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Janet Roberts

Improving Accessibility in Text Newsletters
By Janet Roberts

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Even if accessibility to your newsletter for visually impaired or blind people isn't one of your publishing priorities, the Text Email Newsletter Standard has some good ideas for formatting and organizing text newsletters.

The standard was developed by E-Access Bulletin, a free email newsletter covering technology-access issues and published by Headstar Ltd., a UK-based email-publishing company.

The 18-point list of guidelines includes some functions that help readers using voice technology to "read" print online. For example, the TEN list suggests using "home page" instead of "homepage" to avoid pronunciation oddities.

Here are some other guidelines to improve accessibility:

  • Always use plain text, no graphics or images. Avoid unusual characters and use ASCII characters with decimal-code numbers between 32 and 127.

  • Make the first words of each issue the name of the newsletter and the issue number and date.

  • Get to the newsletter's current contents as quickly as possible; move background or recurring information such as subscribe/unsubscribe directions, copyright and credits to the end.

  • Do not use long lines of symbols, such as long lines of asterisks, to divide the newsletter into sections. Screen readers read out each symbol individually.

  • Always write the full Internet address, including the http:// and www. if it's part of the address, because some email clients recognize only the full address.

  • For editor's notes or other attention-getting comments, use a word such as "Note:" instead of a symbol or asterisk.

You won't be able to use all 18 guidelines in the document. Number 9 (or 09, as the standard suggests numbers under 10 be listed) suggests you write all headlines in capital letters. That's bound to trigger junk-mail filters these days. However, the list also recommends you end headlines with a full stop (period) to separate it from the article body.

The complete TEN Standard is here.

Ezine-Tips for January 29, 2003

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