Firefox 3 with Screen Readers FAQ

This article is no longer maintained, so its content might be out of date.

The following is a list of questions often asked by screen reader or screen magnifier users who think about migrating to Firefox 3, but who are concerned about accessibility or other issues that affect them.


What general benefits do I get?

Many users cite benefits such as increased speed and security, as well as easy-to-use, powerful features. The article Top 10 Reasons to Switch lists general reasons that apply to all users. This FAQ contains additional information about benefits specific to users with disabilities.

Is Firefox 3 really an improvement over previous versions?

Absolutely! Overall, the browser is faster, lighter, more secure, more stable and simply better than ever before. In addition, the many accessibility improvements have made Firefox 3 screen reading a smooth experience. Ask around, search the web, or try it yourself -- this conclusion is inevitable. If you have trouble updating, please ask for help (see the info on getting help later in this FAQ).

What are the benefits of Firefox extensions?

Firefox can be customized for your own use. There are numerous free add-ons or "extensions" which can be installed to make browsing work just as you like it. Extensions can do things such as make web pages more accessible or block advertisements that get in the way of accessibility. Some of these add-ons are especially exciting for visually impaired users.

Which extensions should I install?

Where do I find these extensions?

You can always browse the entire list of extensions, many of which may be quite helpful. Look for extensions such as AdBlock Plus on the Firefox add-ons website or through Tools->Add-ons in Firefox itself.

Keep in mind that extensions are written by 3rd party authors, and like web pages, not all are accessible. Remember, if you have trouble, ask for help. The community may even end up working with you to contact the extension author and get the problem fixed.

Are there special extensions for visually impaired users?

Yes. There are many extensions and themes of special interest to visually impaired Firefox users. A number of them are described on the helpful site AccessFirefox.com.

Read on to learn about one very special extension, called WebVisum.

I've heard of the WebVisum extension ... What's the excitement about?

WebVisum is a revolutionary extension for visually impaired Firefox users. WebVisum does the following things:

  • It allows the community to share accessibility "fixes" for web pages, such as labels for graphics and form fields, or more meaningful titles.
  • Deciphers inaccessible content (for example, it will use OCR on links or buttons that are images and have no ALT text).
  • Solves CAPTCHAs. Naturally, this is the most talked-about feature. Simply focus on the form field that is for the CAPTCHA solution, and press the WebVisum keystroke of Ctrl + 6. The CAPTCHA is then temporarily transferred to the WebVisum server, solved, and the result is placed on your clipboard, ready to be pasted in.
  • Still more ... and growing. See the WebVisum website for up-to-date info.

WebVisum is a unique feature for Firefox users, and will most likely never be available for other browsers, as explained by the WebVisum Frequently Asked Questions page.

What screen readers or magnifiers is Firefox 3 compatible with?

Firefox 3.02 has been extensively tested and is known to work well with the following screen readers:

  • NVDA (free, open-source screen reader): Version 0.6p2 or later works very well with Firefox 3.
  • JAWS 7.1 or later works very well with Firefox. However, please see the JAWS section later in this document for answers for JAWS-specific questions. Make sure you are using Firefox 3.02 or later.
  • Window-Eyes 6.1 or later: Window-Eyes works well with Firefox 3, with the exception of the add bookmarks dialog. It also occasionally gets lost after navigation in the menus. Window-Eyes 7 addresses many issues with Firefox 3.
  • SuperNova 10 or later: Has solid support for Firefox 3, but does not support any advanced WAI-ARIA widgets yet.
  • System Access 3 and above: Solid support for Firefox 3. Also the Mobile and free SaToGo versions support Firefox out of the box.
  • ZoomText 9.1 or later: this is a complete screen magnication solution for Firefox users.
  • On Linux, the free and open source Orca screen reader has very advanced Firefox support.

Trial or demo versions are available for all above screen readers which are proprietary. It should be noted that the open source screen readers do not have demo versions because the full versions are already completely free to use.

Does Firefox also support VoiceOver on Mac OS X?

The current versions of Firefox do not support the VoiceOver screen reader or the Mac OS accessibility APIs yet. We plan to address OS X support in a future version of Firefox.

My Windows screen reader (or my current version) isn't listed as having good support. What should I do?

JAWS users should use 7.1 or later. Window-Eyes users should use Window-Eyes 7 or later. If your screen reader just doesn't support Firefox 3, or you are tech-savvy and don't mind trying a free, cool screen reader, try NVDA. Since it's still early in the development, you may want to wait ... it's improving quickly. However, it works quite well with Firefox 3. There is no need to uninstall your other screen reader first, and you can always just back to your previous screen reader if you are not satisfied.

Will I have to learn new keystrokes to navigate web pages rendered by Firefox?

No. In all above Windows screen readers, navigating inside web pages is the same regardless of the browser. JAWS or Window-Eyes Quick Navigation keys, for example, all work the same in Firefox 3 as they would in IE. Check your screen reader's documentation on keystroke references for navigating virtual buffers.

Here is one exception, where there is a difference with other browsers:

  • Ctrl+L is used to move to the Location bar to open an internet address (ur<x>l), whereas Ctrl+O is used to open a local file through a standard File Open dialog box.

What are the keyboard navigation enhancements?

Firefox offers full, convenient keyboard and screen reader access to its features. Here are some specific examples:

  • Ctrl+L, followed by Shift+Tab, to immediately hear the most relevant security/encryption info. This allows you to learn whether the website you're about to enter your valued data is secure, or if you are in danger of falling victim to a web forgery attack.
  • Ctrl+Plus to zoom a page larger, and Ctrl+Minus to unzoom.
  • Ctrl+K will focus the quick search bar, where you can enter text to search the web using your favorite search engine (default is Google). The search engine can be changed by pressing Alt+Down in the quick search bar.
  • Type some key words or parts of words into the address bar to find a bookmark or page you've visited. At any point, use the down arrow to explore the list of matches. The system is great at knowing what you want, including learning which match(es) are your preferred ones for the text you typed. The next time you type the same thing, items you've chosen before will be higher in the list. You can also add tags or a keyword to bookmarks to make finding previously visited pages even easier.

More keyboard navigation features are described in the Firefox help under "Keyboard shortcuts" or simply by visiting the page at Keyboard shortcuts - Perform common Firefox tasks quickly.


Where can I get help if I need it?

Help is available at Mozilla's support site, in the [news://news.mozilla.org/mozilla.support.accessibility mozilla.support.accessibility] newsgroup (Google Groups alternative) or the mirrored mailing list. In addition, we're available on the #accessibility channel on irc.mozilla.org.

Support is also available for the WebVisum extension, please use their contact form to provide ideas, feedback or get help.

Can I keep my other browser installed?

Yes. Firefox will not interfere with any other software on your system. You can continue to run any other browser, even at the same time in another window.

How can I change my Windows default browser?

See How to make web links open in Firefox by default or (ouch!) How to make Internet Explorer your default browser.

Common JAWS questions

JAWS is working slightly differently with web pages Firefox than with IE. Which version of JAWS should I use?

JAWS 7.x, 8.x and 9.x all work with Firefox. However, JAWS 10 has the most polished support. JAWS 10 has added many improvements to Firefox and Thunderbird support. This includes better support for editing and improvements to the virtual buffer support for web pages, making it virtually indentical to what is provided for IE. As an example, JAWS 9 tended to combine lines of text together in the virtual buffer, but only in Firefox, but in JAWS 10, these kinds of troublesome differences with IE support have vanished.

Why doesn't the JAWS Find command work in JAWS 7.x or JAWS 8.x?

JAWS 8.0 has a known problem that the JAWS Find command or Speak Address Bar commands do not work as expected. The reason is that Firefox 3 uses a different executable name than Firefox 2 did, for which JAWS 8.0 was originally configured. To get things working, edit the file Confignames.ini, which is located in your Shared Settings folder. To open this folder, go to Start Menu, Programs, JAWS 8.0, Explore JAWS, Explore Shared Settings. Note on Vista, before pressing Enter, press the Applications key and choose Run as Administrator. Edit the file using NotePad, and add the line: firefox3.0=firefox to the end of the file. Save the file, and when you next start Firefox, the shortcuts will be available.

This change must be made in the Shared file. An override in your user specific path will not work.

How do I copy HTML to the clipboard?

JAWS 9.0 offers a feature in Internet Explorer to copy not the virtual buffer text of a page, but the real HTML content, as if you had selected the text using the mouse on the screen. Unfortunately, Freedom Scientific has not yet implemented this feature for Firefox. If you need to copy text from a web page including formatting, there is a workaround you can use that is a combination of JAWS functions and Firefox's Caret Browsing feature. The steps are as follows:

  1. Navigate to the beginning of the text you want to copy using the virtual cursor.
  2. Press JawsKey + NumPad Minus to route the JAWS cursor to the PC cursor.
  3. Left click on the text using NumPad Slash.
  4. Turn Virtual PC Cursor back on.
  5. Press JawsKey+Z to turn off Virtual Cursor support temporarily.
  6. Press F7 to turn on Caret Browsing. Note that you can turn this on permanently by going to Tools, Options, Advanced page, General tab, and under Accessibility, enable the checkbox labelled "Always use the cursor keys to navigate within pages".
  7. Using Shift+Arrows, select the text you would like to copy.
  8. press Ctrl+C to copy as usual.
  9. Press JawsKey+Z to turn Virtual Cursor back on when done.

The text is now stored on the clipboard with formatting and font information, colors etc.

How does using Firefox benefit open standards?

This is not a feature but nonetheless is a motivatation for many users: supporting Firefox by using it helps to push forward standards and accessibility for the entire web. Web tracking organizations are continually computing the percentage of overall web page views for each type of browser. The more market share Firefox gets, the more that web page developers care about supporting standards. Fortunately, it would appear that the main battle to make standards matter again has already been won. However, even more market share would really drive all companies to ensure their web browsers supported the standards equally well.

How do open standards benefit users with disabilities?

Open standards are truly important for the future of the entire internet. However, they also specifically helpful in the ongoing effort to enable software users with disabilities. Here's a great example: Web 2.0 accessibility. Working together with companies such as IBM, and standards bodies such as W3C and the Linux Foundation, Mozilla has provided technology in Firefox that can make Web 2.0 applications accessible, using a W3C standard called WAI-ARIA. Mozilla's leadership in this area not only paves the way for others to follow, but it encourages all browser vendors to follow suit.

How exactly does Firefox address accessibility for Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 applications are web pages that often utilize JavaScript or AJAX to change the web page as you use it. Firefox is the first web browser to really enable true access to these pages, by implementing support for current versions of the WAI-ARIA draft specification. When a web page or web application utilizes WAI-ARIA markup, the new accessibility features integrate seamlessly with the rest of the web page. As a result of Mozilla's WAI-ARIA work, other browser vendors are now waking up to this very important topic and starting to work on support for WAI-ARIA as well. The use of WAI-ARIA to enable accessibility will grow, as the technology gets integrated into more tools used by users and web application developers.

What is Mozilla's general accessibility philosophy?

Mozilla participates in open standards and supports open source projects that help improve the state of the art for accessibility. In general, Mozilla believes that choice and innovation on the web are for everyone. If you're interested in the Mozilla initiatives in accessibility, please read an article by Frank Hecker, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, entitled Making choice and innovation accessible to all.

These fine people helped write this article: MarcoZ, Verdi. You can help too - find out how.