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A More Accessible Email Newsletter

Related Links:

Publication: The Guide to Nonprofit Email

Workshop: Email Newsletter Marketing

Workshop: Email Newsletter Reinvention & Improvement

If you found this article interesting or helpful, please consider making a donation to Nonprofit Online News. It will probably feel good!

By Michael C. Gilbert, April 12, 2007

Within a few months after the Nonprofit Online News website was launched, we needed a way to reach people who wanted to get our news on a regular basis. It was a reader who suggested that we create an email edition. And so we did, establishing for years to come the importance of email to The Gilbert Center, both in our own communication and in our exploration of effective practices for civil society.

Plain Text: A Commitment to Simplicity

Although we've added several different editions - weekly and daily compilations, feature article notices, Gilbert Ctr announcements - the essential format of the newsletter hasn't changed. As other organizations seem bent on using HTML email to send entire websites to their readers, we have stuck with plain text. To begin with, this was a commitment to simplicity, accessibility, and reliability of rendering. Now that spam and phishing have made every attachment and link cause for suspicion, we are starting to see organizations returning to plain text.

There was still serious room for improvement. Although we pride ourselves on how easy it is to skim our news, we realized that not having titles for news items made that harder than it needed to be. We learned that our format performed poorly when processed by text readers for the blind and that our use of idiosyncratic layout made any kind of software supported reading, or even just good reading habits, more difficult.

I am please to announce #9 in our countdown of improvements to Nonprofit Online News, in honor of its tenth anniversary: a More Accessible Email Newsletter. Starting today, we will be working to adopt the The Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard, as developed by E-Access Bulletin and published by Headstar in partnership with the Royal National Institute of the Blind.

The Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard

We considered using the Markdown format, which also has the benefit of widespread tools that convert the format into HTML. Indeed, we use Markdown extensively in our own internal workflow. But ultimately we decided that conversion to HTML was less important than accessibility, and for the latter purpose we wanted to use a reliable standard. Toward that end, we chose the Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard.

The parties that developed the standard have a solid background in accessibility. The E-Access Bulletin is an independent monthly e-mail newsletter on information technology issues for people with visual impairment and blindness. Headstar is a publishing house and events organiser focused on technology and social issues, with a motto of "Modern Government and a Fair Society". The Royal National Institute of the Blind is the UK?s leading charity, offering information, support and advice to people with sight problems.

The TEN standard has achieved fairly modest success so far. HTML email still holds sway in the vast majority of organizations. Nevertheless, the standard has been in use for some years now and is on version 1.2. There are a number of organizational signatories to the standard, but it's in far broader use than just those organizations.

Once our own use settles down, we'll be adding our name to the list. And after that, we'll start incorporating an introduction to the standard in our seminars and publications about the use of email. It seems to me that civil society organizations, with their inherent agenda of public benefit, ought to be thinking very hard about accessibility. And in a time of growing suspicion of complex email, the TEN standard could be a very compelling proposition.



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It will probably feel good!



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