New Accessibility features in Firefox 3

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The following sections describe new features in version 3.0 of the Firefox web browser and the Gecko 1.9 platform.

Support of IAccessible2 on Windows

The Gecko 1.9 platform now supports IAccessible2. IAccessible2 is an extension to Microsoft's Active Accessibility, allowing for more components and attributes to be exposed to assistive technologies. Once screen readers and other assistive technologies start using IAccessible2, the following will be made possible:

  • Allows rich text editing support to be developed in screen readers. All content will be available along with font, point size, color and attribute information such as "bold", "underline", "misspelling" etc. Examples of this can be seen in NVDA with IBM Lotus Symphony.
  • Allows ARIA region accessibility once screen readers support them. Live Regions are areas of web applications that can announce themselves to assistive technologies in one of several "polite" ways, from very polite and restrictive to very intrusive. This allows for an almost desktop-like usage of web applications. An example can be seen when using Google Reader with the Fire Vox screen reading extension for Firefox.
  • Allows Windows screen readers that don't hook into display drivers to have full accessibility. This means that Firefox can now also be fully utilized by screen readers that run from an USB thumb drive or a CD-ROM and are not intertwined with the operating system any further.
  • Allows alternative input software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking to implement all of their baseline features such as "select what you say".

Support of ATK/AT-SPI on Linux

The Gecko 1.9 platform now supports the Gnome Accessibility Toolkit/Assistive Technology Service Provider Interface (AT-SPI). This enables the next versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird and SeaMonkey that build on Gecko 1.9 to be accessible on the Gnome Desktop under Linux. Screen readers such as Orca, or alternative input software like Jambu can now use Firefox to give access to even more users. But any application such as the Songbird media player will gain full accessibility on Linux once the project is moved to the Mozilla/Gecko 1.9 platform. If developers adhere to the XUL accessibility guidelines, accessibility will be available instantaneously.

Improved support of the ARIA recommendation

ARIA, Accessible Rich Internet Application, is moving forward to becoming a W3C standard. It is not at recommendation candidate level yet, but getting there. With ARIA, web application authors can develop full rich, visually appealing internet applications, and still be accessible with only a minimum of extra markup. The Dojo Toolkit 1.0 is a rich set of JavaScript widgets and supports ARIA and thus is fully accessible with Firefox 3 and those screen readers supporting it.

Full Zoom with images

The Page Zoom feature of Firefox has been enhanced to also zoom images. For more information, see Font size and zoom - increase the size of web pages.

"Report a broken website" tool now has an Accessibility option

The "Report a broken website" tool that can be found on the Help menu has been enhanced with the ability to report a website that is not accessible. A "site that is not accessible" is a site that, for example, misses alternative text for images, does not offer proper zooming behavior etc. Reporting these sites through the "Report a broken website" tool will help authors of such pages to evaluate how many users in need of accessibility visit their sites and are confronted with disadvantages resulting from their inaccessibility. This may provide such authors with needed data to relaunch their site in an accessible fashion.

Tons of bug fixes

And of course, tons and tons of bug fixes went into Firefox 3 that make the browsing experience a much better one with Firefox 3 than it has ever been in 2. Issues like inconsistent or missing content on several pages, problems with pages that contain frame sets etc. have been resolved.

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