Firefox is designed to meet the needs of the broadest population possible. Sometimes that is not enough. In the case of blind and visually impaired users, a conventional graphical interface with a touch screen is not usable. Assistive technologies such as screen readers exist to bridge that gap. They provide speech and audible feedback that represents the visual state of the application. They may also provide alternative interaction modes that make more sense for blind users. For example, a user could explore the visible items on a screen by moving their finger across the screen and have the screen reader tell them what is under their finger.
Firefox for Android supports the Android TalkBack feature which allows visual impaired users to use synthesized speech output to browse the web. See How to use TalkBack support article for more info.
We believe that equal access requires Firefox for Android to be ready for any type of user once it is installed, with no extra setup steps or addons. When Firefox for Android launches for the first time on a blind user’s device, it should start talking and be responsive to the user’s input.
Firefox for Android is the first Android Web browser that integrates tightly with Android’s native accessibility framework and supports TalkBack, Android’s screen reader. This provides a consistent feel with the rest of the device, and the user’s specific screen reader configuration.
Our Android accessibility solution leverages the same powerful accessibility engine we use on the desktop. This means that it is fast, and leads the industry in support of standards such as WAI-ARIA and HTML5 .
Web pages can be very big, complex, and contain a lot of content. When a screen reader user visits a large page it can be tiring and time consuming to step through every item on the page until they find what they are looking for. That is why we introduced Quick Navigation Keys. With the help of a physical keyboard or the Eyes-Free Keyboard, a user can press “k” repeatedly to step through all the hyperlinks on the page. Similar keys are available for headings, list items, various form fields, and more.
This type of feature is familiar to desktop screen reader users. But the Android screen reader does not have this kind of functionality, so we decided to implement ourselves.
Accessibility on Jelly Bean is really easy to set up and play with. Go to System settings->Accessibility->TalkBack and enable it. Once TalkBack is enabled move your finger across the screen, you will hear audio feedback and speech telling you what your finger is resting on. Close your eyes and try to find different apps on the home screen. Are you getting the feel for it? If you want to sequentially step through items swipe your finger left or right quickly across the screen. If you want to activate an item (say, Firefox Beta?) double tap.
You already know everything you need to know about using Firefox with TalkBack. Launch it, explore the interface with your finger, swipe left and right, and double tab to activate items. This is a good opportunity to try out websites and applications you created and test to see how accessible they are. Could you manage with your eyes closed?
Here is a short video of Firefox Beta on a Nexus 7 working with TalkBack:
What we are most proud about in our accessibility story on Android is the invisibility of our solution. It integrates well, and it gets out of the way to allow blind users to enjoy the easy and fast mobile browsing experience that Firefox for Android provides.