Use Google Chat with a screen reader

You can send direct messages to an individual or multiple people with Google Chat. For ongoing conversations with a team, you can create a Space to message everyone at once.

If available, you can also use apps to automate your work. To use apps in Google Chat, you must use a work or school account and your Google Workspace administrator must give you permission to install apps.

Introduction

This article is divided into sections with headings. Use the links below to jump to a specific section of the article.

Quick start

This article is for the chat.google.com page and has lots of great information to help you use Chat. It can take time to read the entire article. If you want to get started fast, use these quick tips to read and send messages in direct messages and Spaces.

  • For JAWS: Turn off virtual cursor.
  • For NVDA: Switch to focus mode.
  • For ChromeOS: Turn off sticky mode.
  • For MacOS: Turn off quick nav.

To read chats you receive:

  1. Press the h key, then c to move focus to the list of chats.
  2. Press the Up or Down arrow until focus is on the desired chat.
  3. Press Enter to open the chat and move focus to the Message edit field to type messages.
  4. Press Escape to exit the Message edit field and move focus to the list of messages.
  5. Press the Up or Down arrow to review the messages.
  6. Press the r key to move focus back to the Message edit field.

To review recent messages but keep focus on the Message edit field:

  • For Windows: Press Alt + {number}.
  • For ChromeOS: Press Alt + Shift + {number}.
  • For MacOS: Press Option + {number}.
  • Replace {number} with 1 through 9 for the 9 most recent messages.

To start a chat with someone:

  1. Press Ctrl + k to open the "Add 1 or more people" combo box.
  2. Type the name or email address of the person. If you hear an exact match, press Ctrl + Enter. To explore close matches, press Down arrow.
  3. Focus moves to the Message edit field. Type the message and press Enter.
Tip: If you’re not in Edit mode, the q shortcut works the same as Ctrl + k.

To read Spaces:

  1. Press h, then r to move focus to the list of Spaces.
  2. Press the Up or Down arrow to find the desired Space.
  3. Press Enter to move focus to the list of Topics for the Space.
  4. Press the Up or Down arrow to focus on different Topics.
  5. On the desired Topic, press Right arrow to open the Topic. Use the Up or Down arrow to read the messages in the Topic.
  6. Press the Left arrow to return to the list of Topics.
  7. Press r to move focus to the Message edit field. Type a message. Press Enter to add a message to the Topic.
  8. Press Ctrl + s to start a new Topic.

Getting started

Recommended browser and screen readers

Google Chat recommends Chrome and:

  • NVDA or JAWS on Windows
  • ChromeVox on ChromeOS
  • VoiceOver on MacOS

Use Chat as a web application

You can use chat.google.com as a web application rather than a webpage. When you use chat.google.com as a web application:

  • Turn off the screen reader web browsing shortcuts. For details, go to Set up your screen reader below.
  • Use Chat’s keyboard shortcuts to navigate and read instead of your screen reader’s commands. For details, go to Navigate around Chat below.

Tip: There are times when you should use chat.google.com as a web page and use screen reader browser commands. We point out these times as they occur.

Set up your screen reader

Some screen reader setup is required to use Chat as a web application:

  • JAWS: Turn off the virtual cursor. Press Insert + z until you hear "off."
  • NVDA: Turn on focus mode. Press Insert + Spacebar until you hear a click sound like typing on a keyboard.
  • ChromeVox: Turn off sticky mode. Quickly press Search twice until you hear "sticky mode disabled."
  • VoiceOver: Turn off quick nav. Press Left + Right arrow until you hear "quicknav off."

Open Chat

Go to chat.google.com. When you open Chat, the keyboard focus is on a Main menu button near the top, inside a Banner landmark. The first time you open Chat, you may want to explore it as a webpage as described in the next section. After you complete your exploration, we recommend you switch to use Chat as a web application as described in Set up your screen reader above.

About the Chat interface

In Chat, there are 4 main areas:

  • Top, presented by your screen reader as a Banner landmark: Contains general settings and controls, such as your status, a search bar, and the Google bar to switch to other apps and user accounts.
  • Left navigation area, presented as a Navigation landmark: On the left, you can find Chat conversations, Spaces content, and Meet headings.
  • Chat content, presented as a Main landmark: Contains the currently selected Chat conversation, Space content, or Meeting information. This area also includes a list of past messages, a Message edit field for new messages, and action buttons.
  • Right side panel, presented as a Complementary landmark: Provides embedded access to other Google products, like Calendar, Keep, Tasks, and Contacts.

Chats with one person or a group create a list of messages. By default, History is off and messages disappear 24 hours after they arrive. Spaces are for active long-term conversations with a team or group of people. History is on by default. You can organize Spaces into Topics that create a 2-level tree of conversations.

Navigate around Main Chat content

Chat and Spaces content have 2 modes: Edit and Navigation. When focus is on the Message edit field, Chat is in Edit mode. To switch from Edit to Navigation mode, press Escape.

Tab and Arrow keys behave differently in each mode:

  • In Edit mode: The Up arrow moves to the last posted message and allows you to edit and resend it.
  • In Navigation mode:
    • Up arrow moves to the most recent message and then to older messages.
    • On a message, the Tab key navigates to buttons like: Add reaction (an emoji), Edit message (if you posted it), Mark as unread, and More actions.
    • In a Space with Topics:
      • Move within a Topic with Up or Down arrow.
      • Move to the list of Topics with Left arrow, then Up or Down arrow between Topics.
      • Move to the messages in a Topic with Right arrow.

Basic navigation

Tab and Arrow keys work for basic navigation. For additional Chat navigation, you can use these commands:

  • In the Left navigation area for Chat and Spaces:
    • Up or down arrow to select a different conversation.
    • Shift + Up or Down arrow to move to previous or next unread conversation.
    • Ctrl + Up or Down arrow to move between Chat, Spaces, or Meet.
    • If focus is on a Chat or Space conversation: Right arrow or Enter to activate.
  • In the Main message area: Tab and Up or Down arrow to move around.
  • When focus is on the Message edit field:
    • Up arrow to edit the last message you sent.
    • Escape and then Up or Down arrow to go through all messages.
  • When focus is on the Topics of a Space:
    • Left arrow to move to the Left navigation area.
    • Right arrow to move to the messages of the selected Topic.
  • In a Space, if focus is on a message: Left arrow to move the focus to the Topics.
  • When you activate a Space without Topics, focus goes to the Message edit field.

Advanced navigation

Once you’re familiar with Chat, the most efficient way to work in Chat is to use keyboard shortcuts.

Show a full list of keyboard shortcuts in Chat

  1. Turn off virtual cursor or browse mode in your screen reader.
  2. Press Escape if focus is on a Message edit field.
  3. Press the question key (Shift + Slash).

To read the keyboard shortcuts, use Chat as a web page. Turn on virtual cursor or browse mode in your screen reader. The list of keyboard shortcuts is in a table, so use your screen reader’s table-reading commands for easier navigation. The first tab stop is a link you can activate to enable or disable some keyboard shortcuts. Make sure the link says Disable, so the extra keyboard shortcuts are available.

You can open Google Chat keyboard shortcuts in a new browser tab.

Popular shortcuts

Shortcuts are for Chrome and Windows devices. For Mac, use the Command key instead of Ctrl, and the Option key instead of Alt.

  • With a screen reader, you can read each of the last 9 messages in a Chat conversation or a Spaces Topic with Alt + {number}. For ChromeVox, use Alt + Shift + {number}. For VoiceOver, use Option + {number}. Replace {number} with 1 for the most recent message, 2 for the next most recent, and so on. Focus does not move.
  • To move focus to the most recent message in a conversation, press Ctrl + j. This works regardless of Edit mode and can be used in place of Escape as described in Basic navigation above.
  • To move focus to your Chat messages in the Left navigation area, press h then c.
  • To move focus to your Spaces messages in the Left navigation area, press h then r.
  • To add, create, or find a person, group, or Space, press Ctrl + k. If you’re not in Edit mode, the q shortcut works the same as Ctrl + k.
    • To add or create, press Down arrow to the desired option.
    • To find an existing conversation, type a part of the name and then Down arrow to the desired match.
  • To find people, spaces, or messages, press the Slash key when not in Edit mode.
  • To start a new Topic in a Space, or a new message in a Chat, press Ctrl + s.
  • To open a Chat or Space menu, press Ctrl + g. For details, go to Access message and Spaces options below.
  • To reply to a conversation or Topic and move focus to the Message edit field, press r.

For more on interactions with different elements, go to Complete common tasks in Chat below and refer to the documentation for your screen reader.

Complete common tasks in Chat with a screen reader

Direct messages

Direct messages, also called DMs and Chat, are conversations between you and one or more people. In direct messages, the message list only has one level.

Read a direct message

  1. Press Escape, then h then c to move to the Chat section of the Left navigation area.
  2. Press Up or Down arrow to select the person whose message you want to read and then press Enter.
  3. Press Escape to switch to Navigation mode.
  4. Press Up or Down arrow to review previous messages in the chat.
  5. If the message includes a link, press Tab to move focus to the link, then press Enter to open the link.

To review recent messages but keep focus on the Message edit field:

  • For Windows: Press Alt + {number}.
  • For ChromeOS: Press Alt + Shift + {number}.
  • For MacOS: Press Option + {number}.
  • Replace {number} with 1 through 9 for the 9 most recent messages.

Switch between direct messages

To find a person or group you messaged:

  1. Press Ctrl + k to open the “Add 1 or more people” combo box.
  2. Type the name of the person or group you want to find. As you type, Chat verbalizes the name.
  3. Choose a name:
    • If Chat verbalizes the name you want, press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If Chat doesn’t verbalize the name you want, press Down arrow until you hear the name and then press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If you still don’t hear the person’s name, type their entire username and press Enter.

To open a message in the prior messages list:

  1. Press Escape and then Left arrow to move to the Left navigation area.
  2. Press Up or Down arrow until you find the person you want to message.
  3. Press Enter.

Tip: As you move through the Left navigation area, you’re told if there are unread messages for the direct message or Space. To move to the next unread message, press Shift + Down arrow.

Reply to a direct message

  1. Use the steps in earlier sections to find or navigate to the person you want to reply to. From Navigation mode, press r to move focus back to the Message edit field.
  2. Type message text and then press Enter.
  3. When not in Edit mode, you can react to a message with an emoji:
    1. Press Tab to the “Add reaction” button and press Space.
    2. Type part of the name of an emoji.
    3. Press Tab twice to the list of matches.
    4. Press Down arrow to the emoji you want and press Enter.

Use a smart reply

Important: Some messages don’t have smart replies available.

  1. With focus on the Message edit field, press Shift + Tab until you reach one of the 3 suggested reply buttons.
  2. Press Spacebar to select a reply and load it into the Message edit field.
  3. Add additional content if desired, then press Enter to send the reply.

Send a direct message to multiple people

  1. Press Ctrl + k to open the “Add 1 or more people” combo box.
  2. Type the name of the person you want to add. As you type, Chat verbalizes the name.
  3. Choose a name:
    • If Chat verbalizes the name you want, press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If Chat doesn’t verbalize the name you want, press Down arrow until you hear the name and then press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If you still don’t hear the person’s name, type their entire username and press Enter.
  4. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to add all of the people to the message.
  5. Press Enter to move focus to the Message edit field in the new Chat.
  6. Type your message and then press Enter.

Edit a posted message

To edit the most recent message posted by you, press Up arrow from the Message edit field. Edit the message, then press Enter to re-post or Escape to cancel changes.

Turn history on or off for a direct message

If allowed by your administrator, you can decide to save your message history. You hear if history is on or off when you focus on the Message edit field of the conversation.

  1. In the Left navigation area, select the conversation that you want to change history settings for and press Enter.
  2. Press Ctrl + g to open the conversation menu.
  3. Down arrow to "History" and press Spacebar or Enter to change the current setting. Some History settings can’t be changed.

Spaces

Spaces are for active long-term conversations with a team or group of people. The membership of a Space may change over time as people join or leave the conversation.

Spaces can have 1 level or 2. Spaces without Topics have 1 level like Chat conversations and initial focus is on the Message edit field. Spaces with Topics have 2 levels. Level 1 is the list of conversation Topics. Level 2 is messages in a Topic. When you open a Space, the focus is on the oldest unread Topic. If there are no unread Topics, the focus is on the most recent Topic.

Read messages in Spaces

  1. If focus is on an edit field (Edit mode), press Escape to switch to Navigation mode.
  2. Press h then r to move to the Spaces section of the Left navigation area.
  3. Press Up or Down arrow until you reach the Space you want and then press Enter. You can use Shift + Up or Down arrow to move to Spaces with unread content.
  4. If the Space has no Topics, focus moves to the Message edit field like a Chat message.
  5. If the Space has Topics, press Up or Down arrow to navigate the different Topics.
  6. Press Right arrow to open a Topic.
  7. Press Up or Down arrow to read messages.
  8. Press Left arrow to return to the Topic level.

To review recent messages but keep focus on the edit field:

  • For Windows: Press Alt + {number}.
  • For ChromeOS: Press Alt + Shift + {number}.
  • For MacOS: Press Option + {number}.
  • Replace {number} with 1 through 9 for the 9 most recent messages.

Reply to messages in Spaces

  1. Press the r shortcut to move focus to the edit field.
  2. Type your message and then press Enter.
  3. To go to another Topic, press Ctrl + j (⌘ + j on Mac) to move to the last Topic, and then Up arrow to the new Topic. To reply to this Topic, press the r shortcut to move focus to the edit field.
Tip: In Spaces, you can also Use a smart reply.

Create a conversation Topic in a Space

  1. Move focus to any Topic.
  2. Press Ctrl + s to open a Message edit field.
  3. Type message text that describes your new Topic and then press Enter.

Your message becomes the first message in the Topic and the name of the Topic.

Tip: You can verify that you will create a new Topic by the name of the focused edit field:

  • A new Topic is named "Message" followed by the Space name.
  • A reply to an existing Topic is named "Reply."

Create a Space

  1. Press Ctrl + i to open the "Create a Space" dialog.
  2. Type the required "Space name."
  3. To create a Space with you as the only member, press Enter.
  4. For other options, press Tab to:
    • Add a Space description.
    • Add people or groups to the Space.
    • Specify who can join the new Space.
    • Specify if people outside your work or school can join the Space.
    • Activate the Advanced button to reveal the checkbox to "Organize the conversation by topic."
    • Activate the Cancel or Create buttons.

Join an existing Space

  1. Press Ctrl + o.
  2. Type any part of the name.
  3. Use Up or Down arrow to move through the list of Spaces.
  4. When you find one you want, press Tab to the "Space joined" checkbox and press Spacebar to check.
  5. Press Enter to join and open the new Space.

Add people to a Space

  1. Open the Space you want to update.
  2. Press Ctrl + g to open the Space menu.
  3. Press Down arrow to move to "Manage members" and then press Enter.
  4. Tab to the Add button and press Enter.
  5. Type the name of the person you want to add. As you type, you hear the first name that matches.
  6. Choose a name:
    • If Chat verbalizes the name you want, press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If Chat doesn’t verbalize the name you want, press Down arrow until you hear the name and then press Ctrl + Enter.
    • If you still don’t hear the person’s name, type their entire username and press Enter.
  7. Press Tab until you get to the Add button and press Enter.

Files in a Space

You can post files in a Space for discussion or to share with the members of the Space. When you open a Space, focus moves to either the Message edit field or the start of the most recent Topic. From the edit field, press Shift + Tab to move focus to the "Google Workspace tools" button, where you can add a Drive file or Calendar invite.

To view files posted by others, press Ctrl + g to go to the Space menu, and then Tab several times to the Chat tab. Press Right arrow to the Files tab and then press Enter. When you open the Files tab, focus moves to the "Add File" button. If any files are shared, you can Tab through the 3 elements for each file:

  1. File details: The file name, who posted it, and when. Press Enter to open the file in a new browser tab.
  2. Option to "Move within Drive" or "Add shortcut to Drive."
  3. Option to "View in Chat," which moves focus to where the file was added to give context.

Apps

Important: To use apps in Google Chat, you must use a work or school account and your Google Workspace administrator must give permission to install apps.

Apps are special accounts you can chat with, just as you would with people. You can connect with apps in a conversational way to look up information, schedule meetings, or do other tasks. Google creates and maintains some apps, such as the Google Meet and Google Drive apps. Third-party software vendors create and maintain other apps.

Find apps

  1. Press Ctrl + k to open the “Add 1 or more people” combo box.
  2. Press Down arrow until you get to "Find apps" and press Enter.
  3. Type a partial name, or use the Tab and Arrow keys to explore offered content.
  4. Press Enter on an app and explore the description in the dialog. Initial focus is on the button to add the app to Chat.
  5. Press Enter to add this app to your set of Chat conversations.
  6. To add the app to a Space:
    1. Press Tab to the "Add to Space" button.
    2. Press Enter to open the "Enter the space name" dialog.
    3. Type a partial name or press Down arrow to the Space you want to add the app to.
  7. After activating one of the buttons, the app is added and the dialog is dismissed.

Tip: This is how to find an app and add it to either Chat or Space. The next section is how to add an app to the current Space without extra steps.

Add an app to a Space

  1. Open the Space you want to update.
  2. Press Ctrl + g to open the menu.
  3. Press Down arrow until you get to "Apps & integrations" and then press Enter.
  4. Press Tab to the “Add apps” button and then press Enter.
  5. Type the name of the app you want to add. As you type, you hear the first name that matches.
  6. Choose a name:
    • If you hear the name you want, press Enter.
    • Press Down arrow until you hear the name you want and then press Enter.
  7. Press Tab until you get to the Add button and then press Enter.

Message an app in a Space

  1. Open the Space that has the app.
  2. Press Ctrl + s to open a new Topic.
  3. Type "@appname" followed by your message. Replace "appname" with the name of the app.
  4. Press Enter, then wait for it to respond.

See the commands that you can use with an app

  • In a direct message with the app, type "help."
  • In a Space, type "@appname help." Replace "appname" with the name of the app.

Search

To search for content within a Chat or Space:

  1. Press Slash when not in Edit mode.
  2. Type the search term and the first matches are people, groups, or Spaces.
  3. Press Up arrow to jump to the last option for "More search results."
  4. Press Enter to display all messages that include your search term. Results are in chronological order with the most recent result first.
  5. Press Down arrow to the messages that include your search term.

Tip: Activate a result to go to the Chat message or Spaces Topic that includes the result. Use the browser back shortcut to return to the search results. Use the browser back shortcut again to exit the search results.

Change notification settings

You can change how you're notified from the Chat app, or per conversation. Conversation options are described in Access message and Spaces options below.

To open Settings for the Chat app:

  1. Press Escape to switch to Navigation mode.
  2. Press Slash to move focus to the "Find people, spaces, and messages" field.
  3. Press Tab to the Settings button and press Enter to open the settings dialog that includes notification options.
  4. Make your changes, then Tab to the Done button and press Enter.

Access message and Spaces options

Press Ctrl + g to open the options menu for Chat messages and Spaces. This menu includes:

  • View members or Manage members
  • Apps & integrations
  • Pin the conversation to Chat or Spaces
  • Notification options for this conversation
  • Toggle History
  • Block the conversation

Use smart replies

For certain messages you receive, Chat provides suggestions that you can use to send quick replies.

Make sure smart reply is on

  1. Open Settings as described in the previous section.
  2. Tab to the "Enable smart reply on web and desktop" checkbox.
  3. Press Spacebar to toggle on or off.


Google, Google Workspace, and related marks and logos are trademarks of Google LLC. All other company and product names are trademarks of the companies with which they are associated.

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