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 details 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. 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.

The next section has a list of channel categories and the channels within them. Categories present as level two headings, and the channels within those categories present as clickable elements. 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.

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.

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 prefered 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.

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, landmarks, 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 “Home” section. This section contains a list of servers to which you belong, as well as your direct messages–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 are presented as a type of dropdown that screen readers call a treeview. To negotiate the servers treeview:

  •  From the top of the virtual window, press the down arrow until you hear “servers treeview”.
  •  Press enter to interact with the treeview. You should hear an indication from your screen reader to indicate the exit from virtual browse mode.
  •  Use the up and down arrows to navigate through the list.
  •  When you find the server you want, press Enter.


Private Channels

This is how Discord categorizes direct messages. You can reach this area by using the down arrow to move passed the servers treeview. You’ll encounter buttons for adding a new server and server discovery along the way. If you wish to reduce the number of keystrokes, navigate by landmark until you hear, “Private Channels. Find or start a conversation button.” This area has the following clickable elements:

  •  Friends
  •  Nitro
  •  Direct messages with the name of the user with whom you are holding the conversation. You will also know that you are entering the messages section when your screen reader announces a level two heading called direct messages.

If you press space on the friends or Nitro elements, the section you choose is opened as a level three heading below the list of direct messages. If your viewing the friends list, it is sorted by who is online, pending friend requests, anyone you’ve blocked, and all these filtering options are presented as buttons, and your selection appears under a level two heading of the same name. This section also has buttons for adding a friend, starting a group direct message, mentions, the Discord help, and an update button if you are not running the latest discord. The headings for your friends list are actually situated below the user settings, so you’ll want to use your screen reader’s heading jump to bypass the user area.

User Area

The user area contains buttons for setting your status, copying your user name, muting yourself, deafening yourself, and accessing your user settings. The quickest way to access this portion of the interface is to move by landmark until you hear, “User area”. All of these options will be covered in future posts, starting with user settings later in this post.

Active Now

This is the section where your friends’ activities appear. Use your down arrow after navigating to the level three heading titled “active Now” to see what your friends are playing or streaming. Now that you have an overview of the user interface, let’s talk about user settings.

User Settings

To access user settings, move by landmark to reach the user area, and then 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. (This option is now only available to those who have purchased games through Discord).
  • 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.

Changeling’s Guide to discord for Screen readers has its own page. Find it at
Considering putting together a guide for Discord for screen reader users. The Mastodon was well received.
Drafting Chapter two of Changeling’s Guide to Mastodon for Screen Reader Users. All i can say is if a reader makes it through that, they’re probably going to join Mastodon, or they’re just gathering things I say for the fun of it. Either way… It’s a long installment.