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.

Keyboard Shrotcuts for Reading and Interacting with Messages

As of September, 2021, navigating the method for reviewing messages with the Discord keyboard shortucts is now accessible. this process is described in detail in the next sections, but it is important to note that your screen reader’s browse mode must be disabled for this to work. If you are using JAWS, you may also need to take the additional step of turning off the use of hotkeys for html documents.

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

Using browse Mode

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.

Using Keyboard Navigation

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. Remember to turn browse mode off, as well as the use of HTML hotkeys.

Adding Reactions

Using browse Mode

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.

Using Keyboard Navigation

To add a reaction to a message using keyboard navigation, move to the message, then press the plus (+) key. You’ll be placed in the list of possible reactions, so find the one you want and press enter. You can also reply to a message by pressing R, and your focus will be moved to the message edit box where you can type your response and send by pressing Enter.

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.

hangeling’s Guide to Discord for Screen Reader Users: Servers and Channels

What is This?

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

What is Covered in This Post?

This post explains servers and channels. We then take a look at how to join servers and adjust individual server settings, as well as move between multiple servers. Finally, we look at how to move between channels.

Not Covered in This Post

This post does not cover the administration of servers. While my experience with this process is that it is doable with a screen reader for the most part, the first few posts in this guide are designed to get new users able to participate as quickly as possible. Since administrating a server is a bit more advanced, I may cover it at some point in a separate post. It really just depends on how many people I think will pay attention to such content.

What is a Server?

In the world of Discord, a server is an extremely customizable  group chat (though separate from a private group chat). It can have a specific common interest, or it can just be for experimentation and research. Each server can host any number of different subtopics, and these are called channels, detailed later in this post.

How Do I Find a Server?

There are a couple of ways to do this. The most direct way is to use an invite link, which you can get from a friend or admin of a server, or from a website of someone or something that also has a Discord presence. For example, here is a link to my own server:

Once you click an invite link, you’ll be prompted to accept the invitation and join. Join presents as a button, so navigate to it and activate it. When you first join a server, it’s important to make sure you read the rules so you don’t upset anyone or get kicked out.

You can also join servers by searching for them on the Internet. There are a few websites dedicated to this, but the simplest way I’ve experienced is to just Google the topic that interests you and include “Discord” as apart of the search. You can also use the add new server option within the server treeview at the bottom of the server list to search for servers.

Customizing Server Settings

To customize server settings, from within a server you’ve joined, find and activate the button that has the server name and is collapsed by default. Your screen reader will indicate that it is exiting virtual/browse mode, and you will be in a menu you can navigate with the arrows. When you hear the option you want, press Enter.

Server Boost

You can help promote a server you run or particularly enjoy. This is not a free service, and you will be asked for payment information if you choose to set it up.

Invite People

If the admins allow it, you can invite people to join the server. You can invite people you’ve been in private conversations with, or copy a generated invite link and send it to a friend.

Notification Settings

This is where you can adjust which notifications you receive. You’ll want to do this based on how active the server is. You can choose from nothing, mentions, or all. Later, we’ll talk about how to adjust notifications for specific channels.

Privacy Settings

You can choose whether or not you wish to allow server members to send you direct messages.

Change Nickname

You can have a nickname specific to each server. I do this so that my name in certain servers matches my name on Steam and Patreon to make sure I’m added to the correct channels.

Hide Muted Channels

If you have muted a channel, you can take it out of the list for yourself. More on muting channels shortly.

Leave Server

Use this to make a quick exit if you discover you’ve entered a server that’s not a good fit for you.


It is increasingly common for servers to only allow users access to channels after they have picked roles. There is usually a specific channel set aside for roles, and each role has an emoji you click to react to the message and choose a role. Since reading and reacting to messqages hasn’t been covered yet, use standard navigation to read and review the options that are available to you, and press the button that corresponds to the role you’d like to be assigned.

Moving Between Servers

Servers are presented in a treeview within the HTML environment. You can interact with the treeview and use the up and down arrows to select a server, and enter it by pressing enter. You can also press control along with 1-0 to move between the first ten servers in your list, or use Control and Alt along with the up and down arrows to move between servers. Finally, you can press Control+K to open a search and move to a server by typing its name.

Arranging the Server list

There is now an accessible method for dragging and dropping servers in your preferred order using a screen reader. To change the order of your servers, do the following:

  1.  Navigate to the server treeview and press Enter to interact.
  2.  Arrow to the server you want to move and press Control+D. Your screen reader will announce that the server has been picked up.
  3.  Press the up or down arrow to move the server to your desired position in the list. (Note: If you are using JAWS, you may need to turn off the use of Quick Keys for this step to function properly.)
  4.  Press Escape to stop dragging.
  5.  Repeat the process for each server you wish to move.

Now that we have a server or two under our belt, let’s talk about channels.

What is a Channel?

A channel is a subcategory in a server. They can be used to distinguish between different topics of conversation, separate NSFW or adult content from the general chat, etc. Admins can allow access to channels to only certain server members, too. A channel can be a text chat, or voice chat.

Changing Channels

The most direct way to change channels is to use your screen reader’s list jump command to navigate passed the list of your servers and the name of the current server, and then to the list of channels in the currently selected server. You will find categories and channels. The categories are buttons that can be collapsed or expanded, and the text channels within them show as links, while the voice channels appear as buttons. If your screen reader’s focus is on a category, you will hear the name of the category, the word “category”, whether or not the category is expanded or collapsed, and the word “button” (e.g., “text channels. Category. Expanded. Button.”). Activating a category button will expand or collapse it.

If your screen reader’s focus is on a channel, you will hear the name of the channel, whether or not it is a text or voice channel, and the word “Button,” or “link” (e.g., “General. Text channel. Button.”). Activating a channel button will take you to that channel, and your focus will be placed in the message box. If you’ve selected a voice channel, you’ll be automatically connected to voice chat.

You can also change channels by pressing Alt along with the up or down arrow key to move between channels. For the quickest movement, you can press control+K to open a search to find a channel by name.

When you use the search, you may belong to multiple servers that have a channel of the same name (e.g., most servers have a general text channel and voice channel). In this case, typing your search term and pressing Enter will take you to the first search result, not always the server and channel you want. If this happens, type your search term, then navigate away from the edit box, and use your arrow to find the results, spoken as {channel category server} (e.g., “general WELCOME BACK TO THE POD Sounds Fake But Okay”) When you hear the channel and server you want, press the spacebar.


You can also move between areas of the Discord screen by pressing F6 to move you between servers, channels, messages, etc. Using Shift+F6 will move you backward.


Customizing Notifications for Channels

You can set it so that you get specific notifications for channels. I personally use this to mute channels that have primarily visual media, but you can also use it to keep a special eye on a topic of particular interest. To do this, open the server settings, then go to notification Settings, and navigate to the level 5 heading that reads “Channel overrides”. From here, you can search for a channel by name, or choose it from the dropdown, and choose from no notifications, mentions, or all.

If you’re using the dropdown, make sure you’ve turned off your screen readers browse or virtual cursor function before pressing the down arrow on the menu. When you’ve finished, click “Done”.

Additional notification Settings for Servers

Here are some other settings you can adjust for server notifications.

  • Mute: mutes all notifications for all channels in the server except for when you are mentioned.
  •  Server Notification Settings
    •  All messages.
    •  Only mentions.
    •  Nothing.
  •  Suppress @everyone and @here: Prevent you from being part of mass mentions like live streaming announcements.
  •  Suppress All Role Mentions: Server members can have roles, and these roles can be mentioned. Each member can opt out.
  •  Mobile push notifications: Choose if an individual server can send you push notifications.

Next Steps

The next major step is to learn how to participate in chat. In preparation for this, you may wish to review the official list of Discord keyboard shortcuts. These will be discussed as they come up, but that link can serve as a quick reference. You may also want to review and adjust your audio and video settings.

What is This?

This is the second in a series of posts that explains how to use Mastodon if you use a screen reader. It is an alternative form of the already existing documentation for Mastodon, subject to my interpretation of concepts. Therefore, I suggest that you use this guide in conjunction with the official documentation, linked to later in this post. I also suggest that you go back and read Chapter One. Once you’ve done that, continue reading this chapter.

What is Covered in This Chapter?

This chapter takes a closer look at what Mastodon is, deals with the concept of instances, explains the differences between Mastodon and other platforms, offers suggestions on choosing an instance, and concludes with a brief description of the signup process. If you’ve already done these things, go on to Chapter Three.

Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)

  • Microblog
  • Instance
  • Federation, fedeverse

A Closer Look at Mastodon

You probably have an idea of what Mastodon is by now, or else why would you be reading this? Just to make sure I’m covering my bases, however, let’s take a closer look. Mastodon is a service that offers its users a microblog, a space to share short posts with no title, and the option to attach media such as pictures and videos. Other users can then interact with these posts in a number of ways, discussed in chapters  and Five.

Doesn’t That Already Exist?

It sure does. These days, Twitter is synonymous with microblogging, because it’s the most popular. This is similar to how America Online (AOL) was once the most popular form of Internet access, but it was not the only service like that, and it certainly not the Internet. Just like forms of Internet access, email, and many other services, it is to be expected that different microblogging services would have some features in common. I’ll briefly discuss some of those now.

Common Features Between Twitter and Mastodon

  • The primary form of communication is short statuses. On twitter, this limit is 280 characters, and 500 on Mastodon.
  • The ability reply to, like/favorite, and repost posts. (More on this in chapter Five.)
  • Being able to follow and be followed by other users. (More on this in Chapter Four).
  • The ability to create custom timelines by creating and adding users to lists. (More on this in Chapter Six, coming soon).
  • The ability to filter out unwanted content. (Also discussed in chapter Six.)

With So Many Similarities, Why Not Just Stay on Twitter?

Let me take this opportunity to tell you that I have no special reason for you to leave Twitter if you’re happy there. I mean, we’re in Chapter Two of this guide, clearly there is more to come, and if you’re still reading up to this point, it’s because you’ve already made the decision to at least consider having a presence on Mastodon. With that said, there are plenty of differences between the two services, but we need to take a look at a few concepts before we can discuss them. This is a lot like how when you got your first email address, you probably read the documentation of something like Gmail before you decided to switch providers, or at least that you needed a second email address.

The Argument I Refuse to Make

The most common argument I hear for using mastodon is something to the tune of everybody is so friendly on Mastodon. I’ve never had a bad experience on Mastodon, but the fact of the matter is Mastodon is a place for people, and people have the capacity to be hostile regardless of the platform. The most infamous example of this is the situation concerning Wil Wheaton from last summer, followed immediately by many users’ decision to block one Instance when they found out it was admined by someone who had done work for the FBI. In both cases, people had their own reasons for behaving the way they did, but it was still aggressive behavior. If you’re going to be online, if you’re going to interact with people, there’s a chance you may experience some form of hostility.

Don’t Let Me Scare You off

If you’ve come this far, don’t let me scare you off. If you choose your instance carefully, you can minimize the chance for hostile encounters. As you’ll see in the next section, it’s a lot like picking a neighborhood to live in.


Before you can find out what an instance is, you need to know how Mastodon works. With a service like Facebook or Twitter, you and I, the users, sign up for an account, managed by one central server, accessed when we open our browser and log on to something like To find a user, you put a slash after the web address, so if you wanted to find me on Twitter, you’d go to From there, you can click the follow button, and if I can verify that you aren’t a porn bot, won’t clog my timeline with Bible quotes, etc., I’ll probably follow you back, and we’re connected. We’re interacting within one ecosystem. This is just fine until the ecosystem dies (looking at you, Google+!), in which case we all die, digitally speaking.

As explained on, rather than being one website, the Mastodon network is a collection of websites powered by the mastodon software, which enables them to interact with each other. Each of these websites is called an instance.

You pick your instance the way you choose your email address. In fact, my Mastodon address looks like If you’re reading this on an iPhone and click that link, you’ll actually launch the device’s Mail client. If you want to find me once you join your chosen instance, click here, or see the H-Card widget in the sidebar of any page, which has every link for every service i actively use. If you don’t want to see all of my Mastodon interactions, but want to follow this blog, you can follow it via Mastodon by typing “”, minus the quotations. All of these websites together form the fedeverse, or, as Mastodon calls itself, a decentralized, federated social network. This detail becomes particularly important starting in Chapter Four. For now, what you need to take away is that instances can interact with each other, meaning that some on can follow me on It’s also important to understand that instances can block each other, which happens from time to time since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, regardless of whether or not their opinion is a popular one.

How Do I choose My Instance?

To paraphrase a passage from Ernest Cline’s Armada, this is an objective, rather than a subjective task, so there is no right way to do it. It’s not uncommon for someone to join an instance, realize it’s not a good fit, and change instances. You may go through that process, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some suggestions to guide you.

Choose Based on Interest

Anybody can run a Mastodon instance. This means if you can think of it, there’s probably a community for it. The “Getting Started” section of has a form you can fill out to get server suggestions. Parameters include everything from what language you speak, to your hobbies.

Choose Based on How You Feel About Rules

Since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, the code of conduct from instance to instance varies. Theoretically, I could start an instance that requires users to be able to quote every line from Disney’s “Aladdin” upon request. Realistically I’d be the only member of that instance. Seriously, though, pay close attention to the rules of the instance. Each instance has them. Here is the code of conduct for Please believe me when I tell you that these rules are usually strictly enforced.

Considerations for Screen Reader Users

The following is a list of questions a screen reader user should consider before joining an instance.

  • What version of the Mastodon software does the instance run? Newer versions often have accessibility improvements.
  • Does the instance run beta versions of the mastodon software? If so, make your life easier by considering the following:
    • Have a backup of your data in case you need to leave. (described in Chapter Six).
    • Have a backup account on a stable instance. This will help you troubleshoot any problems you may have by enabling you to distinguish between caused by beta software and bug in a stable release.
  • Do uploaded images appear as links you can click? This will make it easier to download images for further analysis by AI.

Signing Up

If you can fill out a web form, you can sign up for the instance of your choice. Enter your desired username, your email, and your passowrd in the appropriate boxes. Once you’ve confirmed your password, use your screen reader to check the boxes to agree to follow the rules of the instance and privacy policy. Once you submit the infromation and verify your email address, your ready to complete your profile.

Coming Up

In Chapter Three, we’ll be looking at how to complete your profile, as well as send that first post. In the meantime, go ahead and pick your instance and join it, so you will be ready for the next installment.

I’ve come into some unexpected free time this evening, so I’ll probably start drafting that guide to Mastodon for screen reader users I talked about last week. Well, I’ll start drafting the first part, anyway, as putting everything in one post would make it way too long for Internet reading.
I think my best for right now in regard to getting all my content across platforms is to use IFTTT. It seems to require the least amount of struggle for the pay-off.
As a blind person who is a long-time tech user, I can tell you that the software and special equipment I need to be independent is an investment. Sure, I’m saved the expense of a car, auto insurance, and the cost of maintenance and licensing fees, but these costs get replaced with the costs of my screen reader and refreshable braille display. Until recently, a screen reader cost just about as much as the computer I wanted to access, and I had to but upgrades every so often to make sure I could keep accessing new versions of mainstream applications.

With many operating systems including built-in screen readers, it has become more affordable to obtain acccess to computers, so long as you’re the kind of user who can get buy on text-to-speech feedback for the contents displayed on a computer screen. I am not this kind of user, and the cost of a refreshable braille display remains high. The SmartBeetle, the kind of display I owned until recently sold for $1,345, and that was one of the cheapest units, and it now sells for $995. In other words, readers, it’s an investment. Unlike a screen reader that only provides spoken versions of visual elements, the braille display gives me tangible rendenrings of things on the screen. I relied on it to let me check the spelling of people’s names and email addresses, to proofread documents, to privately read communications from friends, family, and coworkers, and engage in other activities where it would not be beneficial to have the contents of my screen spoken. With that said, when a piece of equipment that carries such a huge workload breaks, problems will be had.

Six months ago, the SmartBeetle broke. Specifically, it stopped allowing me to connect to devices via bluetooth, which is essential to it’s functioning. If this were a device that is used by the majority of the population, getting in touch with the company’s technical support team would yield a timely response, and it would not be okay for such communications to go unanswered. But braille displays are not used by a majority of the population, and the SmartBeetle which is manufactured by HIMS Inc. is no exception, and this apparently gives HIMS Inc. the license to have a lax standard of support team responsiveness. I sent several emails, made several phone calls, all of which detailed my problem and got no response.

When I finally did get a response, the first thing that happned was I had to go through all the troubleshooting steps listed in the user guide with the customer service person. This is annoying but standard no matter what, and so I cooperated. The yielded the response that the manufacturer in Korea would need to be contacted to find out what to do. In a company that sells popular devices like computers, I would have been given a support ticket, and this would have allowed me to track the progress of my support request. It also would have, when I reached out, given the next support agent a frame of reference. None of these things happened, there was no follow up from the support department, and I sent several more emails and made more phone calls and left messages that got no response. Meanwhile, all of the activities I described abovee are lessened in quality for me.

Just before this passed thanksgiving, I finally got in touch with a support agent, and it was determined that the bluetooth board had gone out and would need to be replaced. The cost of thee replacement part was $170. Just as a point of reference, you can buy a fairly kickass set of bluetooth headphones for that price. So for the entire repair process, I had to apy $20 to ship the SmartBeetle to the company for repairs, $170 for the bluetooth board, $85 for an hour’s labor, $20 to ship the device back, and $20 to rescue the device from a UPS center when they couldn’t deliver the package to me at my house. This totals $315 for repairs, about a quarter of the original price of $1,345, or a third of the current $995 price for a new SmartBeetle.

Two weeks later, one of the cells in the device stopped functioning. This is kind of like what happens when some of the pixels in your TV screen go out. This time the cost of replacement parts would be $780, and that excludes any labor, shipping, and transportation costs involved. When I told the support agent I had just sent the device in for repairs and paid ovr $300, the response I got was, “Bumber.” It turns out, there is a 90-day warranty, but it only covers the part ttthat was replaced. This means I’m now putting more than the cost of the original unit into fixing thee unit. To any of you car owners, this means the device has been effectively totaled. When I pointed this out, I was encouraged to buy a new unit because it was the better deal, and never mind that this is damage that could have been caused during he repair and shipping process.

If this were an iPhone and if I had gottena customer experience of a quality that compares to Apple, it would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I have six months of no response, ball-dropping, and a company that seems to feel it’s okay to charge more repairs than a replacement unit. The worst part is HIMS Inc. and companies like it have gotten so used to people having to put up with their antics that they don’t even care that I’m less than pleased with them. I’m posting my experience on all of their dealers’ sites, I’ve hit their Facebook page, will probably be targeting their Google Maps page if the have one, and the only result is catharsis for me. HIMS and companies like need to be taken down a notch. They cannot continue to treat people like this. Even if a limited market means a higher price for products, that doesn’t mean you can treat your customers like total shit.

In this case, I found a replacement device for $449 from a company that supports its products. It’s still more money than I wanted to spend, but it’s better than giving these losers any more money. In short, reader, don’t buy a SmartBeeeetle, don’t by from HIMS Inc. The product doesn’t last, and the customer support is lousy.

Yesterday, Instagram announced two new features it was adding to make the platform more accessible to visually impaired users. First, newly uploaded photos would have automatically generated alt (descriptive) text added to them. This feature is powered by the same technology that Facebook added to its platform a few years ago, which attempts to determine and name the objects in posted photos, and make those results available to screen readers so users of the software can benefit from the description. These days, that technology has advanced enough so that a lot of the memes people post and share on both of these platforms can be enjoyed by visually impaired users.

Second, users of Instagram have the option to add alt text to photos they post, potentially providing a more detailed description for their visually impaired followers. This is similar to the way Twitter and Mastodon have decided to handle making images accessible. While this is a huge step forward for the platform, and while I had lots of fun testing the feature on my own Instagram account, there are a couple things that need to be worked out before I adopt it as my main outlet for nurturing my interest in photography.

Complicated Execution

The process for adding custom alt text to photos when you post them on Instagram is somewhat complicated. In addition to the normal steps for posting a photo such as adding filters and captions, you actually have to click the advanced settings at the bottom of the posting screen, add the alt text, then share the photo. To be fair, this is still easier than Twitter’s execution, which requires you to go into the accessibility section of your Twitter settings and enable the option to add alt text before it even becomes available in the tweet posting box. Mastodon offers the option to add a description to photos right out of the box, and that makes it the best, but all three of these platforms are handling the ability to add custom descriptions better than Facebook. Facebook does allow custom alt text to be added to photos. At the time of this writing, this help article explains that this is only possible from a computer. After expressing my displeasure about this, on the Facebook accessibility home page, I arcvd a response that the vthe version of the iOS app released today does allow the editing of alt text, though in an extremely complicated way.

Alt Text Does Not Transfer

My interest in photography is a growing thing, and I want to share the experience with as many people on as many platforms as possible, and I want to make sure it’s an accessible experience. When I found out that Facebook wouldn’t let me edit the alt text of photos, I thought: Hmm. Instagram lets you cross-post to a number of services, including Facebook. I bet if I add the alt text on Instagram and cross-post to Facebook, that’ll solve the problem.

Unfortunately, no. When I went to my Facebook timeline and looked at the photos, I either got the message that no alt text was available, or the automatically generated stuff that Facebook’s been putting out for a few years now. The alt text was also not posted to Twitter. One possible work-around is to configure an IFTTT applet that posts Instagram photos as native Twitter photos, but I haven’t tested this yet. It’s worth noting that if you cross-post from Twitter to Mastodon, the alt text is transferred 98% of the time.


Instagram’s support for automatic alt text and its giving users the ability to add custom alt text to photos is a huge step for accessibility. However, as a blind person who is posting more photos and wants to make sure their posts are accessible on all platforms, the experience is missing a couple of key features I need for it to become my main platform for sharing my experience as I develop my interest in photography. Right now, I’m separately posting to each network, and adding descriptions in the main post section of Facebook. There’s more effort involved, but the end result, to me, is worth the extra energy.

We’ve all been in the position of looking up how to do something with one of our electronics on the Internet. These days, it seems that many search results have the word “hack” in them, as in “Five Amazon Echo Hacks You Didn’t Know About”. I remember a time when a title like that meant you’d be clicking a link to a set of directions to make your device do something the manufacturer hadn’t intended, and may even frown upon. Now, it’s just a way to get people to click on rehashing of the directions that come with the equipment. In other words, these aren’t hacks. The manufactured wanted you to use these features. If anything, they’re lesser known features. Calling an documented feature a hack is like calling mayonnaise a secret sauce when you slap it on a ham sandwich. It doesn’t change anything, and it makes you look pretentious in the bargain.