When Firefox Quantum was first released in November of 2017, it temporarily regressed users of the JAWS screen reader. I’m happy to report that both Firefox and JAWS once again deliver a first class browsing experience together!
When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, starting with version 57, in November of 2017, it introduced a number of technical changes that improve the browsing experience for our users. Tabs run in separate processes now, so that if one tab crashes, it does not bring the whole browser down with it. This is also better for security on multiple levels. Web sites load faster due to a much improved and modernized rendering engine. And a lot of other new features which you’ve probably read all about by now.
However, due to these massive technical changes under the hood, we unfortunately temporarily regressed screen reader users. And while we quickly regained much of the lost performance with Firefox 58 for NVDA users, for JAWS these improvements helped only slightly.
A very fruitful collaboration
Therefore, a collaboration was started to bring both JAWS and Firefox back to a state together where the experience can be considered a first-class browsing experience. Over the past few months, accessibility engineers from Mozilla and VFO have identified and worked on performance and other usability issues together to improve both products to make that happen. This involved mutual understanding of what answers were required by JAWS from Firefox when it asked certain questions, particularly those that had not been dealt with in the work for Firefox 58 and 59. There were also some more architectural changes required on the Firefox side to handle very Windows-specific mechanisms. And while we were at it, we found and fixed some big memory leaks that had been bothering us since the release of Firefox 57, and which NVDA users will also have noticed improving in Firefox 59.
We’re happy to report that the combination of Firefox 60, released on May 9, 2018, and JAWS 2018, starting with the April 2018 update, are the result of this collaboration. With the combination of these versions or later, users of the JAWS screen reading software can again use the latest and greatest version of Firefox and be confident that they can browse the web in a speedy manner.
What does this mean for you as a JAWS user?
First, if you’re on JAWS 2018, make sure to get the latest update from the Check for updates item in the JAWS Help menu. The version you should be using with Firefox 60 is at least 2018.1804.26. If it says anything older, like 2018.1803.xx or less, please update.
Second, go ahead and download Firefox 60 (opens in new tab) from the Mozilla download pages. Please use the regular version, not the ESR, if you’re not required to do so by your employer. The regular version will get more frequent updates than ESRs, and you’ll always get the latest features and enhancements when you update the browser to a new version every few weeks.
Third, uninstall the version 52 ESR from Programs And Features.
Fourth, install the downloaded version 60 of Firefox. Your profile and settings should be retained, and you should still have all your bookmarks and history present. To be safe, you can also use Firefox Sync to save your bookmarks, history, login information, and settings to a secure Mozilla cloud so even if something does go wrong with your profile at some point, you can restore from sync and be back to your usual browser in minutes.
I do not have JAWS 2018 yet, what should I do?
Unfortunately, due to the big technnical changes, it was not possible to retain compatibility with versions of JAWS older than 2018. More information can also be found in this knowledge base article.
As with all software, enhancements and improvements are continuously being added. In the case of Firefox 60 and JAWS, a number of issues have already been identified, in part thanks to community members who tested the JAWS April 2018 update with Firefox 60 when it was in beta. The below is a list of fixes provided to us by Freedom Scientific that can be expected in an upcoming update to JAWS 2018, slatted for release later in May, and which we’re publishing with Freedom Scientific’s permission.
- Improved JAWS performance and stability with Firefox 60 and later
- Addressed issue when using ALT+DOWN ARROW and ALT+UP ARROW to expand or collapse combo boxes
- Resolved reading math content
- Now properly placing focus on the address bar when opening a new tab with CTRL + T
- Performance improvements when using Say All (INSERT+DOWN ARROW)
- Resolved reading the page address with the JAWS command INSERT+A
- JAWS now properly accesses text displayed when toggling buttons that include the aria-hidden attribute
- JAWS focus moving to the correct location on web pages that contain an anchor in the page address
If you are currently seeing one of these issues, you can be sure that these will go away once the May 2018 update of JAWS is released.
As always, if you encounter problems not mentioned above, feel free to report them to either Freedom Scientific or Mozilla. We’ll check the reports out and will make sure they get addressed.