Use Slack with a screen reader

Overview

You can use a screen reader to navigate conversations, read messages, and access information in your sidebar from the Slack desktop app and Slack in a web browser.

Tip: Slack offers keyboard shortcuts for many common actions you may need to take. To view all keyboard shortcuts, press +/ (Mac) or Ctrl+/ (Windows/Linux).

Slack behaves more like an application than a webpage. We recommend that:

  • NVDA and JAWS users primarily navigate around in Focus / Forms mode instead of Browse mode
  • All screen reader users use Slack’s desktop applications rather than using it in a web browser if possible.

The following are important concepts to understand when exploring Slack:

Workspaces A Slack workspace maps to an organization or a department—think of it as an office building that you need to be invited into. The Slack desktop and mobile apps allow you to log into multiple workspaces at once.
Channels Channels are like large conference rooms or offices inside the office building, and can be created for any project, topic, or team. Channels can be public, meaning anyone in the workspace can read or join, or private. Channel names always start with a # (pound sign or hashtag).
Direct Messages Direct messages (also known as DMs) are smaller conversations in Slack that happen outside of channels. DMs work well for one-off conversations that don’t require an entire channel of people to weigh in, like if you wanted to ask a teammate to reschedule a meeting. You can DM a single person, or several people at once.
Conversations Channels and direct messages are structured similarly in Slack. We refer to them jointly as conversations.
Threads Threads help you create organized discussions around specific messages within a conversation.
Mentions

Mentions are a direct way to notify people of something that needs their attention in Slack. They start with an @ (at symbol).

Reactions An emoji reaction can be attached to a message to replace the need for a follow-up message. You can add multiple emoji reactions to a message.

 

Navigating Slack

Slack’s interface is a single window made up of several top-level sections. You can navigate between sections by pressing F6, and within each section using Tab. All toolbars in Slack are navigated with arrow keys.

Note: If you're using Slack in a browser, press Ctrl+F6 / Ctrl+Shift+F6 (Windows) or +F6 /+Shift+F6 (Mac).

Top-level sections

The section names and roles are, in order:

The Workspaces tablist
(if you are logged into multiple workspaces)

Allows you to switch between workspaces that you’re logged in to. If you are only logged into one workspace, this section will not be present.

The Workspace Primary Actions toolbar

Houses options for navigating through your browsing history, as well as search, help, and the user menu.

The Workspace Secondary Actions toolbar

Houses the workspace menu and the compose button.

The Workspace Navigation group

Allows you to navigate between your channels, direct messages, apps and other items in your sidebar.

The primary view

Where you interact with conversations and reply to messages.
The secondary view
(if you have it open)
Opens when you interact with a thread, user profile, or in-product help.


As you navigate with F6, initial focus is placed on the most useful place within the section, such as the message field within a conversation. When you navigate within a section, we remember your place and restore focus to it when you move back to it with F6.

Tip: Mac users with a touchbar can also use +Ctrl+ / instead of F6.

 

Primary and secondary views

Slack always has a primary view, which contains conversations (like a channel, or an individual DM conversation) or pages (like the Direct Messages inbox, or Saved items).

The secondary view is opened when diving into something within the primary view, such as an individual thread within a channel, or a user profile.

The primary and secondary views are usually composed of the following components:

  • One or more toolbars
  • An interactive list (most often of messages, channels or members)
  • A composer input

 

Navigate to a conversation

The easiest way to open a channel, direct message (DM), or navigation page (ex., Unreads, Threads, Mentions & reactions, and more) in Slack is by using Jump to a Conversation, which can be activated with a keyboard shortcut.

  1. Press +K (Mac) or Ctrl+K (Windows/Linux)
  2. Type the name of a channel, person, or page.
  3. Press Enter.

You can also browse your active conversations using the Workspace Navigation section.

  1. Press F6 to move focus to the Workspace Navigation tree.
  2. Press or to navigate to a channel, DM, or page.
  3. Press Enter to make a selection.

Tip: If the list of conversations in your workspace navigation list is long, you can use the Page Up, Page Down, End, and Home keys to navigate more quickly.

Each conversation in this tree has an associated context menu you can use to take actions, like changing notifications, muting, and more.

  1. Press F6 to move focus to the channel list.
  2. Press or to navigate to a channel or DM.
  3. Press Shift+M (Mac) with VoiceOver running or Shift+F10 (Windows/Linux) to open the context menu. Mac users who have enabled Full Keyboard Access can also use Tab+M.
  4. Press or to navigate between options, then press Enter to select an option.

Note: From the context menu, you can move conversations to the Starred section in the sidebar. If you’re on a paid Slack plan, you can also organize conversations in custom sections.

 

Participate in a conversation

Read a conversation

Mac

Windows/Linux

  1. Upon navigating to a conversation, your focus will land in the message composer. Press to move into the message list. Your focus will land on the most recent message in the conversation.
  2. To jump to the first unread message, press +J.
  3. Once inside the message list, press and to navigate between individual messages. A summary of a message will be read when it's in focus. If you're using VoiceOver, you can navigate within messages as well.

Tip: You can replay up to 10 messages in chronological order from oldest to newest. From any conversation, press +Option and any number 0 to 9 (pressing 0 will play the last 10 messages).

  1. Upon navigating to a conversation, your focus will land in the message composer. This will also toggle the virtual cursor off.
  2. Press to move into the message list. Your focus will land on the most recent message in the conversation.
  3. To jump to the first unread message, press Ctrl+J.
  4. Once inside the message list, press and to navigate between individual messages. A summary of a message will be read when it's in focus.
  5. To read message content using the virtual cursor, press Tab. Focus will move to the name of the person who sent the message.
  6. To resume reading or navigating between messages, press Shift+Tab until focus moves back to the message inside the list, which should exit browse mode. Then, press and again.

Tip: You can replay up to 10 messages in chronological order from oldest to newest. From any conversation, press Alt and any number 0 to 9 (pressing 0 will play the last 10 messages).

You can navigate between messages quickly using the following keys:

  • Page Up and Page Down to move up and down.
  • Home and End to move to the first or most recent message
  • Shift+Page Up to move to the first message in the previous day.*
  • Shift+Page Down to move to the first message in the next day.*

*These keys can’t be used to navigate between messages in your All unreads views.

 

Message actions

There are a number of useful actions you can take on messages within Slack, including adding emoji reactions, replying in a thread, and copying a link to a message.

  1. To access these, move focus to the message of your choice
  2. Press Tab+M (on Mac with full keyboard access enabled) or the Menu key (Windows) to open the Message Actions menu.
  3. You can also press Tab while focused on the message of your choice to access these and more message actions.

 

Respond to a conversation

  1. To write a message in a channel or DM on Mac, start typing. Slack will automatically move focus to the message field. On Windows or Linux, press F6 to move focus to the message field, then begin typing.
  2. (Optional) Press Tab to access the composer primary actions toolbar, from which you can add attachments, record video and audio clips, or insert custom emojis.
  3. Press Enter to send your message.

Tip: You can also take a number of actions in Slack by typing slash commands.

You can also send a message to any person or conversation directly using the Compose button:

  1. Press +N (Mac) or Ctrl+N (Windows/Linux).
  2. Focus will move to the To: field. Type the name of a channel or person to select a conversation for your message.
  3. Press Enter. The primary view will switch to the selected conversation and focus will move to the message field.
  4. Type your message, then press Enter to send it.

 

Start or reply to a thread

Threads are sidebar conversations within a channel or DM, and are useful for keeping conversations organized. Threads can only be one level deep, and always open in the secondary view.

  1. Within a conversation, navigate to the message you’d like to start or reply to a thread from.
  2. Press or T to open the thread in the secondary view. The focus will move to the secondary view, landing on the same message. If there are any existing thread replies, press to read them in chronological order.
  3. To start or reply to a thread, press End. The focus will move to the message field in the secondary view.

Tip: Press to move focus back to the original message that thread replies have been added to.

 

Catching up on activity

Slack offers a few ways to quickly review all new messages of a certain kind. Reviewing all of these is the easiest way to make sure you’re totally caught up on all the new activity that’s relevant to you within a workspace.

These views can be reached in 3 ways: through a dedicated keyboard shortcut, by typing the name of the view in the Quick Switcher, or from the top of the workspace navigation list (some may be hidden within the More menu).

 

Direct Messages

The Direct Messages view lets you browse all of your individual and group conversations that happen outside of channels.

  1. Press +Shift+K (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+K (Windows / Linux) to open Direct Messages. Focus will move to a text input, which you can use to jump to any conversation.
  2. Press Tab to move focus into the Direct Messages inbox list, then to navigate through the list of conversations. The most recent message within each conversation will be read out when a conversation is in focus.
  3. Press Enter to open the conversation in the primary view (or secondary view if the latest message was in a thread). Focus will move to the latest message.

 

Mentions and reactions

The Mentions & reactions view lets you catch up on all reactions to your messages, mentions of you, and uses of any keywords you are monitoring.

  1. Press +Shift+M (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+M (Windows / Linux) to open Mentions & reactions. Focus will move to the first message in the group.
  2. Press to navigate between messages in the group. A summary will be read when a message is in focus, including the relevant activity.
  3. Press Enter when a message is in focus to open the conversation it’s in. Focus will move to the message.
  4. Press Shift+Tab from the list to navigate to the Filter button, where you can customize the view.

 

Threads

The Threads view lets you catch up on all the threads you have participated in, across both direct messages and channels.

  1. Press +Shift+T (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+T (Windows / Linux) to open Threads. Focus will move to the header for the first thread with new activity.
  2. Press to navigate between messages in the thread. A summary will be read when a message is in focus.
  3. At the end of each thread in this view, will move your focus into a message composer. You can use this to reply to that thread directly.
  4. Press on an empty message composer to navigate to the next thread header in the list.
  5. Press Tab, then Enter on a thread header to navigate to the conversation it’s in. Focus will move to the root message for the thread within that conversation.

 

Unreads

The Unreads view lets you catch up on all the channel messages you missed while you were away, grouped by conversations. It does not include direct messages or messages that are in a thread, which can be reviewed in the other views above.

Mac

Windows/Linux

  1. Press +Shift+A to open Unreads. Focus will move to the header for the first group of unread messages.
  2. Press to navigate between messages in the group. A summary will be read when a message is in focus. If you’d like, you can navigate within messages using VoiceOver navigation.
  3. If you’re navigating within a message using VoiceOver, press F6 to resume navigating between messages using and .
  4. To mark an entire group of messages as read, press Esc. The messages will be collapsed, and focus will move to the header for the next group.
  1. Press Ctrl+Shift+A to open Unreads. Focus will move to the header for the first group of unread messages (this will also toggle the virtual cursor off).
  2. Press to navigate between messages in the group. A summary will be read when a message is in focus.
  3. To read message content using the virtual cursor, press Tab. Focus will move to the name of the person who sent the message.
  4. To resume navigating between messages using and , press F6. Focus will move back to the message list.
  5. To mark an entire group of messages as read, press Esc. The messages will be collapsed, and focus will move to the header for the next group.

Tip: To collapse a group of messages without marking them as read, press ← when focus is on the group header.

 

Manage screen reader preferences

To customize your screen reader experience, you can adjust a series of preferences:

  • Select a message format to determine the order that information is announced
  • Choose your ARIA application role usage
  • Choose to play a sound when you send a message while inside a DM
  • Choose to play a sound when you receive a DM while inside a DM
  • Choose to announce incoming messages while inside a DM

     

    1. Press +Comma (Mac) or Ctrl+Comma (Windows / Linux) to open your preferences.
    2. Press to navigate to Accessibility then press Enter.
    3. Press Tab to navigate to the Screen reader preferences section.
    4. Press Enter to select your preferences.

    Other useful preferences may be found in the Notifications tabs of Preferences.