For the better part of two decades, Mozilla has been building browsers that are highly accessible for users with disabilities. While we’ve worked to ensure that people with a wide range of disabilities can participate on the web, much of our engineering effort has been focused on improvements for screen readers, an assistive technology that allows blind users to engage with computers through synthesized speech or a braille display.
On Windows, Firefox supports the two most popular screen readers, NVDA and JAWS. On Linux, Firefox works with the Orca screen reader. On Android, Firefox users have their pick of Google’s Talkback or Samsung’s Voice Assistant. And on iOS, Firefox users can work with the built-in VoiceOver screen reader.
That brings us to macOS. About 15 years ago, Apple introduced a built-in screen reader to macOS called VoiceOver. There were a couple of efforts to get Firefox working with VoiceOver but it never reached a usable state. Mac was the one major Firefox platform that simply wasn’t accessible to blind users.
At the beginning of 2020, we set out to fix that. Three members of the accessibility engineering team, Morgan, Eitan, and Marco, put together a one year plan to deliver solid VoiceOver screen reader support on macOS. In February, the team started work in earnest. The first steps were to build tools for reverse engineering the under-documented macOS and VoiceOver APIs. Over the next ten versions of Firefox, the team would implement VO features, fix bugs, and perform all kinds of testing to verify that features and fixes were working as expected and to document the remaining gaps.
Now here we are at Firefox 85 Beta and we’re almost done. Firefox supports all the most common VoiceOver features and with plenty of performance. Users should be able to navigate through most web content and all of the browser’s primary interface without problems. But we’re not quite done yet. The web is huge and the browser interface is wide and deep so we need more people putting Firefox and VoiceOver to the test and letting us know what’s working and not working before we can call it done.
This is where you come in. If you’re a part time or full time screen reader user on macOS, we’d love for you to update to Firefox 85 Beta and give it a spin with VoiceOver. We expect you’ll find it pretty solid but there are a few known issues, like VoiceOver search not working, and Firefox sub-menus and tree views expanded/collapsed state not being announced. And there are no doubt use cases we haven’t considered or tested so you may find additional bugs or feature gaps and we’re counting on you to tell us all about those so we can complete this work as soon as possible. Please report any bugs you find to Bugzilla and if you’d like to chat about what’s working and not working for you, you can find us on Matrix. We look forward to hearing from you.
What’s next? We’re going to watch for your feedback and address any significant issues that you surface. With your help, in a release or two we’ll be able to call VoiceOver support complete and we can move on to other features and fixes from our roadmap.