Changeling’s Guide to Discord for Screen Reader Users: Text, Voice, and Video Chatting

Changeling’s Guide to Discord for Screen Reader Users: Chatting

What is This?

This is the fourth in a series of posts that explains how  to use Discord if you are also a screen reader user. If you are unsure of what Discord is or whether or not you wish to use it, please see the dedicated page for this guide for more information.

What is covered in This Post?

This post describes how to participate in both text and voice chat in Discord. We then have a final thoughts section, since this is where many of you will have the information you need to use Discord effectively.

Before We Begin: A Word About Keyboard shortcuts

Since Discord was originally intended to be the ultimate chatting app for gamers, it has in it a number of keyboard shortcuts, and this is also a win for screen reader users. Since the needed detail of this guide makes for long posts, I’ve decided not to include a complete list of keyboard shortcuts, but rather to talk about them as they are needed for the guide. Here are the links to keyboard shortcuts for Windows, and for MacOS. At this time, there do not appear to be keyboard shortcuts for the mobile platforms. You can also get a complete and up-to-date list of keyboard shortcuts by pressing Control+Slash in the discord program. Finally, it is possible to create your own keyboard shortcuts (key bindings), which we will cover out of necessity when we discuss voice chatting.

Text Chatting

Unlike platforms that came before it, Discord encourages text chatting, rather than just including the ability as an afterthought. Those of you who have been following along will know that the Discord interface presents like an HTML environment, so much of your ability to text chat will depend on how comfortable you are moving around web pages in general. On a different but related note, there will also be times when you will need to let your screen reader know to pass keys through directly to Discord, so you might want to consult your screen reader’s documentation on how to do that. You will also want to get comfortable with your screen reader’s ability to emulate the mouse pointer. With these things in mind, let’s talk about the chat window.

The chat Window

The first thing to do is to enter a server, and then pick a text channel within that server. If you’ve joined a public server, you will most likely start out in a welcome channel, and you will probably be able to find the server rules and guidelines for how to navigate and use the channels in the server. As a general rule, regular members do not have permission to actually send messages in these types of channels.

Regardless of whether or not you can send messages, you can read the messages of a channel if you have access. The first thing you’ll encounter is a button that has the name of the server, and it will be collapsed by default. Remember, this is what you would click to adjust server settings.

Following that is the user area and all of the options it contains. The quick switcher comes next, which you can also access by pressing Control+K. After all of these things, you will encounter a notification of new unread messages if there are any. You can press Escape to mark a channel read, or Shift+Escape to mark all the messages in a server as read. you can also press Tab at the top of the window to enter keyboard navigation mode, and use F6 to move between the servers, channels, and messages lists for the currently selected channel.

The next section has a list of channel categories and the channels within them. Categories present buttons, and the channels within present as links if they are text channels, or buttons if they are voice channels. For a smoother experience, use the quick switcher, or use Alt along with the up or down arrows to move between channels. If you want to see which channels have unread messages, you can move between them with Alt combined with Shift and the up or down arrows.

A Word About NSFW Channels

If you navigate to a channel that is called NSFW, or it has a different name but the admin has designated NSFW, you will first be asked to confirm that you are of age and are willing to view NSFW content. The continue button is recognized as a button by screen readers, so find and activate that, and you’re ready to go. You may also be asked to verify your birthday. if so, use the dropdown to enter your date of birth, then proceed to the oh so interestingly forbidden content.

Reading Messages

For each message, the user is displayed as a level 2 heading and a button that has their nickname, as well as the time they sent the message. If you activate this button, you will be dropped into a box where you can send the user a private message, or navigate away from that and you can view a person’s roles in the server and view their profile. Press escape to return to the channel.

You can use heading jump commands to move through a conversation. Be aware, however, that if a person sends multiple messages before another message from a user comes in, these are not separated by headings, but rather each message is on its own line, so you might unintentionally skip messages.


You can also read messages by entering keyboard navigation mode, pressing F6 to move to the messages area, and using up and down arrows to navigate the list.

Adding Reactions

You can use emojis to add reactions to messages you read. To do this, you need to right click the message, then activate the button that says “add reaction”. You can, as of May, 2020, press Shift and F10 like you do in File Explorer to right click. You can also tell your screen reader to move the mouse pointer to where your review cursor is, then right click. If another user has already added a reaction, then the button can be found using standard navigation.. Once you activate the button, your focus will be placed in an autocomplete list of available emojis. Use your up and down arrows to review the options, and press Enter to add it as a reaction. Right clicking also reveals other actions you can take on a message, including but not limited to copying the message, quoting the message, and viewing the user’s profile. You can also find the “more” button after each message and click it to find those actions, but it is inconsistent at the time of this writing.

Revealing Hidden Content

To reveal hidden content, find the button that says, “spoiler”, and activate it. You can also make it so that no content is hidden in the “Text and Emojis” section of your user settings.

Viewing Files

To access an uploaded file, click the button or link with the file name. You will either open or be prompted to save the file depending on the file type.

Sending Messages

To get to the edit field where you can send a message, press the tab key, or use your screen reader’s jump command for edit fields. Next, type your message and press enter to send. If you wish to add a line break without sending a message, press Shift and the Enter key to insert it. Here are some other things you can do with messages:

  • Press Control+E to open the emoji picker.
  • Press Control+Shift+U to upload a file.
  • Press slash followed by one of these:
    • Spoiler to mark content as a spoiler and hide it.
    • Tts to make your message be spoken by a robot.
  • Press the up arrow in the edit box to erase and edit your last message. Press escape to cancel.
  • Insert the at (@) sign followed by a person’s name to mention that user.
  •  Insert the hashtag (#) before a channel name to directly link to that channel.

Voice and Video Chatting

While there are fewer steps to actually using voice chat, you should go into your audio video settings and adjust the following:

  • Set your preferred audio input device.
  • Adjust your input volume and output volume.
  • Disable autogain control.
  • Run a test of your audio.
  • Enable Push to talk, and disable automatic voice activation.
  •  Choose your preferred video input device.

Push to Talk and Key Bindings

When you enable push to talk for the first time, you’ll be prompted to set a key binding, or shortcut key that activates the feature. Find and activate the record button, then navigate to the edit box. Push your desired key combination, then tab to the stop recording button and activate it. Keep in mind that the key combination is global, so try to pick one that doesn’t conflict with any other programs. Once you’ve changed these settings, remember to click the save button at the bottom. Finally, you can add other key bindings in the “key bindings” section of your user settings.

Connecting to a Voice Channel

To connect to a voice channel, find and activate the button with the name of that channel. You should hear a tone indicating that you’ve connected. You’re now all set to chat using your voice. Remember to press and hold your key binding for push to talk while speaking. If you want to share video, find the “Turn on camera” button and activate it. You can also use the “Share Screen” button to share your screen.

To disconnect from a voice channel, find the disconnect button. You’ll want to do this, since you can only be connected to one voice channel at a time.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you now have the essential information to actively participate in Discord servers. The easiest way to master the service is to just use it. Once you get comfortable with the stable version, you can download Discord Canary to get the latest improvements on a faster timeline.

Next Step

The logical next step is to try your hand at running your own Discord server. I have no immediate plans to cover this, but remain open to the possibility. In the meantime, the Internet has plenty of articles from the official Discord help and tech bloggers on the subject. Remember that Discord is made to bring all kinds of people with different skill sets together, so nobody is under any obligation to administer or moderate a server to be an effective Discord user. So long as you’re following server rules and not going out of your way to be less than a decent person, you’re Discording right.

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