How Do Email Screen Readers Work?

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With a screen reader, people with visual or cognitive impairments can access content on their devices. It speaks text, images, page structure, and other elements.

A screen reader user typically jumps from element to element on a page using their keyboard. Mobile phones have touchscreens for navigation. The page content is then read aloud or converted to Braille.

Who are those that uses screen readers?

Most screen readers users are blind. However, many users are partially sighted or have conditions like glaucoma or cataracts.

Screen readers enable them to understand and interact with web pages, emails, and other on-screen content by converting text and images into speech or braille.

Screen readers can also help people with dyslexia or other cognitive disabilities who struggle to read words on a screen. It may be quicker or easier for them to listen than read.

Why is it necessary for email marketers to optimize their messages for screen readers?

Over 217 million people have moderate or severe vision impairment. If you don’t make your emails accessible to them, you’re missing out on a big chunk of your target market.

Accessible emails allow you to:

  1. Help everyone, not just disabled people. With accessibility, real humans (not computers) can interact with content more easily. When done correctly, it enriches and streamlines the experience for everyone on your list.
  2. Show subscribers you care. You show everyone you value them by treating them like real people and considering their needs.
  3. Enhance competitiveness. You’ll be able to connect and interact with more people if your competitors don’t.
  4. Avoid legal issues. In 2020, 11,000 accessibility lawsuits were filed. A lawsuit could cost you money and harm your brand’s reputation.

How do screen readers read HTML?

The way your email is coded can make a big difference in how accessible it is to screen readers. Let’s look at some ways to make HTML more accessible.

1. Write descriptive alt text

Screen readers use alt text to interpret images and describe them verbally. Every image must have descriptive alt text because this is the only way people with vision disabilities can understand visual content.

Consider hiring a copywriter to help you write your alt text. Remember to help screen readers see your images.

To use the coffee shop’s example, they wouldn’t want to just write “coffee” in an email. Instead, they’d write:

“Fancy coffee on a wood table next to a laptop.”

Fancy coffee in a cup and saucer on a wooden table next to a laptop.

Try imagining it without seeing it.

Other alt text best practices:

  • When using alt text, don’t add title text. Some screen readers read both, which is confusing.
  • As needed, use empty alt text (empty alt=””). This tells screen readers to ignore images that are purely decorative, like patterns or logos.
  • Even if the images are similar, use unique alt text for each. This helps screen readers distinguish them.

Using Email on Acid’s Campaign Precheck eliminates the need to code any of this. All you have to do is choose your text.

2. Set an email title

A title tag sets the email title in a browser and provides context for screen readers. It’s best to provide this option for those who use screen readers that don’t automatically voice title tags.

3. Add a skip navigation link

Remember that screen readers can’t scan your emails to find what they’re looking for. They must instead go through each item one by one. However, a skip navigation link at the top of your email allows subscribers to skip to the main content. This makes things so much easier!

To do so, add the following code to the top of your email:

<a href=”#body”>Skip to body text</a>

Then, just before the main content, an internal anchor:

<a name=”body”></a>

4. Add meaningful labels

Text labels help screen readers understand links and buttons. This way, subscribers will know what they’re clicking on. Most importantly, they should work well when read alone.

Avoid “learn more” and “click here” phrases. Be more specific.

  • Shop our fall line
  • Read our full return policy
  • Download your free guide to coffee roasts

5. Set a language attribute

The language attribute instructs screen readers how to read your email. It reads text in its default language rather than the language in which your content is written. Envato Tuts+ shows how to read a French phrase with and without a language attribute.

So, if your email is in French, use the code:


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