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.

I now have two ways of interacting with people on . I can follow directly from my mastodon.social account, or I can follow from my Starship. I reserve the latter for the folks I really want to keep up with. It’s also nicer than having a Mastodon list of people like that and risking people finding out they aren’t on it.

I’ve noticed that more and more people on are adding to their . Other services like Twitter and Facebook, however, seem to be showing no measureable difference. Additionally, many people’s websites contain pictures without descriptions. This suggests that the failiure of people to add descriptions to their photos is less about people not caring to take the time to add descriptions, but rather they just don’t remember or don’t know how to do it, since most platforms hide the feature better than Professor Dumbledore hid The Sorcerer’s Stone. At least three different people found that thing.

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.

Drafting Chapter Four of Changeling’s Guide to Mastodon for Screen Reader Users. It’s going to be short by the standards of the standard word count, but extremely high in content if someone takes the time to experiment with all of the features being discussed.