Join us as we share some tips that can help you manage the information your screen reading software (screen reader) provides from the chat while in online classes.
Why It Matters
Even if your school is holding in-person classes, we have reached a point at which Zoom is a fixture as a meeting space for school, social engagements, and work. It can be so difficult to listen to your screen reader read Zoom chat messages to you out loud while you are also trying to pay attention to the teacher or presentation. It is even worse when you need to reference documents or slide presentations at the same time or take notes on the same device.
The chat can be full of valuable presentation-related information that might not be spoken aloud, or classmates could be socializing and greeting one another. Either way, you need the information. Even if the chat is purely social, who wants to miss out on talking to friends (or future friends)?
Below, we have outlined some helpful strategies for managing chat content while also balancing the need for listening to the content being presented at the class or meeting. A combination of these tips and tricks depending on the type of meeting is likely the best approach to getting everything you need.
Screen Reader Commands and Chat Hacks
These keyboard commands will help you to navigate the chat in Zoom using JAWS:
- To disable alerts of any kind, including chat alerts and announcements of individuals entering and leaving meetings, press Windows + ALT + S.
- Control + 1 through Control + 0 reads out the ten most recent chat messages
- ALT + H lets you enter or exit the chat panel. Even if you disable alerts, you can feel free to check the chat panel anytime.
- Focus automatically lands on the edit field when you enter the chat panel, so to send a message all you have to do is type the message and press Enter.You can use Shift + Tab to navigate to the list of chat messages and use your up and down arrow keys to look through the list of messages.
- If you press Shift + Tab again, you will find a box where you can hear JAWS speak to whom your next chat message will be going; you can also change the recipient of your message in this area.
- JAWS has a new feature that allows users to have JAWS speech come in one ear of their headphones and other computer audio come through the opposite ear. This feature is very useful in Zoom meetings by simplifying hearing both audio inputs simultaneously. To enable this feature, press Space + Insert + V, then V, then B. You can then press the left arrow key for JAWS to speak from the left headphone and the right arrow for it to speak from the right headphone. The up arrow will restore speech to both headphones once you have finished.
- In addition to using these keyboard commands, we also recommend using a Braille device paired with your computer to engage with the chat.
Requesting Reasonable Accommodations
Even with these commands and strategies, you may still feel as though you are not getting the same access to both the chat and the meeting itself that other participants will experience. You can always request reasonable accommodations whether you are in high school or college to ease the complications of managing audio content from multiple sources. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations you could request:
- Request the teacher to read aloud content written in the chat that is particularly important to the subject. This will ensure you have access to all of the notetaking opportunities as your classmates.
- Request that all links posted in the chat be emailed out to the class. This will make things easier for not just you, but everyone else, too.
- Ask the teacher or Zoom host to allow users to save the chat. That way, you can have a written record of the chat and can refer back to anything you may have missed. Again, this particular accommodation request will make things easier for other students as well.
- Utilize a second device that could allow you to participate in the meeting from two devices. While not specifically a reasonable accommodation, you may want to let your teacher know that your name may appear twice in the participants’ list. This method could allow you to mute chat activity on one device and mute incoming audio on the other device; you could then have a device for the lecture and one for chat engagement.
- These resources are full of useful tips and tricks for navigating Zoom both inside and outside of chat functions.
Bridges Helpdesk – Please reach out anytime!
- Did we miss information about the meeting platform or screen reader you are using for class?
- Do you need guidance on how to request reasonable accommodations
- Whatever your concern, reach out to us anytime and we will be delighted to provide you with customized, timely assistance that meets your needs.
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.
Updated as of September 28, 2023.