How we’re making Firefox accessible and delightful for everyone
I joined Mozilla in 2017 as an accessibility engineer and soon became the tech lead for accessibility. But for years prior, I was already deeply involved with the company. I co-created NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) in 2006, a screen reader for blind and vision impaired people like me. We wanted to make Firefox and NVDA work as well as they could together to provide everyone the best possible access to the web.
With NVDA, I helped change the world for a lot of people through a free and open-source screen reader. Now at Mozilla, I get to do the work from the browser side of things – making sure Firefox continues to work efficiently alongside assistive technology as the internet evolves constantly and rapidly.
This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I want to take a moment to share how we’re working to make Firefox not just accessible. We want to make sure the browser is also delightful, efficient and easy to use for everyone, including the more than 1 billion people around the world who live with disabilities.
Text recognition in macOS
With the rise of social media, internet users are estimated to share about 3.2 billion images daily. The new Firefox release lets macOS users copy text from images they see on the browser. That could be a data graphic, an event flier or even a meme. Just right-click on the image and select “Copy Text from Image.”
This feature has clear uses for everyone. But it’s especially helpful for people across all kinds of disability spectrums. Text recognition on Firefox is compatible with VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader for macOS. A person with low vision who can’t read small text in an image can also use the feature to extract the copy and enlarge it on a text document so that it’s easier to read.
One of the joys of inclusive design is creating products that a lot of people can use but can be especially beneficial for some. Text recognition is part of our effort to make accessibility and inclusion an even bigger part of our process across Mozilla. The Firefox desktop platform and front-end teams got us involved early on so that when the feature shipped, it’s immediately accessible and delightfully so, rather than just ticking the required boxes.
Currently, our teams are working on making text recognition available to even more users.
Making the web faster for screen readers
Using a screen reader is like looking at the screen through a straw. You’re constantly moving the straw around to see different bits of the screen, one little thing at a time.
Firefox has been great with screen readers, but it’s not as fast as it could be. That’s why in 2021, the accessibility team embarked on a major redesign of Firefox’s accessibility engine, which provides screen readers and other assistive technologies the data they need to announce web content.
With this project, which we call Cache the World, we’re increasing the speed at which documents and pages load and update, making it dramatically faster on some pages. Even tiny speed improvements can make a big difference to people when you multiply that time over the course of a day. That’s what we mean when we talk about something being delightful to use. It’s not enough for us to have features that are just accessible. It also shouldn’t take a lot of time and effort to use them.
We’re hoping to make this improvement available to everyone soon. You can follow the latest updates on the Mozilla Accessibility blog.
I’ve been totally blind since birth, so working on accessibility is very personal for me. But it’s also a space where I can have a direct impact on people’s lives.
We make changes and we fix things in the browser, and we have users saying, “Wow, that seriously improved my daily life.” That’s what drives me and why I feel so passionate about our work. Everyone has something to contribute to society. When we empower people with the right tools to achieve their maximum potential, they can improve not only their own lives, but the entire world.