Choosing the right styles in Outlook or for a newsletter
  • Built-in formatting styles create a logical reading structure that serves as a navigation guide for persons using assistive technologies.
  • Adding structure to emails or newsletters is done the same way it is done in Microsoft Word documents. 

A message in Outlook: Click on the Format Text tab, choose a style from the Styles menu and apply the structure.

A newsletter: Click on the Format Text section, choose a style from the Styles menu and apply the structure or change your styles in the HTML code (if possible).

You can learn more about changing styles in the HTML code in the workshop on creating accessible Web content.


Avoid giving vague or ambiguous instructions or directions.


  • To learn more, click here.
  • Contact us
  • See the table below.
  • To learn more, consult the Standards index.
  • Contact the Human Rights Office.
  • See the table 2014 Annual Report on Communications Accessibility.

Using the right words
Using the right term

Choosing the right font

  • If possible, create your texts in black and white only.
  • If possible, use coloured font only for headings or underlined text. 

Choosing the right font

Choosing the right font
  • Emails or web: At least 9 points.

Choosing the right font
Highlighting certain words
  • A reader who cannot distinguish elements based on colour must still be able to pick out the important information.

 Highlighting certain words

Space between letters
  • Arial, Verdana, Myriad and Calibri meet the standard for character spacing.

 Space between letters


Line spacing
  • If you are using the space bar or return key several times to create the line spacing you want, your message likely isn’t formatted properly.   
  • The spacing generated automatically by Outlook meets the standard for line spacing.


 Line spacing
Headings and subheadings
  • Separate the text by using headings and subheadings (Heading 1, Subheading 1.1, Heading 2, etc.)
  • For a long text, create a table of contents or use anchor points
  • Heading 1 is for the message title only. Subsequent heading levels are Heading 2, Heading 3, Heading 4, etc.
Other best practices


  • Set up your layout or create new pages or sections using page or section breaks.
  • Create lists (bulleted or numbered) using the list formatting function. 


  • Introduction to accessibility
  • How to create accessible documents
  • How to make accessible videos
  • How to create accessible forms
  1. Visit the Accessibility website
  2. Select a workshop
  3. Check the prerequisites
  4. Download the required material
  5. Register
  • Splitting text into columns reduces eye strain and fatigue.


Styles in Outlook

Headings and subheadings
  • Highlight the text of the heading.
  • Click on the Format Text tab.
  • Click on the heading you want to apply to the text.
  • To change a heading style, right click on the style you want to change and select Modify.
Modifying headings and styles in Outlook
  1. Under the Format Text tab (1), right click on the style you want to modify (2).
  2. Make the changes in the pop-up window (3).
  3. To save the changes for all new messages, select the radio button next to New documents based on this template (4).
  4. To change the formatting for paragraphs, lists, spacing and more, click the Format button (5)  before saving the style changes.
  5. Click OK (6) to save your changes.

Modifying headings and styles in Outlook

Graphic elements

Adding images in Outlook
  • Outlook allows you to add graphic elements (pictures, clip art, shapes, SmartArt, charts, screenshots) to your emails.
  • To add a graphic element, place the cursor where you want to insert it and click on the Insert tab and then on the type of graphic element you want to add. 
Wrapping text around an image in Outlook
  • This function ensures the image is detected by screen reading software.
  • After inserting the graphic element, right click on it, choose Wrap text, then choose In line with text.
Adding alternate text or captions
  • Put a period at the end of alt text and captions even if they aren’t complete sentences to signal to the screen reader to change intonation.

Alternate text:

  • A few words (no more than 150 characters).
  • Simple description of the picture or photo.
  • Usually a hidden element.
  • Can be read only using assistive software.


  • Can be short or long.
  • Summarize or describe complex or informative pictures.
  • May or may not be hidden.
  • May be visible to all or may only be read using assistive software (you choose).
Standards for alternate text

  • Don’t write “picture of XYZ” or “XYZ logo” (for example).
  • Write decoration” for a purely decorative image.
  • Don’t simply repeat text already in the document.
  • Provide a description in the same official language as the   text.

Alternate text


Best practices:

  • Attached to the image (the method depends on the format of the document or the page).
  • Use the same language used in the page or document.
  • Don’t create redundancy. For example, don’t write “picture of XYZ” or “XYZ logo” or simply duplicate text or headings.

Tip: Use text rather than informative images to convey information. For example, write  “Send us an email” rather than use an image of an envelope. 

Alternate text example 1

Alt text (example 1)

Alternate text: Important!!!

Alternate text example 2

Alt text (example 2)
Alternative text: November 15
How to add alt text in Outlook
  • Right click on the image and click Format Picture (or Object), then choose Alt text.
  • To add alt text to shapes, right click on the shape and choose Format Shape, then choose the Alt Text tab.
  • To add alt text to a chart, right click on the chart and select Format Chart Area, then choose the Alt Text tab.


How to add a caption in Outlook
  1. Right click on the image.
  2. Select Caption (“Figure” must appear in the Label window).
  3. Type your caption.
  4. Select the position of your caption from the dropdown menu (above or below the image).

 How to add a caption in Outlook
Best practices


  • Repeating the title of the graphic element when it is already included in text format.
  • Writing “graph of” or “picture of”.


  • Including the caption as an attachment or under the graphic element.
  • Writing the caption is in the same official language as the rest of the text.
  • Including the name of the graphic element when the name is embedded in the picture (i.e., it can’t be read by screen readers). 
Example of pie chart caption

Légende de graphique
  • 40% For
  • 39% Against
  • 21% No opinion or neutral


Tables in Outlook and newsletters
  • There is currently no way to create an accessible layout or data table in Outlook or in most of the newsletter editing shortcut tools.
Layout tables


  • Tables that define and control how the elements on a page display. Avoid layout tables.


  • Greatly reduce  accessibility
  • Can lead to problems or difficulties with zooming features or printing functions.

Layout tables
Data tables in Outlook and newsletters


  • A data table is used to organize various sets of data (either numeric or textual) so they can be compared and analyzed.

For Outlook and newsletters: Create accessible data tables in Excel and then attach the tables to your message. You can learn how to create accessible Excel tables in the workshop on creating accessible Excel files.

For newsletters only: If you have access to the html code, edit your table like you would a webpage. You can learn how to create an accessible Web table in the workshop on accessible Web writing.




Data tables in Outlook and newsletters 


Contrast in Outlook and newsletters
  • Outlook and many applications for creating newsletters provide the option to change the background colour or texture; however, use a white background whenever possible.
  • Shading can make emails difficult to read.
  • If a background colour is present, ensure sufficient contrast between the background and font.
Contrast background
  • Always use contrasting colours. 

Contrast background
Checking contrast
  1. Select the first dropper and place it on the text.
  2. Select the second dropper and place it on a section of the background colour that appears to contrast least with the text.
  3. Check the contrast result under the Text subheading.
  • Are you using a picture as a background?  Be sure to check the contrast in both English and French versions!  French is usually more lengthy and so the text may cover a greater surface area than the English text. 

Checking contrast



Allow the reader to…

  • Navigate to another site
  • Navigate to another section of the newsletter
  • Open an email application with an email address inserted   in the “to” field
  • Upload a document

Links should be identified with underlining or the use of bold font. Do not use only colour to identify links.

Best practices
  • Underlined
  • Clear and concise; words in link make sense out of context
  • Specifies the link destination
  • No longer than 80 characters
  • Specifies if the link opens a PDF and provides size of file, e.g., Registration form (PDF, 36 KB)
  • Specifies if the link opens a new window or sends the reader to another site
  • Make sure the tooltip option (pop-up windows) is empty.


  • See Accessibility (new window)
  • See 2014 Annual Report (external link)
Naming a link
  • Use words, not a URL.
    • Yes: Consult the list of undergraduate programs
    • No: Visit
  • Use the entire email address rather than embedding the address in the person’s name.
    • Yes:
    • No: Marie-Claude Gagnon
  • Use words that describes the link destination,
    • Yes: calendar of event “
    • No: Click here
  • Do not give the same name to links that lead to different places.
    • Contact us (for a link to the library) and Contact us (for a link to   uOttawa) can cause confusion on the same page.
    • Write Contact the library and Contact uOttawa instead.
  • Save documents with a meaningful name in order to make the link text helpful to the reader.
Insert a link in a message
  1. Place the cursor where you want the link to appear as the link or highlight all words to become a link.
  2. In the Insert tab, click on Hyperlink to open the dialog box.
  3. In the Text to Display box, type the name or phrase that briefly describes the link destination, or if you had highlighted text, confirm the words appearing in the Text to Display box appear as they should.
  4. Enter the words to appear for the URL, the location in the same document, the email address or the location of the other document.
  5. If you’re entering a URL, type or paste it into the Address box.
  6. Click OK.
Create accessible signatures in Outlook
  • Email signatures allow you to provide contact information to the recipient.

Steps for adding Signatures:

  1. Go to the Insert tab, choose Signature, then Signatures
  2. Click on New
  3. Give Signature a name, then click OK
  4. Type in Signature information, then click OK
  • Once a signature has been created, it can be added to emails by picking it from the list created. (Insert tab, Signature, then either choose one already created, or make a new one.)
Email signature guidelines
  • Bilingual – French appears first
  • Concise
  • Text only
  • Contribute positively to University’s image
  • Display well on mobile devices
  • Arial, 11 point
  • Do not include images, or personal or inspirational quotes and messages

Recommended elements of an official uOttawa email signature:

Name of employee
Titre du poste | Job title
Service ou département | Service or department
Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa (or name of institute, centre, etc.)
Telephone number (extension) (optional)
Défier les conventions | Defy the conventional (optional)

vCards or electronic business cards
  • Some Outlook users use vCards, or electronic business cards, as signatures
  • However, vCards cannot be read by screen readers and are, therefore, not an accessible signature 
Checking whether a newsletter is accessible

Check the HTML code of your newsletter:

  1. To be able to check the HTML code, you must be using an editing that allows you to upload your newsletter.
  2. Once your newsletter is online, use the WAVE Web accessibility evaluation tool to check the accessibility elements of your “webpage.” You can use the Web-based application or download the WAVE application (download in Firefox).
  3. Enter your newsletter URL and WAVE will treat it as though it were a webpage.

To learn about correcting errors detected by WAVE, consult the accessible Web writing material. 

Creating alternate or accessible formats and accessible attachments

Accessible or alternate formats and accessible attachments can be created within many applications:

  • Word
  • PowerPoint
  • PDF
  • Emails (text-based)
  • Video transcripts

To learn more about creating accessible Word, PowerPoint and other documents and video transcripts, please visit the University’s Accessibility website and choose one the workshops or video tutorials.

To learn more about how to create accessible text-based emails, visit the Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard website. 

Tools and contact information





Downloads (best results with Firefox)

Web accessibility compliance coordinator
613-562-5800 (7452)
  • Accessibility help clinics
  • Needs assessments
  • Made-to-measure tools
  • Referrals
  • Other support
Computing and Communications Service
uOttawa computing assistance request form
Extension 6555
Accessibility training: Introduction
How to create an accessible campaign
How to interact with accessibility in mind
How to create accessible web content
Find an expert

Marie-Claude Gagnon, Web Accessibility Compliance Coordinator

613-562-5800 extension 7452

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