There are some very simple techniques that digital marketers can use to check how accessible their communications are to people with disabilities, so I was rather surprised to receive this email from Amazon:

Amazon email with images switched off

I must declare an interest here. I like Amazon and am a regular customer. I particularly like the fact that I can use the Kindle app on my Android phone, my PC and my iPad and it makes sensible decisions for me. 

I even like some of the offers Amazon sends me based on my previous purchases.  But, I guess like many people, my Outlook mail is set to not download pictures automatically, hence the not very enticing offer above.

It should, of course, have looked like this:

 Amazon email with images switched on

A much more attractive offer.

This reminded me of one of the accessibility tips we give our clients. Check your site with images disabled to see how it would appear to the visually impaired and those using screen readers.

But surely, Amazon cares about accessibility and the millions of potential customers with visual impairments?  It couldn’t be that bad, or could it?

So I asked one of our accessibility experts to run the offer email through JAWS (the leading screen reader software used by visually impaired people to read their screens out loud to them) and this is what she told me.

It’s bad news for screen reader users, but not for the reasons we expected. The issue is with the layout of the information. The content is placed within tables (purely for format purposes) which makes them confusing and difficult to navigate through for screen reader users. 

The images that are downloaded don’t appear to have alt text (which in this instance is acceptable as the images are decorative) so JAWS users are presented with link text (which makes sense). But it’s very difficult to navigate through these links as the table makes the navigation much more complicated than it needs to be.

It’s not that there is a shortage of good advice out there, which leaves me with the rather surprising feeling that Amazon, like Four Seasons, does not care enough about visually impaired users to run even the simplest accessibility checks.