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)
- Home Timeline
- Local Timeline
- Federated Timeline
- Notifications Timeline
- Direct messages timeline
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.
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.
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.
Navigate by heading until you hear “home. Heading level one”. Press Tab, and you get:
- “Home. Show settings. Not pressed.”
- Activating this button will change the message to “Hide Settings. Pressed.”
- 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.
- The first toot in the timeline. The latest.
- The first toot again. The start of the list proper. The toot is read in full.
- Author name.
- Message or content warning.
- If the toot was boosted, who boosted it.
- When the toot was tooted.
- Each of the elements above, plus:
- Photo and alt text if present.
- Buttons for interacting.
- 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.
Disable passthrough, and navigate by heading until you hear, “Notifications. Heading level one.” Press tab and you get:
- “Show settings. Not pressed.”
- Pressing this button changes the message to “Hide settings. Pressed.”
- 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.
- “All.” Activating this shows all notifications.
- “Mentions.” Activating this only displays mentions.
- Message structure with elements as described above.
- Enable passthrough and use j, k, up, or down arrow to move through the list.
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:
- “Show settings. Not pressed.”
- Activating this button will change the message to, “Hide settings. Pressed.”
- The only option in this timeline is the option to pin it. This means it will always be visibile.
- The first message.
- 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 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:
- Navigate the timeline until you find a toot to boost.
- Do one of the following:
- Press Tab until you hear, “Boost. Not pressed” and activate it. The message should change to, “Boost. Pressed.”
- 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.”
- Your followers will now see the toot from the original author, and that you boosted it.
- If the author of the toot has elected to receive such notifications, they will receive a notification that you’ve boosted their toot.
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:
- Navigate the timeline until you find a toot you like. Then, do one of the following:
- Tab until you hear, “Favorite. Not pressed.” and activate it. You should hear, “Favorite. Pressed.”
- Press F to favorite. Depending on your screen reader, you may or may not receive confirmation. Tab until you hear “Favorite. Pressed.” to confirm.
- If the author has chosen to receive this notification, they will be notified that you have favorited their toot.
- 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.
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:
- Find a toot to which you wish to respond.
- Do one of the following;
- Tab until you hear, “Reply.” and activate it.
- You will be focused on the compose toot text box, and your screen reader should be ready to type.
- The box will have an at (@) sign, followed by the person’s username and instance, like @ChangelingRandy.
- Type your response, then do either one of the following:
- Tab until you hear “Toot” and activate it.
- Press CTRL+Enter to send your message.
- Your focus will remain in the text box, Disable passthrough, and use heading navigation to return to the timeline where you found the toot.
- Press R for reply.
- Your focus will be moved to the compose new toot text box, and your screen reader should be ready to type.
- The box has in it the at (@) sign, followed by the person’s username and instance, like @ChangelingRandy.
- Type your response, then press CTRL+Enter to send.
- Disable passthrough, and use heading naviagation to return to the timeline.
- Tab until you hear, “Reply.” and activate it.
- 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.
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.
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.
- Direct message.
- 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.
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.