What’s new in Accessibility in Firefox 8.0

The newest update to Firefox has just been released to the public, and it’s that time again where we look at the user-facing and facing assistive technologies changes in this Firefox release. If not otherwise noted, these changes apply to Thunderbird as well, since it is built on the same platform.

First and foremost, the emphasis in this release was on performance and stability. We fixed a number of lingering crashes and inconsistencies on both Windows and Linux that may have impacted some users in Firefox 7. An example of this is inconsistent behavior when printing in Linux and using assistive technologies.

We fixed a bug that would sometimes cause iframe content not to be properly loaded into the virtual buffers of screen readers under Windows.

On Linux, access keys are now included in ATKAction information.

A state change event for elements having the “mixed” state (e. g. a tri-state checkbox) is now fired also for elements that aren’t in focus.

If you decide to opt into sending data to improve Firefox, we’ll be told if you have accessibility instanciated. This is most likely the case when you have a screen reader running, but may also be instanciated by some password entry assistants (like finger print scanners) or some anti-virus software, esp on Windows.

And once again the note that, due to a technical change introduced in Firefox 4.0, you have to make sure to load your screen reader before Firefox or Thunderbird, or virtual buffers may not work correctly. Also if you are one of those people running multiple screen readers, make sure to shut down Firefox and/or Thunderbird before shutting down one screen reader, and loading the other screen reader before restarting Firefox and/or Thunderbird. This is true for Firefox 4 onwards and also includes Firefox and Thunderbird 8.

Happy browsing!


  1. I am seriously pleased with the add-ons manager. I can finally access that pop-up menu which allows me to make global changes. However, I have one question pertaining to it. If I make sure updates are automatically applied and reset them to update automatically what is the difference between Default and On? Everything is now Default.

  2. I used to manually switch everything to On but now I assume things will automatically update even if it is from the developer’s site [e.g. NoScript.net/getit#devel].

  3. Don’t quote me on this, Jonathan, but I believe that each addon is able to specify what “default” should mean. So you can have some addons that default to “on” and some default to “off”, while you as the user can force each addon to “on” or “off”.

  4. Makes sense. In version 7 and earlier the option to globally reset to Default was not offered. I am making the assumption if the other new item to automatically update everything is checked that is the equivalent of forcing every extension to On even though they are still on Default. I hope that is not too confusing.

  5. @ Marco. There is one small issue I would like to see fixed in a minor update. Since the crash submit option was implemented in Tools | Options | Advanced| General the check box unchecks itself every time I check and close the dialogue. I submitted a ‘sad’ report via the feedback option in the Help menu but nobody did anything about it. The performance submit option remains checked but the other does not even when I repeat my actions.

  6. That seems to be working for me, Jonathan. (I’m using Nightly builds, so it might have been fixed already?)

  7. Is it? I would not risk my one and only machine running extremely unstable and unpolished code but if it is then I guess it will be in the next stable release.

  8. Two questions:

    1: will ever the version for Mac be accessible?
    2: Does Firefox 8 work with Jaws 7.10?

  9. Gianluca: 1. We’re working on it, but no exact timeline yet. 2. If 7.0.1 works for you with JAWS 7.10, 8 will most likely do so as well. But no guarantees, we don’t test with versionf of JAWS this old any more.

  10. @ Marco. You might want to put some spam protection on your site to prevent comments like the most recent one. I do not know if reCAPTCHA is feasible for a WordPress installation though.

  11. Jonathan, the last comment is not spam, it’s a trackback from a podcast site. It got sent to me for moderation before I approved it.

  12. My apologies. What is a trackback? I guess since I am not familiar with that it makes no sense to me. I hear that on the Mozilla blog after every post and I still have no idea what that is. I am old school so it must be something relatively new.

  13. Jonathan, a trackback is a mechanism that let’s a blog know that it has been linked to from another blog. Basically they, in the blog post to their podcast episode, linked to this particular article, and my blog got pinged about this. A comment is then created that has a link to the original web site that linked here, and an excerpt of the post is provided, too, so the comment doesn’t come fully out of context.

  14. @ Marco. I noticed since I have updated to version 8.0 Firefox crashes almost every time I click a link that opens a new window. This is extremely irritating and I just hope people are looking at my crash submissions. It did not happen when I used 7.0.

  15. Thank you for this goog article. I’m handicapped and interested in all things about accessibility. I use the firefox browser for SEO and analyse website. After reading this article I ,look for accessibility in Firefox.


    Markus Lemcke

  16. @ Marco. I am testing the latest Auraura build and notice in the Tools | Advanced | General section the crash reports box becomes unchecked every time I check it and close the dialogue. This is not an accessibility issue I do not think but I do not know where to report it. It seems they do not pay attention to the feedback when marked ‘sad’ so I do not know what to do. But this has been going on since those options were implemented: that and performance data which correctly remains checked.

  17. @Jonathan: I can’t reproduce it here. I tried with Firefox 8.0 and NVDA 2010.2 on Win XP SP3. May be a problem on other Windows systems, but I’d rather assume a specific one on your system. Perhaps an older screen reader somehow interferes with the controls or doesn’t report the correct state? Can you try it out on another machine or with a different screen reader?

  18. @ Lauscher. I am running JAWS 13.0.… whatever the latest version is. I just tested with the latest stable version of NVDA released on 24 November and the same exact thing happens. I am using a Dell Latitude E6400 running Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit.

  19. It also seems you are using an old version of NVDA [the current is 2011.3] and an older operating system too. I have no other systems on which to test but Firefox 8.0.1 and the latest Aurora build that was released Friday 09 December 2011 still hones the same results.

What are your thoughts?