The future of mobile accessibility, a hopeful lookout

In case you haven’t read it yet: Nokia acquires Trolltech. DougT also posted a follow-up article on the future, or lack thereof, of Symbian S60/S40, which you can find here.

For accessibility, this currently provokes mixed feelings. On the one side, the S60 platform has been a very successful accessibility story, with Talks and Mobile Speak being the most prominent representatives of access to this platform. Blind and low-vision users have come to depend on accessibility to their mobile phone’s contacts, short messages, MP3 capabilities or even navigational aids. To a much lesser extent, this is also true for Windows Mobile-based smartphones, but like in the world of general customers, this has taken off much less than Symbian has.

On the other hand, this move to an open-source embedded solution for future generations of Nokia phones may become an even greater accessibility success story. With the Gnome Accessibility proceedings on a very good way to wide-spread adoption, KDE needs to follow, or they’ll fall by the wayside with government organizations sooner or later. While KDE’s accessibility efforts are, compared to Gnome, still in a rather limited state of development, QT has made some significant progress in that it has become accessible on Windows recently by using Microsoft’s Active Accessibility.

It is my hope that not only can Gnome and KDE agree on sharing a unified interface for AT vendors, as expressed in this early posting on AT-SPI, but that IAccessible2 and Mac Universal access will also join forces in an effort to provide compelling access to a wide range of technologies. With this in place, this could also be carried over to a wide range of embedded solutions, providing a solid accessibility architecture on which screen readers and other assistive technologies can be built. In addition, this would make it a lot easier for software developers to ensure the accessibility of their applications.

A few important changes to the accessibility of the Location Bar

As those of you working with Nightly builds may have already noticed, there have been a few important bug fixes made for the Location bar and a few other Places-related controls. Here’s a summary of them:

  • The Location bar pop up no longer announces itself to screen readers as being a menu. As a result, those screen readers who had difficulties dealing with the Location bar in the past few months will now do a better job of tracking selected items.
  • Speaking of items: In the AutoComplete popup, Download Manager and other spots throughout the browser where RichListboxes are being used, items within these now announce themselves as list items rather than listboxes. Screen readers should now properly read these without repeating “listbox” or similar announcements for each selection.
  • The Add Bookmarks dialog now announces itself as a panel/grouping rather than a menu. Same applies as stated above: Screen readers should now be able to read this dialog much better.
  • Larry is now keyboard accessible. Larry is a button in the vicinity of the Location bar that provides useful immediate information about a site’s status. On secure sites such as, the button label itself already states the signer of the page. Pressing it using SPACE gives a bit more immediately useful information. This saves one from going to Tools, Page Info… and navigating to the Security tab. The Larry button can be found by going to the Location bar with CTRL+L and pressing SHIFT+TAB.
  • Alerts should now no longer be double-spoken or even triple-spoken by screen readers.

Please give these areas a whirl, and report problems either to this blog post or to bug 407359. Although we thoroughly tested it, there may still be scenarios we overlooked. For example, F6 currently focuses the Larry button instead of the Location bar, and we’re considering to change that bit of behaviour. CTRL+L or ALT+D will still get you to the Location bar directly.

Happy browsing!

Firefox integration into Linux also sounds native to the platform

Michael Ventnor, a Mozilla intern working on the Linux integration of Firefox 3, just posted a great summary of the work that has been done for Firefox 3. For those of you who can see, he also has a bunch of screen shots that show Firefox nicely integrating into the Gnome Desktop on Ubuntu.

I’d like to add a few items that a blind user who uses Firefox 3 with Orca will notice.

Aside from the obvious, the web browsing itself, great attention has been paid to make dialogs such as the Preferences dialog behave like dialogs in other Gnome apps: The Cancel button comes before the OK button while tabbing through the dialog. The dialog itself is found under the Edit menu, as is usual for other Gnome apps, and it’s called “Preferences”, not “Options” like on Windows.

The Location Bar is an AutoComplete, a widget type not found on Windows, but used natively on Linux.

The Places Organizer tree tables are native tree tables, displaying hierarchical information in multi-column view.

As you would expect, the Open File, or any kind of Save As dialogs are the native Gnome dialogs, so if you’re used to using GEdit, OpenOffice etc., you’ll feel right at home, Firefox is not requiring you to learn something new here.

One inconsistency I found–and I’ll have to find out whether a fix for this is planned– is the fact that above mentioned Tree Tables cannot be navigated like, for example, in Nautilus: In Nautilus, you expand a collapsed item using the + key, and collapse it using the key. Pressing Right Arrow moves you one column to the right, Left Arrow moves you one column to the left. This does not yet work in Firefox (or Thunderbird, for that matter). There, Right Arrow expands, Left Arrow collapses an expandable node, and moving between columns isn’t possible at all currently. So this is typical Windows-style still, but within that, consistent across platforms.

All in all, I expect the browsing experience with Firefox 3 on Linux to be a great one. The Orca team is putting hard work into making Orca work well with Firefox, and the past month alone has brought an emense boost in speed, as discussed here.