An Inclusive Structure of a Proposal: How to Ensure Visual and Cognitive Accessibility

Kyla Steeves, Content Marketing Manager at Loopio
Kyla Steeves

Just like a rising tide lifts all boats, kindness benefits all. ⛵ And when we prioritize accessibility, everyone wins.

As a proposal writer, you have the power to be a rising tide and create proposals that are easier to read for all evaluators, including those with visual impairments or neurodiversities.

After all, inclusive content = quality content.

To help you get started with your first accessible proposal, we talked to Emma Hegel-Kissinger, a proposal consultant at Once Upon an RFP who’s passionate about improving accessibility in RFP responses.

With her tips, you’ll learn how to write with accessibility in mind so that anyone who reads your proposals will understand your key messages—and feel like they belong.

Read on to learn how to ensure accessibility with an inclusive structure of a proposal:

“It’s the kind, conscientious, and empathetic thing to do. This narrative needs to be perpetuated more to get buy-in. Not just from higher-ups, but anybody who produces content.”
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Proposal Consultant
Once Upon an RFP

4 Thoughtful Reasons to Prioritize Accessibility in Your Proposal Templates

Accessibility is essential in all aspects of the workplace, from creating an inclusive office space to designing a user-friendly website. The same goes for writing clear, digestible proposals.

Here are 4 reasons why accessibility should be integrated into your proposal writing process.

1. It Allows Evaluators With Diverse Abilities to Thrive 💗

An inclusive world is a kinder world, full stop. Accessibility ensures proposal evaluators with all variations of visual and cognitive abilities can easily consume (and understand) the content. This means they can confidently select the best vendor for the project, just like anyone else.

You can be a part of the change by prioritizing it in every proposal for:

✓ Evaluators with neurodiversities such as ADHD, dyslexia, or autism

✓ Evaluators who are colour blind, blind, or otherwise visually impaired

✓ Evaluators who are deaf or hard of hearing (this is most relevant during RFP presentations with audio or video elements)

2. It Breaks Down Barriers for All Evaluators 🌎

Since accessibility makes your content more digestible, it’s a win-win for everyone. After all, no one likes to squint at hard-to-read text, navigate massive paragraphs, or stare too long at charts and tables with bad colour combos, like green and red.

Not only will evaluators appreciate you saving them headaches, but it could also boost your chances of winning the bid. The clearer your proposal, the more likely you will convince the evaluator to choose your solution, which is a nice little cherry on top.


“Evaluators might have to read 20+ proposals in a day, so why not make it easier on them? It’s still an act of service to break down those barriers and eliminate confusion or fatigue.”
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Proposal Consultant
Once Upon an RFP

3. It’s Vital for Legal Compliance and Privacy ⚖️

Each country has accessibility laws in place to ensure everyone can access an organization’s products, information, and services. Those who don’t comply can face potential lawsuits.

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lays out guidelines to address gaps in effective communication, like providing an electronic copy of a proposal so that an evaluator who is blind can use a screen-reading program.

By adhering to these guidelines, you’ll not only create an inclusive environment—but also, demonstrate your dedication to equal opportunities, foster positive relationships with those you do business with, and avoid potential legal challenges.


4. Yes, Accessibility is Good for Business Too 💰

While being compassionate is reason enough to prioritize accessibility in the structure of a proposal, it also positively affects corporate business goals.

For instance, accessibility can be the difference between closing the deal or losing to a competitor. When evaluators—no matter their ability—have an easy time understanding your proposed solution, they’re more likely to do business with you. (On the other hand, if the evaluation process is frustrating, they may take their business elsewhere.)

These factors help communicate the importance of accessibility to stakeholders, but, as Emma says, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it should lead the conversation.” At the end of the day, it should be about leading with inclusivity for the sake of kindness.

“Sure, accessibility can boost profit and keep you out of legal trouble, but at the end of the day, it’s the considerate thing to do.”
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Proposal Consultant
Once Upon an RFP
Want to learn more about writing proposals? Learn how to create a repeatable RFP response template.

Mastering the Basics: What is the Typical Structure of a Proposal?

One of the most important steps in proposal writing is to set your foundation with the basic structure of a proposal—which also supports accessibility best practices.

First, follow any specific instructions outlined in the RFP, such as the submission format, word count restrictions, and section requirements. Then, outline the key elements to include:

  • Proposal Cover Letter: For Making a Positive First Impression

    A proposal cover letter is your first chance to capture an evaluator’s attention and convince them to keep reading. If you personalize it and clearly highlight your proposal win themes, you’ll set yourself apart as a strong contender from the onset. Instead of “To whom it may concern.”

  • Executive Summary: For Selling Your Solution, Concisely

    This is your opportunity to resonate with the client and summarize why your solution is a good fit, right out of the gate. Like a cover letter, it’s no more than one page long and highlights the most important points. This way, even if an evaluator skims the rest of your proposal, they’ll understand how you’ll help them solve their problem (and why you’re the best suited).

  • Core RFP Sections: For Diving Deeper Into the Details

    The meat of your proposal should be broken up into clearly defined sections with clear, descriptive headings. This is where you might pull from your proposal content library (or previous RFP responses) to get specific answers about your solution and offerings.

    Typical sections in a proposal include:

    Your solution: An overview of your tailored approach to the client’s needs

    Company information: This section can include a summary of your core values, mission statement, company history, and relevant team members

    Scope of work: An outline of exactly how you plan to solve the client’s problem—the overall timeline, project deliverables, and other parties involved

    Success stories: You may include dedicated sections for case studies, performance results, and testimonials from similar clients

    Supplier pricing details: Your payment terms for the proposed offer, including the total cost of the project, billing schedule, and accepted methods of payment

    Terms and conditions: The fine print—think confidentiality clauses, intellectual property rights, change order procedures, and termination clauses

💡 Examine the structure and key elements of a typical proposal with this handy bid proposal template.

The Next Level: Best Practices to Format a Proposal for Impact and Inclusion

With the basics down, you can now ensure your proposal also accommodates visual, cognitive, and auditory accessibility. Here are some essential guidelines to keep in mind.

“It’s impossible to create a universally accessible proposal, but ideally, the only barriers left should stem from the content itself and the level of expertise.”
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Proposal Consultant
Once Upon an RFP

Write Clearly, With Plain Language

There are a few common mistakes in proposal writing and one of them is using technical jargon to explain your solution—which ultimately confuses the evaluator more than it helps.

Sometimes, you can even tell a proposal isn’t accessible before you read it. For example, if it’s a giant wall of text, your information will blur together and overwhelm the evaluator.

So, as you write your proposal, continuously ask yourself: “Is this simple to read and understand?” It’s not a time to weave in complex metaphors, advanced vocabulary, or lengthy academic-like sentences.

Instead, follow these do’s and do’s to improve accessibility.

Follow the Do’s and Don’ts of Crystal-Clear Proposal Writing

Write in active voice rather than passive: For example, flip “The industry was transformed by us” into “We transformed the industry.”

Complicate phrases to sound more formal: For example, try saying “to” vs. “in order to” or “because” instead of “in light of the fact that.”

Aim for an 8th grade reading level: Pass your proposal through a readability tool like the Hemingway App or Grammarly.

Write run-on sentences: “If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, it might be too long,”Emma says. When in doubt, embrace periods and turn one sentence into two.

Break up super long paragraphs: Don’t be afraid of the [Enter] button to create more white space in a proposal and embrace bullet points to highlight key information.

Use over-complicated vocabulary: Just because it’s your Word of the Day, it doesn’t mean you need to use it in a proposal. Think “diligently” instead of “assiduously.”

Check for accessibility: Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is visually impaired by using a screen reader in Miscrosoft Word. Is the experience good or bad?

“Writing with accessibility in mind is not equivalent to ‘dumbing it down’ or explaining concepts as you would to a five-year-old,” says Emma. “It’s not a conversation about intelligence or capacity. It’s about ease of consumption.”

Create a Logical Structure for Digital Formats

A well-structured proposal helps screen readers navigate your information, but it also supports cognitive accessibility since evaluators can easily find and prioritize content on the page.

To make your content skimmable for both, label each section with clear headings. Whether you format your proposals in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, you can organize your content by order of importance using a heading hierarchy (a.k.a. heading styles):

  • H1: The main title or heading of your proposal
  • H2: The major (and most important) sections of your proposal
  • H3: A subsection heading of an H2 section
  • H4: A subsection heading of an H3 section

For example, an H2 might be “Scope of Work.” The H3s would then capture the action plan (e.g. Timeline, Deliverables, Responsible Parties) with a description of each in the body text below.

Pro tip: If you’re writing lists, sort the information in a logical pattern. In Emma’s article for Winning the Business, she says, “Organize information chronologically, alphabetically, by category or by hierarchy. These methods will help the reader understand how content relates to additional content and will help them find and reference content quickly.”

Use Simple, Clean Font

“Font is a huge debate that is constantly evolving,” Emma says. “There are different fonts designed for people with dyslexia, but not everyone’s dyslexia presents in the same way.”

To be safe, leave the decorative fonts for your birthday party invites. Instead, reduce distraction by using sans serif fonts with minimal design and regular weight (e.g. Calibri, Arial, Nunito). Also, pass font colours through a contrast checker—a dark font on a light background is best.

If you’re not sure which font to use in a proposal, check with your marketing team for your brand guidelines. Often, they will choose a font that is already accessible, so implement that. If not, you’ll generally be in a good place by sticking to a simple sans-serif font with clear colours.

Provide Visual Elements With Alternative Text (ALT)

Visual elements can do wonders for enhancing cognitive accessibility and creating a better experience for readers with full vision. But, as Emma explains, “They should contribute to understanding, not distract from it.”

It’s easy for visual elements to become overwhelming, confusing, or completely inaccessible without proper practices. While a magazine-like design can make your pages pop, be sure to follow these guidelines so any visual elements amplify your proposal instead of holding it back.

🎨 Design for Every Evaluator: How to Nail Accessible Visual Elements

✓ Instead of banishing colour from your tables and charts, use a colour contrast checker to make sure they are colour-blind friendly.

✓ Reduce cognitive overload by avoiding overstimulating graphics that use too many bright colours, distorted fonts, or unexpected patterns.

✓ Add ALT text to explain the context of an image thoroughly. If a graphic is only decorative, explain that so visually-impaired readers know they aren’t missing important information.

✓ Avoid screenshots or images of text if the graphic contains critical information. These formats are often poor quality and difficult to read.

Transcribe Auditory Elements

This is more relevant to proposal presentations, but if you embed videos or audio, include a transcript, close-captions, or explain the context as much as possible so those with auditory differences can still receive the information.

Psst … here are a few transcription tools: Gong, Rev,, and Trint.

Remember, Take Feedback With Grace 🫶

Prioritizing accessibility is an ongoing process. Don’t be afraid to ask people with diverse abilities in your organization to review the structure of a proposal. If you’re open to fixing oversights that inevitably pop up, real change and progress will take root.

“Make sure you’re ready to receive feedback with grace and gratitude, then adjust accordingly. Listen to the considerations of disabled and neurodiverse professionals. It’s an act of service for anyone who might read your writing.”
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Emma Hegel-Kissinger
Proposal Consultant
Once Upon an RFP
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