As email marketers, designers, and developers, we care a lot about how our emails look in our subscribers’ inboxes. But have you ever asked yourself how your email sounds? It’s not something we think about a lot, but it’s a critical component of email accessibility.
Can screen readers read emails?
The short answer is: Yes.
Screen readers and their underlying software translate the interface and content seen on a screen into audio. More and more people rely on screen readers to help them consume digital content—including emails—so optimizing your messages for screen readers is becoming increasingly important for brands. You don’t want your email to sound like a garbled mess that listeners can’t understand or take action on.
With screen readers on the rise, the sound of your email matters
The World Health Organization estimates there are around 2.2 billion people with visual impairments, many of whom are considered blind. This has increased the need for screen readers to read content aloud, allowing people with low vision and blindness to use modern devices.
The Founder and Executive Director of free screen reading software NV Access, Mick Curran, said:
“For those of us without sight, computers don’t work straight out of the box. Software called a ‘screen reader’ is needed to translate visual information verbally, so we can make sense of what is on screen. Screen readers open up so many doors and, for example, allow us to learn, interact, or shop online.”
Screen reader software isn’t exclusive to people with disabilities, though. The recent proliferation of voice assistant software—like Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant—mean that assistive technologies have effectively gone mainstream. According to industry tracker Voicebot.ai, smart speaker users rose to 90.7 million in the U.S. alone in 2021, a 92% increase since 2018.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are using voice assistants to get news, do their shopping, and, yes, even check and reply to their emails. But, too often, brands don’t consider the audible email experience and fail to make their emails accessible to screen readers.
This doesn’t sound right: When emails don’t work with screen readers
Screen readers work by looking at the underlying code of an interface—in our case, an email—and translating it into audio that reads the interface out to the user. For any online content, if your code isn’t complying with accessibility best practices, the screen reader’s audio output may not be usable. But the quirkiness of email development comes with unique challenges for people relying on screen readers.
Want more email accessibility tips?
Our Ultimate Guide to Email Accessibility has the insights and step-by-step advice you need to write, design, and code emails that can be enjoyed by anyone—regardless of their ability.
For example, many emails contain images. However, without ALT text, screen readers have no way of properly describing the image out loud.
Let’s look at this really simple email header from one of our own emails. This header contains an image of the Litmus logo without ALT text.
Here’s how a screen reader will read out our email header, if we hadn’t optimized it for accessibility.
That isn’t very helpful, is it? Now imagine an email full of images. Subscribers would have to wade through a lot of markup garbage to get to the actual content. The screen reader’s audio would likely be unusable—and your email’s content would be inaccessible for anyone relying on a screen reader.
“Trying to access content that doesn’t comply with key accessibility best practices is a frustrating experience,” remarked James Boreham, General Manager at NV Access, “and many content creators aren’t even aware that they’re excluding a significant portion of their audience.”
Listen to how your email sounds on a screen reader in Litmus
The first step to optimizing your email for screen readers is knowing how your email actually sounds. In the end, you can’t fix what you don’t know!
That’s why we’ve integrated NVDA, a leading open-source screen reader technology developed by NV Access that over 70,000 people rely on to consume digital content, into the Litmus platform.
Now, you have the power to listen to a screen reader recording of your email right within Litmus. As part of our accessibility optimization tools in Litmus Test, our screen reader integration lets you check and optimize the screen reader performance of your email when you QA your campaign.
Integrating screen reader optimization into your email workflow has never been easier!
Is your email accessible?
Litmus’ Accessibility Checks make it easy to test your email against accessibility best practices. See how you can improve and make better emails for everyone.
James Boreham exclaimed, “Giving content creators insights into how screen readers translate their content helps surface the need for accessibility optimization to the people in charge of content creation. NV Access is supportive of more accessible and inclusive content being developed and distributed for blind and vision-impaired audiences.
We are excited to see how NVDA is used by companies like Litmus in this process.”
Sample a screen reader recording of the Litmus newsletter
We’ve used our new accessibility testing tools to optimize our newsletters for screen readers. Curious to hear how the result sounds? Listen to a screen reader recording of this newsletter.
Ready to start making your emails more accessible?
Accessibility Testing in Litmus Test is available on all Litmus plans. Start your free trial and begin making your emails better for everyone.
Originally published on July 18, 2019, by Bettina Specht. Last updated on July 27, 2021.