How Accessible is Slack?

Published November 18, 2022

If your team shifted to remote work during the pandemic, you're probably already familiar with a tool called Slack. Slack is an integral part of many companies day-to-day internal communications. It features instant messaging and channels, which are group message boards that teams can use to share ideas, updates, images, and more. 

Companies have Slack channels dedicated to company-wide announcements, specific operations, and even sharing gifs or pet pictures.

However, some team members may encounter accessibility issues that leave them feeling left out or disconnected from their work teams. So how accessible is Slack, and what can you do to improve the experience for employees with disabilities?

Using Slack with a screen reader or keyboard navigation

Slack is navigable with a screen reader. The American Federation of the Blind published this introduction to Slack, including information on how it integrates with NVDA and JAWS. Users can read messages, navigate between channels or conversations, and access files or information shared over Slack with a screen reader.

The platform also offers keyboard shortcuts designed that make everyday actions easier for users with disabilities. Keyboard shortcuts and navigation work better on the desktop app, though many also work in the browser version of Slack.

Slack for mobile

The mobile version of Slack does work with accessibility tools such as VoiceOver on iOS, but the in-app accessibility menu is quite limited. Users can adjust settings for animated images and underlining links but settings like text and other in-app elements need to be changed in the smartphone's settings.

Visual controls designed for accessibility

Slack allows users to change the zoom level to enlarge text on the screen. However, they don't provide the option to change the text size itself. That means that images and other content will also be zoomed in and enlarged, which may or may not be helpful.

Users can also choose between light or dark modes. Dark mode makes the background dark and the text white. Slack also provides a Compact theme that some users with disabilities may prefer. Slack uses the Clean theme by default, but users can switch to the Compact theme to see more messages while minimizing the white space between lines and hiding users' profile photos.

What work teams can do to make Slack more accessible

Even with decent accessibility features, users with disabilities often run into accessibility challenges while using Slack. Part of this comes from how most teams use the app. For example, many teams use emojis, photos, and GIFs in their channels. Slack as a platform offers users a way to add alt text and captions when sharing visual content, but many people aren't aware of this option.

Use alt text for files and photos

Once you upload a file or image into Slack, there is an option to edit the file’s details. When users select this, a window opens that allows them to rename the file and add alt text. Many people skip this step, but alt text is an essential tool for web accessibility. Managers should ensure that all employees know about and use this feature. 

Add captions to GIFs

GIFs do not have an alt text option in Slack, but Slack encourages users to add captions to GIFs. In Slack, the proper way to add a caption is to type /giphy #caption "insert the description in quotes" [giphy search term] in the message bar. The caption is then overlaid on the GIF and will be readable by screen readers.

Add context to links

Instead of pasting a long URL into a message, use descriptive linked text. Provide context on the link and where it will take you when you click it. For example, add a link to the text "complete the online form" and let everyone know if the form will open in a new tab.

Be mindful of Slack channel names

Try to make your channel names clear and descriptive, even the silly or casual channels. Following a consistent naming convention can make navigating channels with a screen reader easier. It's common to include dashes between words in Slack channels rather than blocking text together—for example, #social-media-analytics instead of #socialmediaanalytics. The separation helps screen readers read the words more clearly.

Be clear and thoughtful with your communications

Accessibility in the workplace is essential. Work to create a culture within your workplace that values accessibility and encourages employees to be thoughtful in how they communicate. Some of these adjustments, such as adding alt text to images, take a little extra time, but they can significantly impact inclusivity if done consistently.


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