You sit down with your morning cup of coffee and eagerly anticipate reading your favorite newsletter. You open the e-mail message in Outlook 2007 and wait for your screen reader to read the information. However, all you hear is, "Table, table." With a sigh, you try to get your screen reader to read the contents of that table, but the information that you hear doesn't make sense. Don't fear, there is a solution!
Some e-mail messages that are created by using HTML are difficult for some screen readers to read, especially if tables are used. The reason this occurs is partly because Outlook uses Microsoft Office Word 2007 to translate hypertext markup language (HTML), instead of using your browser, and partly because of the screen reader's ability to understand the elements that are on the page. Because Word only supports a part of what HTML offers, the content that is displayed might not look the way that it was designed. For example, you might subscribe to a newsletter that is delivered to your Inbox. When you open the e-mail message, screen readers, such as JAWS, reads "Table, table." When you try to read the information in the table, JAWS continues to report that there is a table, but does not read the contents of the table. If you are a sighted user, the information in the e-mail message might not look as aesthetically pleasing as the sender had intended. If you are a visually impaired person, the content in the table is completely invisible and unreadable.
The good news is that there is a workaround if you encounter an HTML e-mail message that your screen reader cannot understand. The following procedure only works for HTML e-mail messages, such as newsletters.
- Open the e-mail message in Outlook 2007.
- To view the e-mail message in a browser, press ALT, H, X, V.
- If a dialog box appears, and to make sure that it does not display every time that you view an e-mail message in a browser, press TAB until the Please do not show me this dialog again check box is active, press SPACEBAR to select it, and then press ENTER.
- To return to your e-mail message, close the browser by pressing ALT+F4.
Note If you are using Windows Internet Explorer 7 and have multiple windows open, press CTRL+W to close the active window. Press ALT+TAB to return to your open e-mail message.
Because you cannot view the information in the e-mail message in a browser by default, you must repeat these steps to read any HTML e-mail message that your screen reader cannot read.
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Why is Outlook 2007 using Word 2007 to display HTML?
In earlier versions of Outlook, you could use Word to compose and edit e-mail messages and use a browser to display HTML e-mail messages. Unfortunately, the HTML e-mail messages that were created by using Word looked very different from the e-mail messages that were displayed in a browser. This was because the earlier versions of Word did not support all the features that HTML offers. For most users, it was undesirable to use one application to create e-mail messages and another to read them. Because browsers are not designed to be text editors, Word 2007 was the most logical program to use for both creating and reading e-mail messages. Word 2007 does a good job with most HTML content, but it does present some limitations.
The following features are not supported by Word 2007:
- Background images
- Flash or other plug-ins
- Cascade style sheets (CSS) positioning
- CSS floats
- Animated Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images
- Bullet images
HTML authoring tips
For those of you who enjoy composing HTML e-mail messages, there is hope. Microsoft has created a useful tool that checks for valid and supported HTML before you send an HTML e-mail message. To download the tool, go to HTML tool for e-mail messages.
Microsoft continues to invest in HTML and CSS support based on customer feedback and works toward a complete solution. I will keep you posted of additional development as it becomes available.
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