Use a screen reader with Slack’s desktop app

In this guide, you’ll learn about using a screen reader with the Slack desktop app.

Note: The screen reader experience is designed to be compatible across most common systems. Differences between screen readers may mean your experience varies slightly though.


🗺 Top-level navigation

Slack has seven top-level sections identified by their ARIA landmark roles and headings. The focus order is always the same and loops around the sections: 1) message list (role main); 2) message input; 3) a multi-purpose sidebar which can be activity, threads, about or others; 4) workspace menu; 5) channel sidebar; 6) channel header; and 7) search.

Here are some handy navigation shortcuts:

  • Navigate the top-level sections by headings, landmarks or by pressing F6.
  • Press F6 to focus the message list, then read messages with  or ↓.
  • Press Tab to navigate through message actions, replies and emoji reactions.
  • Press K (Mac) or CtrlK (Windows/Linux) to jump to another channel or direct message, or even another workspace.

Note: if you're using Slack in a browser, press (Mac) or Ctrl (Windows) before F6 commands.

 

📖 Read messages

There are three options for reading messages and marking them as read. These options can be found in your Preferences, under Mark as read:

  • Start me where I left off and mark the channel as "read" (default)
    This option lets you read messages chronologically from oldest to newest. Press F6 to move focus to the first unread message in a channel or, if all messages have been read, the previously focused message in the channel. Press to read the next message.
  • Start me at the newest message and mark the channel read
    This option lets you read messages in reverse chronological order. The initial point of focus will be the last, most recent message in the channel, and the channel will be marked as read.
  • Start me at the newest message but leave unseen messages unread
    This option lets you read messages in reverse chronological order. The initial point of focus will be the last, most recent message in the channel, but the channel will remain marked as unread until you’ve read each message.

If you scroll through a channel before pressing F6, the first message scrolled into view will be refocused. 


Here’s how to read the list of messages:

Focus navigation

Virtual navigation

  1. Press F6 to move to the message list.
  2. Press  or  to navigate between individual messages.
    Or use any of these keys:

    Page Up (Windows) or (Mac) to move up.
    Page Down(Windows) or (Mac) to move down.
    Home (Windows) or fn (Mac) to go to the oldest loaded message.
    End (Windows) or fn (Mac) to go to the most recent.

    Space bar to scroll through messages.

In virtual navigation, each message is a list item and message actions each have a button.

  1. Press F6 to move to the message list.
  2. Press I to navigate between individual messages.

Note: The virtual cursor will usually jump to the first list item, which could be an older message. For this reason, we suggest reading messages in focus navigation to start with the most up-to-date messages.

 

🎼 Message composition

A custom label is composed for each message, making it easier to read. Each message is made up of elements (e.g. author, time stamp, message content, etc.) which are read together in full sentences. Here’s the order they are read in:

  • Message header: Author, time stamp, message type (e.g. threaded replies)
  • Message main content: The content typed by the author
  • Message footer: The number of reactions, replies and attachments (e.g. files, link previews, etc.)
  • State information: Messages that are pinned, starred, etc. are read as such
  • Description and/or content of attachments

Message labels are read when navigating in forms mode, using F6 and the  or  keys). Virtual navigation is still available. Messages are marked as a list and they can be read with the list key (usually the I key). Remember that it’s much more wordy because message elements are presented with no curation.


🔄 Switch to a channel or DM

All of your channels and direct messages are listed in the channel sidebar section as a landmark with a corresponding heading. These second-level elements help to navigate quickly between conversations.

Focus navigation

Virtual navigation

  1. Press F6 to move to the channel sidebar.
  2. Press Tab to navigate to the channel or DM.
  3. Press Enter to make a selection.
  1. Press F6 to move to the channel sidebar.
  2. Press I to navigate to the channel or DM.
  3. Press Enter to make a selection.

Tip: K (Mac) or CtrlK (Windows/Linux) is the fastest way to switch between channels and DMs. Read How to use the Quick Switcher.

 

🔔 Access your notifications

To receive notifications when using a screen reader, download the Slack app for your desktop and enable desktop notifications.

You can also access Activity to find your @mentions and emoji reactions:

Focus navigation

Virtual navigation

  1. Press F6 to move to the channel header. 
  2. Press Tab to move to the Activity button and press Enter.
  3. Press Tab to move your focus to different actions under Activity.
  4. Press and to read messages in chronological order.
  1. Press F6 to move to the channel header.
  2. Press I to move to the Activity button and press Return.
  3. Press Tab to move your focus to different actions under Activity.
  4. Press and to read messages in chronological order.

Tip: You can also use the keyboard shortcut CtrlShiftM to access Activity.

 

Keyboard shortcuts with screen readers

The Slack app is compatible with standard keyboard accessibility, but we know Tab navigation can be tedious. That’s why we offer keyboard shortcuts for faster navigation.

To view all keyboard shortcuts, navigate to the More Items button in the channel header section and press Enter, or use the shortcut: Control+on Windows or Command+on Mac.