First round of accessibility support for Android in mobile Firefox

Lots of exciting stuff happening at Mozilla these days! The accessibility team is ramping up its efforts on multiple fronts.

I am pleased to announce that mobile Firefox, code-named Fennec, nightly builds now have a first implementation of accessibility for Android built-in. All you need to do is turn on Talkback, or any accessibility for that matter, and it will start working with a directional controller, or emulation thereof.

Here are the steps to try this out on an Android phone!

Set up accessibility and TalkBack

If you already have a working TalkBack on your Android device, you can safely skip this step, or skim it in case you may find some hints that are useful. If you’ve never used TalkBack or any of the Android accessibility features, you should follow these instructions to make sure Fennec will talk to you in the end.

  1. First, make sure you have an Android device that meets the system requirements for Firefox mobile.
  2. If you have a good Android version and device, log onto the Android market and get the following components installed:

    Note that if you use Android 4.0, KickBack and SoundBack are integrated into TalkBack, so you only need to install that to get the functionality of all three.

  3. Activate accessibility through the following steps:
    1. Go to Settings
    2. Select Accessibility
    3. Enable Accessibility checkbox
    4. Enable TalkBack, KickBack, SoundBack checkboxes

    Note that, if you’re blind and install this for the very first time, you will need sighted assistance to do this.

  4. The result should be that TalkBack, SoundBack and KickBack give you spoken, sound, and haptic feedback when navigating with the directional controller.
  5. If you also installed the Eyes-Free keyboard, refer to its documentation on how to use it.

Downloading and installing Fennec

  1. Allow installations from outside the Android market by enabling the option in Settings, Applications.
  2. Download the Nightly build of Fennec (Firefox mobile) from the Nightly builds download page.
  3. Install Fennec.


When you launch Fennec, you are thrown to the home page where you can go to various Mozilla resources. use your directional controller in the left and right directions to navigate the content. Press up to transition to the surrounding user interface, where the Awesome bar you’ve come to know from the desktop version, and other stuff lives. Press down from the awesome bar to go back to the content.

While in the content area, you will hear semantic information such as links, headings, graphics, form fields etc., list item information and such. We also announce information about required and invalid form fields, if a text field is multi-line, in which case it is called a “text area”, etc.

The menu opens via the menu button on most Android devices. It talks, and is also navigable via the directional controller.

Press down on the button to activate the item that was last spoken. This is true for content and menu/UI.

Things that do not work

You cannot explore the web content by touch yet. If you have Ice Cream Sandwich, Explore By Touch will only work in the surrounding browser UI. You can use the D-Pad emulation to simulate a directional controller that will still allow you to navigate the web content that way.

There is currently only the navigational controller to use. So if your device has a physical keyboard, you cannot currently use things like pressing h to navigate to headings, for example.

You cannot yet navigate text boxes. The cursor will move the x amount of characters typed inside a textbox, but you will not get any speech feedback yet.

Stay up to date

Nightly is updated on a daily basis. So is our accessibility module. To keep up to date:

  1. Open the menus.
  2. Select the “More” item.
  3. Open the Settings menu item.
  4. Choose “About Nightly”.
  5. Navigate to the “Check for update” link and activate it.
  6. If there is one, an alert will be added to the system alerts. TalkBack will say “Download and install”.
  7. Swipe down on the touch screen to open the alerts.
  8. Navigate to the nightly update alert and press your navigational button.
  9. Allow it to install and restart your browser when prompted.

A word of caution

This is early stage development software, and you will most likely find stuff that doesn’t work yet or is not navigable currently. Do not hesitate to tell us about it!

If you decide to set up Sync so you get your bookmarks and history, as well as your passwords from the desktop profile, be aware that data cautioning warnings apply as much as they do to any pre-release software!

Note also that, because this is early development stage, we may change thingsaround depending on both own usability experience as well as feedback from the community.

Providing feedback

Naturally, we would like to hear from you! We are super excited about this new feature, and we know that there are a lot of things that do not yet work as expected. If you find any, please let us know! The easiest way is to comment on this blog, or if you are familiar with our bug tracking system, feel free to file a bug.

As always, we really look forward to your feedback!


May 10, 2012
Updated the navigational instructions. The up and down keys now navigate between the content and the surrounding UI such as the awesome bar. The left and right keys are now used to traverse the content. Also noted that navigating text boxes is currently not possible yet.
June 1, 2012
Updated information about Explore By Touch support and how the behavior currently is in text fields.
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