For a while now, Firefox has had the ability to collect anonymous usage data. Internally, we call this telemetry.

Recently, we also started to incorporate statistics about the way the accessibility features of Firefox are being used.

Our newest addition to this feature is the collection of data about which screen reader is being used with Firefox on Windows. For Linux, there is only one screen reader that’s widely used really, so we primarily concentrated on Windows, since there are a variety of screen readers and screen magnifiers out there that Firefox is being used with.

So, to get a better idea about what our user base is using Firefox with, we’d like to call out for assistance in gathering this data! Let me stress once more that this is purely voluntary, but that this will help us improve our over-all support even more focused once we know better what assistive technologies are the most used. Moreover, this is anonymous data, so there is no way we can link a particular screen reader to a particular user. Which assistive technology you use is and stays your private matter. You’ll only be contributing to an over-all picture of usage statistics.

So how do you turn this on? In Firefox:

  1. go to Tools/Options.
  2. With the arrow keys, navigate to the list item called “Advanced”.
  3. Tab once to set focus to the tab page selection.
  4. Select the “General” tab using the left and right arrow keys.
  5. Tab through the dialog until you reach a check box called “Send performance data”. Note, instead, you can also press Shift+Tab a couple of times to get there faster, since this is the very last checkbox before the “OK” button.
  6. Press Space to check it if it is unchecked.
  7. Tab once to get to the “OK” button and press Space to close the dialog and save your changes.

Firefox will now send anonymous usage data to us and inform us about any relevant performance like memory usage, screen reader in use (if any), or whether accessibility is instanciated at all.

Note that part of this feature is currently only in the Nightly development builds of Firefox. If you use a regular release like Firefox 9.0.1, this checkbox will not have any effect for screen reader usage data yet. But for other data such as the memory consumption, you can still enable it. Once you get upgraded to Firefox 12 in 3-4 months, you’ll start sending us data about your screen reader usage automatically.

If you’re on the Aurora channel, you’ll get this feature with the next big uplift that will happen early February.

To all who enable this feature, thank you! Your helping us improve Firefox even more is appreciated!

And to those of you who do not wish to send us your anonymous information, that’s perfectly fine, too! No grudges will be held against you. 🙂

Did I ever mention that I love the community, and I love operating systems with truly inclusive design?! Well, now you know! Here’s a little story that took place in the last half hour:

I am looking for an RSS reader for my Mac. Because I’m blind, I have to use VoiceOver to access the screen contents. VoiceOver is a screen reader for the blind. If you have a Mac, press Cmd+F5 and listen to what happens! (That same keystroke turns ift off, BTW.)

If you run Linux and the GNOME desktop, you have the screen reader Orca built-in. If you run Windows, you can get a free and non-intrusive screen reader called NVDA. These can be used to test applications for accessibility. And oh yes, websites, of course, too, if you use a compatible browser for the platform.

Anyway since this was a question specifically directed at Mac OS X users, I got several replies recommending Reeder. I then asked those who had recommended it, if Reeder is compatible with VoiceOver. One of them did a quick test and found out that it isn’t. The feed table doesn’t read, for example, and possibly other stuff that doesn’t work as well.

I just saved €7.99 because I was able to ask the community for help in testing whether an app is compatible with VoiceOver. And unfortunately for the app developer, they just lost a sale because of the fact that their app is not compatible with assistive technologies.

And here’s the message for you app developers out there, web or native: Not being accessible costs you sales! Because not only will people who have to deal with the inaccessibility of applications or web apps not buy your stuff, they will also tell their friends and co-workers about it. And news travels fast around the blindness or other disability-related communities

Likewise, if you make an effort and become accessible, and tell someone about it, good news travels through the relevant communities equally fast! Because we’re not just a bunch of naggers, we are also equally cheerful if we find out, or are told, that there’s more stuff that we can use to broaden our horizons and lower barriers in the world we live in. And this, in turn, will increase sales and is good for business reputation!

There are tons of resources out there on the web, in developer documentation for your platform of choice, how to make your applications more accessible. For web developers, I wrote an article on how to test your web sites for accessibility a good while ago.

And if you’re in doubt, find beta testers, find community members to help out with testing and feedback! I can also be contacted of course, although I cannot provide testing for each platform, but I might also be able to give some general advice.

Happy accessifying!

This is a quick tip to show how to use the new sub menus in the admin area of WordPress 3.3 with a screen reader. For this, I’m using NVDA 2011.3RC, and Firefox 9.

The new sub menus are a way to more quickly access items in the sub menus of “Dashboard”, “Posts” etc. without having to reload the page with the menus opened. Instead, the menus are opened and closed dynamically by either hovering the mouse over the item that is, by NVDA, announced as “sub menu link”, or by executing a press of the enter key on such an item.

The problem arises from the fact that screen readers on Windows capture the enter key and many others and execute functions based on their functionality inside the virtual documents/browse mode documents. For example pressing enter on a link usually clicks the link.

In this case, a click on a link is not what we want, since that would indeed reload the page. The menu would still be opened, but we’d lose all advantages of the more dynamic, time-saving approach that is made possible in 3.3.

Instead, what we do is the following:

  1. Position NVDA’s virtual cursor on the desired sub menu item.
  2. Press NVDA-key+F2 to invoke the function to pass the next key press straight through to the application.
  3. Press enter.
  4. Navigate down with the virtual cursor to find a newly expanded sub menu with links we can click.

Your preferred screen reader offers the same functionality, no doubt. Be aware, however, that some screen readers do not set focus to focusable items under the virtual cursor automatically, so an additional key press before step 2 may be needed to route the system focus or PC cursor to the item the virtual PC cursor is pointing to.

This way, we can easily access the dynamic menus. It requires an extra keystroke, yes, but this is still quicker than having to wait for a page load and looking for the new items starting from the top of the virtual document.

Happy blogging!