New accessibility features in Firefox 3.5

Firefox 3.5 is fast approaching, and it’s time to list all the user-visible changes to the accessibility support in this new version!

Support for text attributes, formatting and spell checking

Firefox 3.5 exposes text attributes such as bold, underlined, and color information through the AT-SPI and IAccessible2 attributes properties of their respective AccessibleText interfaces. Information about formatting such as left aligned, centered etc., is also provided. In addition, in rich editing and other text entry environments where the spell checker is enabled, when a word is misspelled, this information is also provided so screen readers can pick up and notify the user. Since my original blog post on this subject, Orca 2.28, NVDA 0.6p3 and JAWS 10 have added support for this feature, allowing a seamless proof reading of entered text in both Firefox 3.5 and the upcoming Thunderbird 3 release. This works also when writing a message in GMail or other rich editing environments, not just textboxes or textareas.

Better compliance with WAI-ARIA 1.0

We’ve made sure that the WAI-ARIA 1.0 spec is adhered to to the most extent possible, removing attributes that are no longer in the spec, and adding/changing those that were agreed upon in the progression towards finalizing ARIA 1.0, which is currently in a late review stage. One of the most significant attributes added is aria-label, which allows any text to be associated with a widget that doesn’t appear anywhere else within the web app. For extension devs: This also works in XUL, not just HTML. One project that makes heavy use of this is Firebug 1.4 in the accessibility UI enhancements that Hans from the Paciello Group has put in. This is also the reason why Firebug 1.4 works better in Firefox 3.5 than 3.0, what accessibility is concerned, since Firefox 3.0 doesn’t support this new attribute.

Also, aria-expanded can be used on all elements now, allowing better exposure of states for buttons that drop down a list of items, for example.

Support for the exposure of embedded HTML 5 audio and video controls

As recently announced, we’re also supporting the exposure of the embedded controls of the HTML 5 audio and video elements to assistive technologies.

Better event firing in dynamic web applications

We fixed a significant issue with firing proper events when nodes get hidden or made visible through JavaScript or Ajax calls. This should allow a much better experience with accurate visibility of nodes within virtual buffers of various screen readers.

And a ton of bug fixes for stability

Of course, each cycle also goes with a ton of bug fixes that improve stability and accuracy. These are mostly under the hood and often deal with edge cases, but these are no less important to our user base.

When Firefox comes out, I encourage everyone to upgrade as soon as possible, since it will provide an even more rich experience when browsing the web than Firefox 3.0 already did. Probably the most important extension for blind users, WebVisum, already works with this release, so you won’t lose anything on that front! Also, other extension devs are working hard to make their projects work with Firefox 3.5.

Enjoy!

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