What is This?

This is the fifth in a series of posts that explains how to use Mastodon if you are a screen reader user. It is an alternative form of documentation, and is not intended to relace the original Mastodon documentation, nor should it be used to replace the documentation that comes with your screen reading software. My suggestion is that you use this information in combination with the original documentation to further your understanding. I also suggest that, due to the advanced content in this portion of the guide, you go back and start the series with Chapter One.

The Road So Far…

  • Chapter One gave an introduction to the guide, explained my reasons for writing it, and outlined things you should have to make your experience a smooth one.
  • Chapter Two explained what Mastodon was, described the process of choosing an instance, and concluded with a brief walkthrough of the signup process.
  • Chapter three guided you through the process of completing your user profile, concluding with the sneding of your first toot, “Hello World.”
  • Chapter Four described the different things you can do with toots, as well as the process of searching for and following users.

What is in This Chapter?

This chapter explains how to navigate timelines and interact with toots from other users. We’ll start by discussing the different timelines Mastodon offers, as well as how to switch between them. we’ll then talk about how to navigate timelines, and how to interact with toots from other users.

Terms in This Chapter (In Order of discussion)

  • Timeline
    • Home Timeline
    • Local Timeline
    • Federated Timeline
    • Notifications Timeline
    • Direct messages timeline
  • Boost
  • Favorite
  • Reply

Before We Begin

This guide was written using the ChromeVox screen reader on Chrome OS. If you’re using a different browser and/or screen reader, your experience may vary. If you are using a mobile device, the keyboard shortcuts may not work. I know for a fact that they do not work with iOS and Safari at the time of this writing. If you will be using a mobile device for Mastodon, stay tuned for Chapter Six, which has a section dedicated to mobile solutions.

How to Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Unless otherwise noted, you’ll make yourself ready and able to use keyboard shortcuts by letting your screen reader know to pass keystrokes to Mastodon. Here are some of the most common commands, but you should consult your screen reader’s documentation. To keep this discussion as general as possible and keep me from repeating long sentences, we’re just going to call this passthrough, and I may proceed a set of directions with something like, “Enable passthrough,” or “Disable Passthrough.”

  • JAWS calls this virtual keys, and you toggle it with JAWS+Z.
  • NBDA calls this Browse mode, and you toggle it with NVDA+Space.
  • For VoiceOver on Apple devices, make sure quick-nav is off. You can toggle this by pressing the left and right arrows together.
  • Chromevox has a limited version of passthrough, and it won’t come into play here. For the record, that command is ChromeVox+Shift+Escape.

Timelines

A timeline is where toots appear. The kind of toot that appears and who those toots are from depends on the timeline you’re viewing. In the notifications timeline, the messages you see are not necessarily toots, but you will navigate them in the same way. They are displayed newest to oldest.

  • Home timeline: Toots from you and people you follow. Includes boosts and replies by default.
  • Notifications Timeline: Shows new followers, boosts of your toots, favorites of your toots, replies to your toots. Includes an option to only show replies/mentions.
  • Local Timeline: Includes toots from users of your instance, regardless of whether or not you follow them.
  • Federated Timeline: Includes toots from users from instances with which your instance interacts, regardless of whether or not you follow them.

By default, your home and notifications timelines are displayed on your home page, the page you land on after logging into your instance. With passthrough disabled, you can jump between these by using the command to navigate by heading. These two timelines are considered to be pinned, and pinning is covered in more detail in Chapter Six.

You can also navigate to the local and federated timelines by activating the links at the top of the page. You can also switch timelines by using the following hotkeys with passthrough enabled. All of these start by pressing the letter g, followed by:

  • H for home.
  • N for notifications
  • L for local timeline.
  • T for federated timeline.
  • S for “Get Started”.
  •  D for Direct Messages.

 

Regardless of whether you click the links or use the hotkeys, Mastodon will not load another page like you may be used to from using other websites. Instead, it expands a new section, and that section is under a level one heading, the title of which depends on which section you called up. Home and notifications are always visible. If you don’t call up one of the other timelines, and if you navigate to the heading beyond the notifications section, you’ll encounter the getting started section. This includes links to various account settings (detailed in chapter six), as well as the complete list of hotkeys and profile directory (See Chapter Three). You can also call up the list of hotkeys by pressing ? with passthrough enabled. Press the Backspace key to go back when you’ve finished with a section.

 

Navigating Within Timelines Described

This is a general description of how to navigate through timelines. This means that once you apply these methods, you should be able to navigate all timelines. If you need more detail, the next major section(you can jump to it by using the command by jumoing by level two heading), details the navigation of the most common timelines you use on Mastodon.

Generally

To enter a timeline once it’s been called up or made visible, disable passthrough, and move by heading until you hear the name of the desired timeline. Pressing Tab the first time will move you to a “Settings” button, and clicking that will show or hide the settings pecific to that timeline. Later, we’ll take a look at the settings for Home, Notifications and Direct Messages. Pressing Tab again takes you to the toot at the top of the timeline, and pressing Tab a third time takes you to the list proper.

In the List

Enable passthrough, and use j or down arrow to move to the next toot. Use k or up arrow to move to the previous toott. You can review a toot by character, word, etc. by using your screen reader’s commands for that level of analysis.

On a Toot

Once you navigate to a toot, you can press the Tab key to move between the link to the user’s profile, the text, the button to show or hide content behind warnings, the image with alt text if it is there, and the buttons for interacting.

Navigating Within Timelines Applied

This section repeats what has just been covered, except it adds more detail about what you can expect to find. The prompts you should always hear from your screen reader are in quotes. Whether or not you hear the descriptions of controls as you pass over them will depend on how you have your verbosity settings configured. Similarly, whether you hear the name of the section and actually need to Tab to find the settings button, or if you hear the title of the section and the settings button when you navigate to that heading will depend on how your screen reader handles object presentation.

Home

Navigate by heading until you hear “home. Heading level one”. Press Tab, and you get:

  1. “Home. Show settings. Not pressed.”
    1. Activating this button will change the message to “Hide Settings. Pressed.”
    2. When these settings are shown you have checkboxes for what you do and don’t want shown in the timeline. Choose to see or not see boosts and replies by checking or unchecking these boxes.
  2. The first toot in the timeline. The latest.
  3. The first toot again. The start of the list proper. The toot is read in full.
    1. Author name.
    2. Message or content warning.
    3. If the toot was boosted, who boosted it.
    4. When the toot was tooted.
  4. Each of the elements above, plus:
    1. Photo and alt text if present.
    2. Buttons for interacting.
  5. Continuing to press Tab will take you to the next toot.

Enabling passthrough and pressing j, k, down arrow, or up arrow will take you to the next and previous toot, and the process repeats.

Notifications

Disable passthrough, and navigate by heading until you hear, “Notifications. Heading level one.” Press tab and you get:

  1. “Show settings. Not pressed.”
    1. Pressing this button changes the message to “Hide settings. Pressed.”
    2. You can choose which notifications you receive through either push or desktop. Eliminate entire categories, or only certain notifications for certain types of activity by checking or unchecking the boxes.
  2. “All.” Activating this shows all notifications.
  3. “Mentions.” Activating this only displays mentions.
  4. Message structure with elements as described above.
  5. Enable passthrough and use j, k, up, or down arrow to move through the list.

Direct Messages

Direct messages are toots that only you or a group of users that includes you can see. To navigate here, enable passthrough, then press g, d. Disable passthrough, and navigate by heading until you hear Direct Messages. Heading level one.” Press Tab, and you get:

  1. “Show settings. Not pressed.”
    1. Activating this button will change the message to, “Hide settings. Pressed.”
    2. The only option in this timeline is the option to pin it. This means it will always be visibile.
  2. The first message.
  3. By now, you should have enough to know what to expect.

I just want to point out to you that since direct message do qualify as mentions according to Mastodon, they will show up in your notifications timeline. It’s important to know how to call up different timelines, however, so you can work with lists, which will be covered in Chapter Six.

Take a Break: A Quick Look Behind the Scenes

This is the part where you need to stop and take a break. How do I know? Before I wrote this paragraph, I went back and read what I’d written before and cleaned it up. I’m exhausted, and this content is not new to me. I should also note that, with the exception of the first two chapters, each one of these takes me a couple of days to draft, plus a few extra hours to be ready for publishing. This is because I want to make reading these chapters and applying these concepts as seamless as possible for you, so I put a lot of my effort into making sure my reference points match.

I’m also putting more detail than some screen reader users may need, because there are a lot of people keeping up with this project and showing their support who aren’t screen reader users. They boost, they favorite, they share, they point out mistakes I’ve missed and help me reach my goals for this guide. In Chapter Seven, most likely the final chapter, I’ll have a section dedicated to thanking the contributors. Until then, thank you all.

Now that we’ve had a break, it’s time to talk about interacting with other users. Without that, none of the support I’m grateful to have received would have been possible.

Interacting with Toots

This section is going to be broken into three parts. First, we’ll deal with things you can do that won’t take your focus out of the timeline. We’ll then look at replying, which does take your focus away from the timeline. Finally, we’ll look at actions that open up additional sections and rely on navigation to complete. I’m writing this under the assumption that you went and found people to follow. For this section, passthrough will need to be enabled unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Boosting and Favoriting, and reading Image Descriptions

Neither boosting nor favoriting will take your focus away from the timelin in which you are currently operating. We’ll be working from the home timeline, but you can use these wherever you like, except Direct messages.

Boosting

Boosting a toot means you’ve shared it (Facebook), or retweeted it (Twitter). It basically means that helping a person’s message get heard. It’s also like if one person sings a song, and then you join in, and so on. To boost a toot:

  1. Navigate the timeline until you find a toot to boost.
  2. Do one of the following:
    1. Press Tab until you hear, “Boost. Not pressed” and activate it. The message should change to, “Boost. Pressed.”
    2. Press B to boost. Depending on your screen reader, you may not receive confirmation. You can Tab to the button for boosting, and you should hear, “Boost. Pressed.”
  3. Your followers will now see the toot from the original author, and that you boosted it.
  4. If the author of the toot has elected to receive such notifications, they will receive a notification that you’ve boosted their toot.

Favoriting

Favoriting is similar to using the like feature on other social media platforms. It also saves the toot to a separate timeline, and we’ll be exploring that in Chapter Six. To favorite:

  1. Navigate the timeline until you find a toot you like. Then, do one of the following:
    1. Tab until you hear, “Favorite. Not pressed.” and activate it. You should hear, “Favorite. Pressed.”
    2. Press F to favorite. Depending on your screen reader, you may or may not receive confirmation. Tab until you hear “Favorite. Pressed.” to confirm.
  2. If the author has chosen to receive this notification, they will be notified that you have favorited their toot.
  3. Your followers will not see this activity. This is why, if you toot something someone really likes, you’ll often receive a boost and favorite notification.

 

It’s important to know that boosts and favorites can be toggled, so it’s not a huge deal if you make a mistake.

Finding Image Descriptions (alt text)

If a person has added an image description (alt text) to an image they’ve uploaded, you can Tab until you encounter the image with description, and your screen reader should read it. If the author is using an instance where an uploaded image is not presented you may need to use your arrows, rather than Tab to find the image.

Replying

A reply is a toot posted in response to another toot. Doing this results in both messages being recognized as a thread that can be viewed later. To reply:

  1. Find a toot to which you wish to respond.
  2. Do one of the following;
    1. Tab until you hear, “Reply.” and activate it.
      1. You will be focused on the compose toot text box, and your screen reader should be ready to type.
      2. The box will have an at (@) sign, followed by the person’s username and instance, like @ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.
      3. Type your response, then do either one of the following:
        1. Tab until you hear “Toot” and activate it.
        2. Press CTRL+Enter to send your message.
      4. Your focus will remain in the text box, Disable passthrough, and use heading navigation to return to the timeline where you found the toot.
    2. Press R for reply.
      1. Your focus will be moved to the compose new toot text box, and your screen reader should be ready to type.
      2. The box has in it the at (@) sign, followed by the person’s username and instance, like @ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.
      3. Type your response, then press CTRL+Enter to send.
      4. Disable passthrough, and use heading naviagation to return to the timeline.
  3. At this point, there is no way to quickly return to the toot you replied to (your spot in the timeline) using a screen reader.

Other Actions

By now, you should have an understanding of the process of interacting. I’m not going to detail each of these actions, except to say that most of them will open up additional sections on the page, which you will then to navigate to. Some, but not all, of these will be detailed in Chapter Six.

  • Press M to mention the author is similar to a reply, but does not result in a conversation thread.
  • Press P to open the author’s profile in a new section.
  • Press Enter or O to open the status in a new section. If there is a conversation, it will be displayed.
  • Press X to show the content behind a content warining. Your screen reader may or may not automatically read the content. If not, anvigate away from then back to the toot.

Additional Actions

Each toot has a “More” button you can Tab to and activate. Here are the options in that menu.

  • Expand to status.
  • Copy link to status.
  • Imbed. Produces code you can put in a blog post to display a toot.
  • Mention.
  • Direct message.
  • Mute.
  • Block.
  • Report.
  •  Delete if the toot is yours.
  •  Delete and edit if the toot is yours.

Thank You for Reading

At this point, you have all the essentials for using Mastodon. Many of you will choose to stop reading at this point. If this is you, thank you for reading Changeling’s Guide to Mastodon for Screen Reader users. Remember to check back here for updated content as the software updates.

Coming Up

In Chapter Six (to be published), we’ll be taking a look at some tools to make your experience smoother, as well as mobile apps for Mastodon. That discussion will operate under the assumption that you have an understanding of the concepts already covered by this guide, so you may wish to go back and review.

This kind of thing is why Facebook is the platform I love to hate. The message here seems to be yes, we’ll grant you access and make sure our platform is inclusive, just don’t talk about the things that make your life difficult. If that’s true, Facebook is about to become less useful, since there are any number of support groups and pages for people dealing with almost anything that can make living feel difficult.

By Simon Sansome In an astonishing recorded call from Facebook, listen below.   Ability Access is the UK’s largest disability page with over 12,000 followers and often goes viral. This week is no exception, with reaching an audience of over 5 million people and 1.5 million interactions. Earlier this week, Ability Access, was blocked from…
— Read on abilityaccess.blog/2019/04/08/breaking-news-disability-is-not-good-for-facebook-says-facebook/

What is This?

This is the fourth in a series that explains how to use Mastodon if you are a screen reader user. It is an alternative form of documentation to the existing Mastodon documentation. It is not intended to replace the documentation for Mastodon or your screen reader. The content in this chapter is fairly advanced, so you should go back and read the first three chapters before reading this one.

The Road so Far…

  • Chapter one gave an introduction to the series and explained the structure of the series.
  • Chapter Two explained what Mastodon was, what an instance was, and how to join an instance.
  • Chapter Three guided you through the process of creating your profile, and concluded with your first post, “Hello world.”

What is Covered in This chapter?

This chapter gives details about working with all of the elements in the post box. Each element will have an explanation of what it does, as well as steps for using it with your screen reader.

Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)

  • Toot
  • Emoji.
  • Media.
  • Alt text.
  • Pole.
  • Status privacy.
  • Content warning.
  • Follow.
  • Remote follow.

More on Posts

The last chapter concluded with your first post, “hello World.” At the time, I listed for you the elements in the compose box, but wanted you to ignore them, the ultimate goal being to do a basic toot. It’s now time to take a look at all the things you can do with toots. If you haven’t already done so, log into your instance, and navigate to the compose box with your screen readers jump command for edit boxes, or with the shortcut key Alt+N. Make sure you tell your screen reader to ignore jump commands for the next few sections. Move to each element with the Tab and Shift+Tab commands.

Emoji

Many operating systems give users access to emoji by default. If you can’t find the emoji you want, you can insert one through Mastodon by doing the following.

  1. Tab until you hear “Insert emoji”.
  2. Press enter to expand the dropdown. Your focus will be moved to the searchbox.
  3. If you’re looking for something specific, type it into the searchbox. Use your up and down arrows to navigate results, and press enter on the one you want. You may need to let your screen reader know to go beyond the searchbox.
  4. If you want to just browse, skip the searchbox and use your arrows to browse. Press Enter when you find something you like.
  5. Once you choose an emoji, you should return to compose box. If not, navigate there. Turn off jump commands.

Media

You can add several types of media to your toot. This includes audio, video and pictures. You can upload one video or four pictures. To insert media:

  1. Tab until you hear, “Insert media,” followed by a list of filetypes Mastodon accepts.
  2. Press Enter. You will be taken to a browse dialog to select files for upload.
  3. Select your file, and press enter to insert it.
  4. If you uploaded a picture or pictures:
    1. You have the ability to add alt text, a description of the photo for screen reader users.
    2. Tab until you get to the edit box labeled “Alt Text”.
    3. Type your description into the field, then navigate back to the main compose box.

Pole

You can add a pole to toots, meaning you can ask users a question, and have them vote. To add a pole:

  1. From the compose box, type your question. For example, Do you think dragons exist?
  2. Tab until you hear “Add a pole”, and press Enter.
  3. Your focus will land on “Remove Pole”. You get two choices that appear as edit boxes by default. Shift+Tab twice to get to the first choice.
  4. Add your choices. For example, yes, no, maybe. If you need more than two choices, use the “Add Choice” button.
  5. Tab to the duration dropdown for the pole. The default is one day. Activate the dropdown to change this.

Status Privacy

You can adjust the status privacy of your toots. There are four options. To adjust privacy:

  1. From the compose box, Tab until you hear “Adjust Status Privacy”, and press Enter.
  2. Use your up and down arrows to move through options:
    1. Public: Posts to public timelines. More on timelines in Chapter Five.
    2. Unlisted: Does not post to public timelines, just the home timeline for your instance.
    3. Followers Only: Only your followers will see your toot.
    4. Direct: Only lets mentioned users see your toot. More on mentioning users in Chapter Five.
  3. Press enter to make your choice.

Content Warnings

Content warnings are one of the most popular features of Mastodon. How you use them will depend on what your instance’s code of conduct says needs a CW, what you personally feel needs a CW, and how you understand the concept of its function. A content warning is text that goes over the content of your toot, and hides it from people who may not wish to see this type of content.

It was intended to give users the choice of whether or not they wish to see content others may find offensive. You can also use it like a subject line in an email, an appropriate comparison, since Mastodon usernames look like email addresses. Here are some popular content warnings:

  • Sexual content, nudity, etc.
  • Mental health.
  • Food.
  • Gross.
  • Body image, body harm, body horror, etc.
  • Gender, gender dysphoria, gender identity, etc.
  • Mentions self-harm, thoughts of self-harm, etc.

To insert a content warning:

  1. From the compose box, Tab until you hear, “Text is not hidden”, and press Enter.
  2. Your focus will land on the edit box where you can type your warning.
  3. Type your warning, then tab to the main compose box.

Once You’ve Tricked Out Your Toot

Once your toot has all the features it needs added on, press CTRL+Enter to send. Alternatively, Tab until you hear “Toot”, and press Enter.

Following other Users

Now that you understand how to get your content out to the Fedeverse, it’s time to find other people to follow. This means that their content displays in your timeline, and you can interact with it. We’ll be talking about timelines and interacting in Chapter Five, but here are the things you can do:

  • Reply to a toot.
  • Boost a toot.
  • Favorite a toot.
  • View a user’s profile.

There are things you can do to interact with users, too, but we’ll save that for the next chapter.

 

How to Follow

There are many ways to follow a user, but most of them rely on your ability to interact with timelines. Since we haven’t discussed how to do that just yet, we’ll be using the searchbox on the home page of your instance that appears after you log in. Once Chapter Five comes out, you should consider reading Chapters Three, Four, and Five together to get a better understanding of how all of these things work together.

Using the Searchbox

There are two ways to move focus to the searchbox. The first one is to use your screen reader’s jump command to get to the searchbox, and then turn off jump commands to let you type in it. The second is to turn jump commands off, then press S to bring focus to the searchbox. Once you’re there type in your terms, then Tab to “Search” and press Enter.

Search results

Results are grouped by people, toots, and hashtags, and each section is indicated  using a level five heading. Once you get to the desired section, use standard navigation to see what your search turned up.

Following SomeOne Using the Searchbox

Here are the steps for following people using the searchbox.

  1. Navigate to the searchbox.
  2. Type your search terms, and activate the search button.
  3. Navigate to the “People” section.
  4. Next to the person’s display name and username, find and click the “Follow” button.

Following Me Using the Searchbox

  1. Navigate to the searchbox.
  2. Type ChangelingRandy into the box, and activate the “search” button.
  3. Navigate to the “People” section.
  4. Click the “Follow” button next to my display name and username. The display name is Changeling Mx, and the full username is ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.

Remote Following

Remote following is following Mastodon user that is not on your instance. The only thing that is different is the following process. Otherwise, your interactions are exactly the same. The exception is if your instance’s admin decides to block that person’s instance, or vice versa.

Remote following works like this. I live in one house, my Mastodon instance. Ashley lives in another house, her Mastodon instance. We aren’t part of the same house, but we are part of the same community. We can interact with each other from our own houses. The exception to this is if one of the landlords decides that people from the other house aren’t their kind of people and banishes them.

How to Remote Follow

Let’s assume you’ve done the search and found someone on another instance. Now:

  1. Click the “Follow” button. Depending on the version of Mastodon your instance runs, you may need to do nothing else.
  2. If this is not the case, you will be taken to another page where you can remote follow.
  3. On that page find the edit box that asks your username and instance that you want to follow from. Write it like ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.
  4. Tab to and activate the “Follow” button.

Coming Up

In Chapter five, we’ll be talking about how to use timelines and interact with posts. In the meantime, go follow some people so your timelines have content.

What is This?

 

This is the third in a series of posts that describes how to use Mastodon if you are a screen reader user. It is an alternative form of documentation, but is not intended to replace the originaldocumentation for Mastodon or your screen reader. If you have just found this post, I strongly suggest you go back and read the first two chapters, links to which are in the next section.

 

The Road So Far…

 

  • Chapter One gave an introduction to the series, explained my reasons for writing it, and suggested things a person might need before joining an instance.
  • Chapter Two took a closer look at what Mastodon actually is, gave details about how to join instances, and briefly described the signup process.

 

If you haven’t done these things, now is your chance to go back and read these chapters. Otherwise, move on to the next section.

 

What is in This Chapter?

 

This chapter walks you through the process of completing your profile, as well as sending your first post, know as a Toot.

 

Before We Begin…

 

Before we begin, I want to talk about keyboard shortcuts. Rather than list all of the keyboard shortcuts for Mastodon, I ‘ve decided to bring them up when they occur in context. For example, when we are talking about sending a new post, those keyboard shortcuts will be listed in the directions. You can find a complete, out of context list here, or under the “Getting Started” section of your home page for your instance.

 

Similarly, I’m not going to list key commands for every screen reader. This guide assumes that you are mostly familiar with your own screen reader, or that you at least know how to access the documentation. The exception to this is when I need to make an example, or point out a situation where I know a specific screen reader behaves differently than expected.

 

Full Disclosure

 

I have not personally tested every screen reader. I know people with other screen readers are quite successful at using this platform, but I’m not aware of every single quirk there is. If you find that something doesn’t behave as described, feel free to leave it in the comments section, or use the contact form on the Contact page to get in touch. I’m even willing to work with you to try and work through any issues you may experience, as I know this is a lot of information.

 

For the record, I use Chrome with Chromevox on ChromeOS. Your experience may vary depending on browser, screen reader, and instance.

 

If you plan to primarily use a mobile device, chapter Six (to be published) will talk more about apps for this platform. You will need to consult the app’s documentation to bridge the gap.

 

Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)

 

  • Profile
  • Header
  • Avatar
  • Animated Avatar
  • bio
  • metadata
  • bot account
  • profile directory
  • verified content
  • Toot

 

Completing Your Profile

 

Now that you’ve signed up for an instance, it’s time to create your profile. This is what other users will see when they come to your page on the instance. It does not offer as many options as a standard Facebook profile, but it’s also got more customization and flexibility than other microblogging services typically offer.

 

To edit your profile, do the following:

  1. Log in to your instance.
  2.  If your screen reader puts your focus on the “Compose new Toot” box, move away from it, and then go to the top of the page.
  3.  Find the link that says “Edit profile”, and click it.
  4.  Use standard navigation to move through and fill out the web form. If you move through the page using the arrows rather than the tab key, you’ll find helpful hints for each piece of content you can include. They will also be described here.
  5.  When finished, click the button that says “Save Changes”.

 

Profile Elements

 

All of your profile elements are optional. Some of these you’ve most likely seen before, and some of these will be new. I’ll go through them now.

 

Display Name

 

This is where you put your name, or what you like to be called. You can include emojis. It’s worth noting that, unlike Facebook, Mastodon does not require you to use your real name.

 

Header

 

Header is an image that goes at the top of your profile. you can use it to express an interest, hobby, belief system, etc. Note that whatever picture you use will be resized to 1500x500px, and is limited to a size of 2MB.

 

Avatar

 

An avatar is a picture, separate from your header, that represents you, the user. The maximum file size is 2MB, and the picture will be resized to 400x400px.

 

Be Picky About Your Pictures

 

When choosing both your header and avatar, remember to make sure both pictures keep to the code of conduct for your instance. For more information about instances and codes of conduct, see Chapter Two

 

Animated Avatar

 

An animated avatar is an avatar that moves, like the pictures in Harry Potter. Mastodon lets you use these, but keep in mind that many users find animated avatars distracting, and these kinds of avatars can be dangerous for people who are prone to seizures. It seems best to avoid these to me, but that’s just my own experience.

 

Bio

 

Your bio is your biography. Not the kind that starts something like, “I was born on a dark and stormy night in the heat of summer,” but a snapshot of the things you’re interested in. If you put a hashtag (#) on these, you can add yourself to the profile directory, which lets others find you by interest. If you don’t want that, don’t hashtag, and uncheck the box to include your profile in the directory. You can also lock your account, so that people have to send you requests to follow you.

 

Bot Account

 

bot account is an automated account. If you’re reading this, you’re not one of them.

 

Metadata

 

Metadata is the section of your profile whete you put things that didn’t make it into your bio, but you want people to know about. You can put up to four items here. Each item gets a label, and a place for the content. This is a good spot for links to other profiles.

 

Verified Content

 

verified content is a way to verify to users that you own the content your linking to in your metadata. It uses rel=”me” links to do this. Rel=”me” is far beyond the scope of this discussion, but you can check out my H-Card in the sidebar of this page to see them in action.

 

Suggestions

 

Here are some suggestions for completing your profile. The best thing to do is to try each thing on to see if it fits you. You can edit your profile as often as you like.

 

  • Be authentic. Mastodon is a big world. You’ll find someone who shares your interests.
  •  Remember that the bio is only a snapshot. It’s okay if not every detail is there. That’s what posting is for.
  •  Consider including your pronouns somewhere in your profile. Mastodon has become very popular for GLBTQIA folks, and the result ispeople may be uncomfortable making assumptions based on your name, physical appearance, etc. To make sure everyone has a comfortable experience, provide your pronouns so people will know how to refer to you. It can either go directly in your bio, or be part of the metadata.

 

Now that your profile is complete and you’ve saved the changes, find the link at the top of the page that says, “Mastodon”. Click it to return to the main page. You’re ready to send your first post.

 

Posting Your First Toot

 

Toot is what Mastodon calls users’ statuses. In this section, we’ll be posting a toot that says, “Hello World.” From the main page of your Mastodon instance, press Alt+N to compose a new toot. Alternatively, use your screen reader’s jump command for edit boxes to get to the compose box. Once you do, use the command that lets your screen reader know you want to enter text.

 

Elements of the Compose Box

 

You can use Tab and Shift+Tab to navigate the compose box. We’ll be discussing what each element does in more detail in the next chapter, but here’s what you can expect to find.

 

  1.  Multi-line edit box.
  2.  Insert Emoji dropdown.
  3.  Add Media button.
  4.  Add a Pole button.
  5.  Adjust Status Privacy dropdown.
  6.  “Text is not Hidden” dropdown. This is where you can set a content warning.
  7.  Toot button.

 

Compose Your “Hello World” Toot: Method One

 

  1.  Navigate to the compose box with Alt+N, or with the jump command for edit boxes specific to your screen reader.
  2.  Make sure your screen reader is set to enter text into the box. Common names for this are Forms mode (JAWS), Focus Mode (NVDA), etc.
  3.  Type “hello World.” into the box without the quotes.
  4.  Tab until you hear “Toot”, and activate that button.

 

Composing Your “Hello World” Toot: method Two

 

  1.  Navigate to the compose box with Alt+N, or with the jump command for edit boxes specific to your screen reader.
  2.  Make sure your screen reader is set to enter text into the box. Common names for this are Forms mode (JAWS), Focus Mode (NVDA), etc.
  3.  Type “hello World.” into the box without the quotes.
  4.  Press CTRL+Enter to send the Toot.

 

Coming Up

 

In Chapter Four, we’ll be taking a more detailed look at working with posts, as well as finding people to follow. In the meantime, this is a good time to sit back and relax. It’s been a long road so far.

What is This?

This is the second in a series of posts that explains how to use Mastodon if you use a screen reader. It is an alternative form of the already existing documentation for Mastodon, subject to my interpretation of concepts. Therefore, I suggest that you use this guide in conjunction with the official documentation, linked to later in this post. I also suggest that you go back and read Chapter One. Once you’ve done that, continue reading this chapter.

What is Covered in This Chapter?

This chapter takes a closer look at what Mastodon is, deals with the concept of instances, explains the differences between Mastodon and other platforms, offers suggestions on choosing an instance, and concludes with a brief description of the signup process. If you’ve already done these things, go on to Chapter Three.

Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)

  • Microblog
  • Instance
  • Federation, fedeverse

A Closer Look at Mastodon

You probably have an idea of what Mastodon is by now, or else why would you be reading this? Just to make sure I’m covering my bases, however, let’s take a closer look. Mastodon is a service that offers its users a microblog, a space to share short posts with no title, and the option to attach media such as pictures and videos. Other users can then interact with these posts in a number of ways, discussed in chapters  and Five.

Doesn’t That Already Exist?

It sure does. These days, Twitter is synonymous with microblogging, because it’s the most popular. This is similar to how America Online (AOL) was once the most popular form of Internet access, but it was not the only service like that, and it certainly not the Internet. Just like forms of Internet access, email, and many other services, it is to be expected that different microblogging services would have some features in common. I’ll briefly discuss some of those now.

Common Features Between Twitter and Mastodon

  • The primary form of communication is short statuses. On twitter, this limit is 280 characters, and 500 on Mastodon.
  • The ability reply to, like/favorite, and repost posts. (More on this in chapter Five.)
  • Being able to follow and be followed by other users. (More on this in Chapter Four).
  • The ability to create custom timelines by creating and adding users to lists. (More on this in Chapter Six, coming soon).
  • The ability to filter out unwanted content. (Also discussed in chapter Six.)

With So Many Similarities, Why Not Just Stay on Twitter?

Let me take this opportunity to tell you that I have no special reason for you to leave Twitter if you’re happy there. I mean, we’re in Chapter Two of this guide, clearly there is more to come, and if you’re still reading up to this point, it’s because you’ve already made the decision to at least consider having a presence on Mastodon. With that said, there are plenty of differences between the two services, but we need to take a look at a few concepts before we can discuss them. This is a lot like how when you got your first email address, you probably read the documentation of something like Gmail before you decided to switch providers, or at least that you needed a second email address.

The Argument I Refuse to Make

The most common argument I hear for using mastodon is something to the tune of everybody is so friendly on Mastodon. I’ve never had a bad experience on Mastodon, but the fact of the matter is Mastodon is a place for people, and people have the capacity to be hostile regardless of the platform. The most infamous example of this is the situation concerning Wil Wheaton from last summer, followed immediately by many users’ decision to block one Instance when they found out it was admined by someone who had done work for the FBI. In both cases, people had their own reasons for behaving the way they did, but it was still aggressive behavior. If you’re going to be online, if you’re going to interact with people, there’s a chance you may experience some form of hostility.

Don’t Let Me Scare You off

If you’ve come this far, don’t let me scare you off. If you choose your instance carefully, you can minimize the chance for hostile encounters. As you’ll see in the next section, it’s a lot like picking a neighborhood to live in.

Instances

Before you can find out what an instance is, you need to know how Mastodon works. With a service like Facebook or Twitter, you and I, the users, sign up for an account, managed by one central server, accessed when we open our browser and log on to something like twitter.com. To find a user, you put a slash after the web address, so if you wanted to find me on Twitter, you’d go to twitter.com/changelingmx. From there, you can click the follow button, and if I can verify that you aren’t a porn bot, won’t clog my timeline with Bible quotes, etc., I’ll probably follow you back, and we’re connected. We’re interacting within one ecosystem. This is just fine until the ecosystem dies (looking at you, Google+!), in which case we all die, digitally speaking.

As explained on joinmastodon.org, rather than being one website, the Mastodon network is a collection of websites powered by the mastodon software, which enables them to interact with each other. Each of these websites is called an instance.

You pick your instance the way you choose your email address. In fact, my Mastodon address looks like ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social. If you’re reading this on an iPhone and click that link, you’ll actually launch the device’s Mail client. If you want to find me once you join your chosen instance, click here, or see the H-Card widget in the sidebar of any starshipchangeling.net page, which has every link for every service i actively use. If you don’t want to see all of my Mastodon interactions, but want to follow this blog, you can follow it via Mastodon by typing “changelingmx@www.starshipchangeling.net”, minus the quotations. All of these websites together form the fedeverse, or, as Mastodon calls itself, a decentralized, federated social network. This detail becomes particularly important starting in Chapter Four. For now, what you need to take away is that instances can interact with each other, meaning that some on mastodon.cloud can follow me on mastodon.social. It’s also important to understand that instances can block each other, which happens from time to time since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, regardless of whether or not their opinion is a popular one.

How Do I choose My Instance?

To paraphrase a passage from Ernest Cline’s Armada, this is an objective, rather than a subjective task, so there is no right way to do it. It’s not uncommon for someone to join an instance, realize it’s not a good fit, and change instances. You may go through that process, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some suggestions to guide you.

Choose Based on Interest

Anybody can run a Mastodon instance. This means if you can think of it, there’s probably a community for it. The “Getting Started” section of joinmastodon.org has a form you can fill out to get server suggestions. Parameters include everything from what language you speak, to your hobbies.

Choose Based on How You Feel About Rules

Since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, the code of conduct from instance to instance varies. Theoretically, I could start an instance that requires users to be able to quote every line from Disney’s “Aladdin” upon request. Realistically I’d be the only member of that instance. Seriously, though, pay close attention to the rules of the instance. Each instance has them. Here is the code of conduct for mastodon.social. Please believe me when I tell you that these rules are usually strictly enforced.

Considerations for Screen Reader Users

The following is a list of questions a screen reader user should consider before joining an instance.

  • What version of the Mastodon software does the instance run? Newer versions often have accessibility improvements.
  • Does the instance run beta versions of the mastodon software? If so, make your life easier by considering the following:
    • Have a backup of your data in case you need to leave. (described in Chapter Six).
    • Have a backup account on a stable instance. This will help you troubleshoot any problems you may have by enabling you to distinguish between caused by beta software and bug in a stable release.
  • Do uploaded images appear as links you can click? This will make it easier to download images for further analysis by AI.

Signing Up

If you can fill out a web form, you can sign up for the instance of your choice. Enter your desired username, your email, and your passowrd in the appropriate boxes. Once you’ve confirmed your password, use your screen reader to check the boxes to agree to follow the rules of the instance and privacy policy. Once you submit the infromation and verify your email address, your ready to complete your profile.

Coming Up

In Chapter Three, we’ll be looking at how to complete your profile, as well as send that first post. In the meantime, go ahead and pick your instance and join it, so you will be ready for the next installment.

What Kind of Guide is This?

This is a guide for using the microblogging service Mastodon. While much of the infromation here can be applied to anyone, this guide is specifically designed for users of screen readers, software that provides spoken interpretations of content displayed on computer screens. It is not intended to replace the documentation for any specific screen reader, nor is it intended to replace any of the official Mastodon documentation. In fact, I’ll be linking to several of the documentation pages for Mastodon throughout these posts.

Why am I Writing This?

When Twitter hit critical mass as a microblogging service, it did so with the help of its then feature-rich API, meaning that you didn’t actually need to be logged on to the Twitter website to be using the service. Instead, you could use programs called clients to access the service, and you would have full access to the service, until the recent changes in Twitter’s API happened over the summer of 2018. During that time, I started looking into alternative microblogging services, because I discovered that is my preferred form of self-expression. I found Mastodon.

When I first encountered mastodon, I expected to need an API and a client to be able to use the service. I have been using a screen reader for over three decades at the time of this writing, and I’ve become used to needing an alternative way to access services like email and social networks. For example, this post is being published on a WordPress blog, but the writing and editing is being done through Google docs which, with the help of an add-on, will upload the doc to WordPress as a draft, and I’ll publish it later. (Just as an aside: The default WordPress is very accessible with screen readers. I just happen to really enjoy using Google Docs.) While I found a few such clients that I will discuss in a later chapter, what I found out is that I didn’t actually need a third-party program to use and enjoy Mastodon. This is because, unlike many services that incorporate accessibility as an afterthought following the building of the service, Mastodon appears to have been designed to be accessible from the beginning. If this is true, you may be thinking, then why is this guide necessary? Wouldn’t the original documentation be enough to get someone started?

Technically, yes. It was certainly enough to get me started, and I’ve seen plenty of screen reader users participating in the Mastodon community to their satisfaction. I’ve also seen people expressing frustration with the service. The most common complaint I hear is that the keyboard shortcuts offered by the Mastodon software don’t work. This series of posts will work to answer that, as well as any other problems a screen reader user may experience while using the service.

How am I Writing This Guide?

You may have noticed that this post had “Chapter One” in its title. This guide is going to be written as a series of posts that I was originally going to call parts and then decided to call chapters. There are two reasons for this.

First, I like to give a lot of detail to things when I write about them. If you’re the kind of person that needs lots of detail to grasp a new concept, this is going to work out splendidly for you. Unfortunately, this also means that the resulting post, were everything to be published in one, would be way longer than anyone on the Internet typically wants to read in one sitting. People click on a page to get their question answered, then they move on.

The second reason for publishing in multiple posts is so that, if you are the kind of person who likes to find an answer to their question and move on, you will be able to do that, and you wouldn’t even need to read an entire post. Each chapter is titled so that you know what’s in the chapter, like “Introduction”. If you’re at a point where you don’t need an introduction to this guide or Mastodon, you may wish to skip the first couple chapters, and start where your confusion started. Once you get there, you can jump to the section that best answers your question, using the “In this post” section below the post title and above the first section of the post, or jumping by heading until you get where you need to go.

What do I need to use Mastodon with a screen reader?

You don’t need anything special to sign up for and use Mastodon. However, here is a list of what you should have before you begin. Most of these you will already have, but it’s worth reviewing the list anyway.

  • A valid email address and password you can remember.
  • Confidence in your ability to use your screen reader fo choice, particularly with web browsing.
  • A browser other than Internet Explorer.
  • You’ll need to except the idea that while it has many features of Twitter, Mastodon is not necessarily designed to replace Twitter. There are some tools that will make your your life on Mastodon after or alongside Twitter easer, but mastodon is not Twitter.
  • An idea of what kind of online community you’d like to belong to. We’ll discuss this more in Chapter Two, but Mastodon has many communities (instances) one can join based on their interests.
  • You’ll need to except the idea that Mastodon is not a traditional program. It’s a web app, meaning that how you interact with it is different from what you may be used to. This will be discussed in much greater detail in Chapter Three.
  • The willingness to work toward understanding new concepts.
  • The willingness to ask for help. You’re joining a community, and everyone there was new at some point. Users are generally friendly. Just remember to treat others how you would be treated.

Coming Up

In Chapter two, we’ll be taking a closer look at what Mastodon is, as well as how to choose and join an instance.  the meantime, review the list of things you’ll need before you start, and get those things together so the next chapter will be a smooth experience for you.

Yesterday, Instagram announced two new features it was adding to make the platform more accessible to visually impaired users. First, newly uploaded photos would have automatically generated alt (descriptive) text added to them. This feature is powered by the same technology that Facebook added to its platform a few years ago, which attempts to determine and name the objects in posted photos, and make those results available to screen readers so users of the software can benefit from the description. These days, that technology has advanced enough so that a lot of the memes people post and share on both of these platforms can be enjoyed by visually impaired users.

Second, users of Instagram have the option to add alt text to photos they post, potentially providing a more detailed description for their visually impaired followers. This is similar to the way Twitter and Mastodon have decided to handle making images accessible. While this is a huge step forward for the platform, and while I had lots of fun testing the feature on my own Instagram account, there are a couple things that need to be worked out before I adopt it as my main outlet for nurturing my interest in photography.

Complicated Execution

The process for adding custom alt text to photos when you post them on Instagram is somewhat complicated. In addition to the normal steps for posting a photo such as adding filters and captions, you actually have to click the advanced settings at the bottom of the posting screen, add the alt text, then share the photo. To be fair, this is still easier than Twitter’s execution, which requires you to go into the accessibility section of your Twitter settings and enable the option to add alt text before it even becomes available in the tweet posting box. Mastodon offers the option to add a description to photos right out of the box, and that makes it the best, but all three of these platforms are handling the ability to add custom descriptions better than Facebook. Facebook does allow custom alt text to be added to photos. At the time of this writing, this help article explains that this is only possible from a computer. After expressing my displeasure about this, on the Facebook accessibility home page, I arcvd a response that the vthe version of the iOS app released today does allow the editing of alt text, though in an extremely complicated way.

Alt Text Does Not Transfer

My interest in photography is a growing thing, and I want to share the experience with as many people on as many platforms as possible, and I want to make sure it’s an accessible experience. When I found out that Facebook wouldn’t let me edit the alt text of photos, I thought: Hmm. Instagram lets you cross-post to a number of services, including Facebook. I bet if I add the alt text on Instagram and cross-post to Facebook, that’ll solve the problem.

Unfortunately, no. When I went to my Facebook timeline and looked at the photos, I either got the message that no alt text was available, or the automatically generated stuff that Facebook’s been putting out for a few years now. The alt text was also not posted to Twitter. One possible work-around is to configure an IFTTT applet that posts Instagram photos as native Twitter photos, but I haven’t tested this yet. It’s worth noting that if you cross-post from Twitter to Mastodon, the alt text is transferred 98% of the time.

Conclusion

Instagram’s support for automatic alt text and its giving users the ability to add custom alt text to photos is a huge step for accessibility. However, as a blind person who is posting more photos and wants to make sure their posts are accessible on all platforms, the experience is missing a couple of key features I need for it to become my main platform for sharing my experience as I develop my interest in photography. Right now, I’m separately posting to each network, and adding descriptions in the main post section of Facebook. There’s more effort involved, but the end result, to me, is worth the extra energy.