Tags: accessibility

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Newsletters: PDF, HTML, multipart

Perceptions are interesting. Theresa, who has become one of the core members of Shoestring Theatre Company, is charged with doing their monthly newsletter. Upon receiving her first draft (HTML email), John said it should be sent in PDF format. The reason? It will feel more like a "real" newsletter.

So, to cater to perceptions, the newsletter becomes less accessible, comes attached to an email that says nothing about the contents (though Theresa could add a summary or ToC if she wished), and is only seen if recipients can be bothered opening the attachment.

The question is, what is the right way to do email newsletters or announcements? I've been thinking about this, because, as the moderator of Hartwell's mailing list, I'm hoping to exert a little quality control over it.

Plain text is good for purists like me, but formatted text aids reading, especially for long messages and newsletters. However, many email clients have little or no support for HTML.

The solution is to use multipart/alternative: send both a text version and an HTML version and let the client choose.

But how do you create it and send it? Sure, most programs will do it, but a) they have limited support for making good HTML and b) they automatically create the plain text version, which means you don't get control over the plain text layout.

After much searching, I've finally found out how to create multipart/alternative using mutt. Well, it's new functionality, so I'll need the development version.

1. Create HTML message.
2. Format plain text version.
3. Attach both in mutt (plain text first for non MIME clients).
4. Group them together and send.

Yay!
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More email insanity.

Oh, for fuck's sake! Recently, I had a gripe about a 1Mb image sent to staff, when it should have been formatted text with a few images thrown in.

Today, I read a message with nice clear Arial text, then noticed I couldn't copy a bit of text from it. It's a 3Mb image, and the only non-text content is the Commonwealth Games logo, plus a fancy "text art" heading.

I so very much wish we had a blind staff member who uses a screen reader. Someone who could put in a complaint and make it stick. All I can do is join the hoard of people complaining that simple messages that are 3Mb in size quickly fill up our lousy 80Mb mailbox quotas. Oh, did I say hoard? I haven't heard any complaints today - perhaps people have grown tired of it or become accustomed to the insanity.