Working with Invisible Disability: 7 Easy Rules Improve Your Communication Via Email

The American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that 12.8% of the US population are people with disabilities. In 2016, of this community, over half (51.0%) were people in the working ages of 18 to 64.

In 2015, I suffered a traumatic brain injury that resulted in permanent cognitive disabilities. Emails are hard enough already. Now imagine if your brain couldn’t process the information your eyes are sending. It’s like you can see something but it doesn’t really make sense. When there is too much stimuli, it’s like an exhausting puzzle that you can’t decipher or put together. You have an idea of what it should look like but you can’t figure it out. That’s my brain post-concussion.

Reading emails with a disability is like kind of like trying to respond to emails before coffee at 4am, when you went to bed at 2am. Eventually, you’ll figure it out but it will take a while...

Disability or not, you have to be a functioning adult that’s contributing to society. So, to ensure I understood your email and that I’m fulfilling your request, here are SEVEN easy ways to improve communication via emails:

1. Use Headers in the Subject Line

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Working with disability has its challenges, but none sticks out more than emails with no headers. As I comb through hundreds of emails, it’s hard to know what’s important versus just another Groupon for Jamaica. Make it easy for people with disabilities: use headers in your subject line! I know, super simple! But for some reason, we don’t do this! Next time you send an email, consider using one of these headers:

  • ACTION REQUESTED:
  • 2MIN ACTION:

  • For info/FYI:

  • QUESTION/Q:

  • INVITE/INVITATION:

  • MEETING REQUEST:

  • NEED COMMENT:

  • REQUEST FEEDBACK:

  • URGENT:* (make sure it is urgent though)

For example, need me to respond to that lunch order request -- ASAP? Try using an email subject line with a header, like: “2 MIN ACTION: Beef or Chicken Sandwich?” If I’m in a hurry, I’m just going to answer those 2-minute requests and move on with my life.

*Note on URGENT: Use this header when it is actually an urgent email. If you abuse the "urgent" header, people will stop reading your emails. And honestly, if it’s that much of an emergency, why aren’t you calling them?

2. Bold the Ask/Request/Main Point

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There is nothing worse than having to sort through paragraphs and paragraphs of text. I know, sometimes you need to give the backstory or include all the details before you make an ask or request. That’s fine! But next time, say what you need to say and make sure you put the ask or request on a separate line and bold the text.

For example, 

Morning Kaitlyn,

The venue for Friday’s event just called to say they accidentally booked an event that ends right before our event, giving them no time to clean up and set up. They need an additional 30 minutes to clean up and set up for our event. They promised not to go over the 30 minutes and that they will be around to help us guide people in case they miss our email and show up early. We can even set up snacks in the waiting area while the clean up happens.

Can we change the event on Friday to start at 3:30 pm instead of 3 pm?

Thank you,
Doris

3. Include a Due Date

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We all have a crazy schedules these days, and technology plays an amazing role in making our lives easier. For the most part. When it comes to deadlines, you have several options for making sure you get what you need on time for me, a person with an invisible disability. As we mentioned in Tip #1, include the date on the subject line.

For example,

Subject line: ACTION REQUESTED by Wednesday, June 22nd

Alternatively, you could bold the ask like in Tip #2.

Body text: Can we change the event on Friday to start at 3:30 pm instead of 3 pm? I need a decision by Tuesday, June 21st.

4. Attach a Calendar Invite

Have you ever stopped mid-sentence to think, “wait, where am I supposed to be right now?” Or did you find a date that works for both of you? As soon as you confirm a date, send a calendar invite with an alert. It takes literally 2 seconds and will make sure you don’t forget or miss the meeting.

5.  Give People 24-48 Hours to Respond

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We’re all busy. But remember, you have no idea what someone is going through at any given day and time. Maybe they forgot to set an away message, and they’re in Argentina. Or maybe they watched the news and needed to disconnect for the day. I know I need frequent and lengthy breaks from screens, so instead of doubling down and following up right away, wait at least 24 hours for a response.

6. Use BUMP or FOLLOWING UP Headers for Reminders

“But I gave them 48 hours, and they never got back to me! Can I just say, ‘Did you get my email?’”

NO! I don’t know what email you are talking about or when it came it which means I probably missed it. Sending a gentle reminder is fine. Just resend the email but change the header to say “BUMP” or if you want to sound more professional, “FOLLOWING UP.” I will gladly and urgently get to your email. Manners are important, so be mindful of your tone and the impact it may have on others.

For example, 

Subject line: FOLLOWING UP on ACTION REQUESTED by Wednesday, June 22nd

7. Stick to the Subject Line OR Send a Different Email

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The email you just opened has eight people on it, is 16 messages deep, and you’re scrolling trying to find out what in the world you need to know. You respond and realize they changed the subject at some point and you are L.O.S.T.

Before responding to an email, double check the Subject Line. If it’s not the same conversation -- say a question on the budget instead of the actual cost of the venue -- just START A NEW CHAIN.** No one wants to read through that email, so chances are you won’t get the response you need.

For example, 

Subject: ACTION REQUESTED: Review Budget by 7/15

Good morning, I know we were discussing the cost of the venue in another email. It reminded me that not everyone had checked the budget.

Can you all review the budget by next Friday, 7/15?*

Thank you,
Doris

P.s. Linking the budget, so you don’t have to dig for it!

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Now let’s recap, so you don’t have to read through the whole article again.

Below are 7 simple things you can do to improve your communication via email:

  1. Use headers in the Subject Line

  2. Bold the Ask/Request/Main Point

  3. Include a Due Date

  4. Attach a Calendar Invite

  5. Give people 24-48 hours to respond

  6. Use BUMP or FOLLOWING UP headers for reminders

  7. Stick to the Subject Line OR Send a Different Email

Congratulations! You officially know how to get it done via email!