Microsoft Teams is one of several popular learning platforms students and vision professionals are learning to use to learn and interact together in a virtual/remote format. For individuals who use screen reading software like NVDA and JAWS on Windows Computers, the desktop application (not the online Office 365 version) is accessible through keystrokes and commands.
Though there are some guides available on the internet for using Teams, few address the topic of efficient navigation for individuals who use screen readers. That is, shortcuts for various functions like joining and leaving meetings, as well as switching between app bar items, are provided; however no information is given regarding best practices for navigation to key sections of the platform. The following information is a summary of some of the strategies I have identified to be useful for me and my students as we have become familiar with the platform thus far this school year. If you have anything to add from your own experiences, please share in the comments below!
The quick and dirty on navigation in Teams, for me and my students, is to use the Tab key to get to the main sections you want to get to. Tabbing around will, eventually, get you to or close to most sections you want and ultimately loop back to your starting point. If you wanted to navigate with much more fine-grained control, use the up and down arrows. Just know that you’ll be moving a lot slower through the program.
There are a couple sections in Teams that I found to be less intuitive to navigate through, as my students and TVI peers pointed out to me. These are the “App Bar”, or the side bar where your activity, chat, teams, assignments, calendar, calls, and files options are located, as well as the “Tab Control” section that appears next the the channel name in a given Team. For most people, the most common Team channel is the “General” channel. Next to this label is the “Tab Control” set of tab options, including Posts, Files, Class Notebook, Assignments, and Grades.
The App Bar can be tabbed to, but you will only have your focus placed on the app you most recently used. However, if, for example, I was on the Activity app but wanted to navigate to the calendar, tabbing would not work. Instead, I used the up and down arrows to move from App Bar item to the next. These items, visually, are displayed with a vertical bar orientation, so use this as a way of understanding what you need to do here.
In a Team channel’s Tab Control sections, you can similarly tab to the section (most often you will land on Posts) but will not be able to tab any further to the other sections like Assignments, which many of my students needed to access. Here, you will use the left and right arrow keys, which is correlated with the tabs’ horizontal orientation
The next tip I have is for navigating in the Chats and Posts sections. Specifically, I address how you can more efficiently navigate between messages, as well as reply to messages.
The thing is, whether you are in the main chat section or a team channel’s posts section, you can tab to the messages section. Usually, your screen reader’s focus will be placed on the most recent message sent. However, it is not clear how you are supposed to navigate to messages sent earlier. At first, I found that I could do this using the up and down arrow keys, but this took so many key presses there had to be a better way.
The better way was to use the H key for headings! Using NVDA, I noticed that each time I landed on a message, it announced it as a heading, very similar to how some content will appear on websites. I was very excited to learn that the H key worked just as well for navigating between messages in Teams. Now, here is something to know. Messages will appear in a typical layout of newest messages at the bottom of the display region and older messages above those. So, what that means is you press H to advance forward, or downward, to the next (more recent) message until you hear that there is no next heading. Similarly, you will press Shift + H to navigate backwards, or upward, to messages sent previously further back in time. I will say, I don’t currently know how to navigate to the first or last heading/message, so if you do know please share in the comments below! That said, you can navigate by heading level in teams through the number keys just like on a webpage.
The final tip for this post is how to access the Reply button that is available in a channel’s Posts section.
Visually, under each message, there is a Reply button that can be selected. As mentioned in the previous section, you can use the arrow keys to arrow down to the button from a message, but it takes many keystrokes to do so. What I have realized is that since the Reply button is a button, you can actually press the B key to jump right to it! Now, if you are on a message you read and want to reply to it specifically, you just need to press the B key and you will have your focus placed on the button immediately, ready to be selected.