Changeling’s Guide to Discord for Screen Readers: Navigating the User Interface and User Settings

What is This?

This is the second in a series of posts that explains how to use Discord if you also use a screen reader to access your computer and the Internet. If you’re unsure of what Discord is or if you want to use it, please go read the introduction post. You can also check out this dedicated guide page for a list of all posts in the series.

What is Covered in This Post?

This post describes the layout of the Discord user interface, and documents some common differences between screen readers. Finally, this post gives a walkthrough of the user settings, and makes suggestions of changes you can make to give yourself a smoother experience.

The Discord User Interface (UI)


The Discord UI presents like a web page, or HTML environment. This appears to serve the purpose of making sure users have a consistent experience, whether they choose to use the Discord program or run Discord from a web browser. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure you’re familiar with your screen reader’s commands for using web pages, particularly those commands for navigating and interacting with links, buttons, headings, edit fields, checkboxes, and dropdown menus. You will also need to be familiar with navigating in-page dialog boxes, especially if you are using the Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader. (note: as of December 5, 2019, the need to rely on navigating in-page dialog boxes to use Discord has decreased almost to the point of being nonexistent. See the future sections of this post to find exactly what has changed.)

When You First Launch

When you first launch Discord, you land in the “Activity” section. This section contains a list of servers to which you belong, as well as your direct message conversations–conversations between you and at least one other person, and it is not broadcast to a server. You’re friends list is also here, and you can filter it by who’s online, pending friend requests, etc.

A Difference Between JAWS and NVDA

Until December 5, 2019, NVDA users had to successfully navigate an in-page dialog by telling NVDA to interact with it. This issue has been fixed by the Discord developers, and has taken care of the most significant difference between using JAWS or NVDA with Discord. For the truly curious minds, the dialog where you spend most of your Discord time is still taking up the center of the web page, it’s just that now NVDA is able to recognize that it should automatically interact with that dialog. you can confirm this by pressing NVDA+CTRL+Space at any time and experiencing the results.

Servers and Direct Messages

Servers and direct messages are presented as links which also have graphics. These graphics are the person’s profile picture, or the server icon. To navigate this list, do one of the following:

  • Use the up and down arrows.
  • Use your screen reader’s specific command for jumping by link.
  • If your screen reader supports it, call up the elements list, and make sure it is set to links.

Once you find the server you want, you can press Space or Enter.

Adding and Discovering Servers, Muting and Deafening, and User Settings

These present as buttons, so you can use the methods above you used to find links to find the buttons.

Activity and Quicklauncher

These present as level 3 headings. It’s the same deal as the previous two groups, except you’ll want to press the down arrow to read the content below. There’s probably not much going on there right now if you’ve just signed up for Discord.

User Settings

To access user settings, navigate by button until you hear “user settings,” then press space or enter. You should be presented with these options, which present as buttons.

  • My Account: Contains options to customize your profile, manage your contact info and password, and manage two-factor authentication.
  • Privacy & Safety: Contains options for who can find and contact you, data control, etc.
  • Authorized Apps: Contains options for managing apps with access to your Discord account.
  • Connections: Where you manage connections to your social media profiles.
  • Billing: where you manage how to give a corporation money.
  • Discord Nitro: Where you can manage your premium subscription.
  • Server Boost: you can pay a fee to help your favorite servers get more notice.
  • Hype Squad: Where you can sign up for the Discord newsletter.
  • App settings: A magic button you can click all day with no result, since it’s meant to illustrate a new category and is misread by screen readers.
  • Voice & Video: Set your input and output preferences for chatting later.
  • Overlay: Controls settings for the chat overlay while playing games.
  • Notifications: Lets you customize what you’re notified about and how.
  • Keybinds: Lets you configure shortcut keys.
  • Game Activity: Lets you control options for displaying which game you’re currently playing.
  • Activity Feed; Lets you customize your activity feed.
  • Game library: Lets you import your game library from popular services like Steam.
  • Text & Images: Settings for adjusting how text and images are handled, and this is where you can adjust spoiler display settings.
  • Appearance: Change the visual look of the Discord UI.
  • Streamer mode; Customize your streaming experience.
  • Language: Set your language.
  • Windows settings: Lets you control if Discord launches at startup, whether or not it runs from the system tray, etc.
  • Change Log: View the list of recent changes.
  • Logout: Signs you out.

Once you click a category, use heading navigation to find the beginning of that category’s options. Use standard navigation to explore the possible options.

Suggested Changes

Here are some suggestions of settings you can change to make your user experience better. The out-of-box experience is quite nice, though.

Under My Account

You may wish to consider setting a profile photo. While I recognize that having an avatar may not be a priority for most of my readers, the fact is having a unique avatar is how server admins who may be visually oriented to the world distinguish you from a spammer. To set your avatar:

  • Once you’ve navigated to user settings, my account, and the level 2 heading where those options start, move by button until you hear “edit,” and activate it.
  • Navigate away from the edit box where you can change your username, and then
    • If you are using NVDA, push the up arrow until you hear “clickable” and press Space.
    • If you are using JAWS, route your JAWS cursor to your PC cursor. Next, push up arrow until you hear “Avatar,” and press space.
  • You will then be taken to a standard browse dialog where you can choose a photo.
  • Once you’ve finished, find and click the “Save” button.

Under Notifications

You can have it so that incoming messages are automatically spoken. At this time, it is not possible to adjust speech parameters, and announcements may interfere with other tasks you are performing. For this reason, I suggest you be picky about what you want announced. To set up text to speech announcements:

  • Select the notifications category of options.
  • Navigate by level 5 heading until you hear “Text to speech notifications”.
  • Navigate by and check the checkbox for all channels, currently selected channel, or never.
  • Click the unlabeled save button at the bottom of the screen.

While you’re in the notifications section, you may also wish to review and customize notification sounds. Each event is both a checkbox and button, so moving to one and pressing the spacebar will both play the sound and toggle the notification on or off. When you’ve finished, click the unlabeled save button.

Next Steps

Now that you have an understanding of the Discord UI and an idea of how navigation is going to work, you’re ready to join a server. The next post will explain how to join servers, as well as customize your settings for a specific server. In the meantime, make sure you have discord set the way you think you’ll like it.

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