Firefox 7 is released, new features in accessibility

Firefox Update 7 has just hit the net, and while it’s still hot, I wanted to share a few items specific to accessibility that are included.

First and foremost, we participated in the improvements to memory usage and speed. More accessibility classes participate in our garbage collection mechanism, reducing the memory consumption greatly. Long sessions with a screen reader running should no longer result in huge amounts of memory being consumed. This is especially evident if you run with multiple tabs and open lots of pages.

A bug was fixed that caused large additions to xul:tree elements to hang for long times when accessibility was turned on. This could be observed in add-ons such as Adblock Plus on occasion.

If role="presentation" has been specified on an element and this element is made focusable, for example by setting tabindex="0" on it, the role of presentation is now ignored, and an accessible is created for the element nevertheless. This is to avoid situations where one would suddenly land on a focused item for which there is no accessible. This was the cause for some screen reader confusion.

On HTML table elements, the way the summary attribute and caption elements were handled has been switched around. Now, if the caption element is present, it becomes the primary source (ARIA not withstanding) for the name of the table. summary is now being converted into the accessible description, which is used to communicate additional information to users. Only if the caption element is omitted, summary will still become the accessible name’s source. Until Firefox 6, summary would always become the accessible name’s primary source. This brings Firefox in line with other browsers. Also, if assistive technologies query for the relation between the caption and table elements, the relation is now LABELLED_BY instead of DESCRIBED_BY.

In addition, some crash bugs were fixed that were found in earlier updates of Firefox, so this version is not only less memory-hungry and faster, but more stable, too. Happy browsing!

Firefox 4 is here!

Firefox 4 has finally hit the release channels and is available for download immediately!

This is a major update that brings a lot of new features and enhancements as well as loads of stability and performance fixes to your browsing experience. And of course it is accessible!

Some recent posts on the subject by me:

  1. New in Accessibility in Firefox 4
  2. New support for HTML5 elements and attributes, with a lively discussion and some revamping going on for a very near future update esp to the landmark piece

If you’re a user of NVDA, Orca, JAWS, Window-Eyes, Dolphin SuperNova, Serotek System Access or Baum Cobra, you’ll be good to go with current versions of the products! Please make sure to update to the latest revision for your screen reader that you can access before using Firefox 4, as it was reported to us that some early revisions of JAWS 11, for example, cause problems invoking the virtual buffer.

We expect all screen magnifiers that worked in Firefox 3.6 to work in 4, too. Same goes for speech recognition and other assistive technology programs on Windows and the GNOME Desktop on Linux.

Firefox 3.0 coming Tuesday June 17!

In case you haven’t read it yet: Firefox 3.0 comes Tuesday, June 17. Watch out for an announcement here, and if you’re interested in helping to set a word record, go and pledge here!

Even though I’ve only been with the Mozilla QA team since December 2007, and helped out a s a community member a few months before that, I feel just as excited about this release as those who have been in Firefox development since long before work on Firefox 3 started. This is a great release, with a whole new platform being supported accessibility-wise, a lot of progress having been made on the already supported platform, and a lot of great new features for everyone that make this release a must-have!