What's New for TalkBack users in Firefox 25 for Android

Firefox 25 for Android, out as an official release end of October, and on the Aurora channel since August 9, will include a number of new features for visually impaired users. This continues a series of new features introduced in Firefox 24, which I blogged about earlier.

New reading order

As hinted in my blog post about Firefox 24 new features, we have now made a change to the default reading order of web elements. If you did not make any adjustments, you will get this new reading order as soon as you update to Firefox 25. Now, the current item’s label is spoken first, followed by its role and states, and any changed hierarchical information is now appended at the end. This allows for a much more efficient browsing experience in our opinion.

If you want to change it back, follow the steps given in the other blog post.

Support for landmarks

Firefox for Android now supports landmarks. It speaks the landmark that you just entered, and an option has been added to the three finger swipe up and down menu to move by landmark quick navigation. If you use a keyboard, the quick navigation key is d and Shift+d, similar as in the NVDA screen reader for Windows.

Support for data tables

Firefox for Android 25 supports data tables. If you enter a data table, column and row headers are spoken, if a cell spans multiple columns or rows, this is also announced, as well as the table dimensions and any caption and/or summary, too. When traversing a table element by element, only the necessary information that changed is read. So if you move from column 2 to column 3, but stay within the same row, the new column header is read, but the row header is not repeated. Likewise if you stay in column 3 and move to the next row, the new row header will be announced, but the column header will not, because it did not change.

Suppression of layout tables

Firefox has had a heuristic to determine if a table on a web page might be there solely for layout purposes. While not encountered very often nowadays, it still happens occasionally. Now if such a layout table is encountered, Firefox will suppress speaking of any table or table cell information as to not flood you with unnecessary information.

Speaking of additional information, if available

Sometimes, web authors provide additional information via the title attribute, an aria-describedby statement or some other means that is not the primary label or text for an element, but which, on the desktop, becomes visible when hovering the mouse over the element. This information is stored for screen readers in something we call the AccessibleDescription. Unlike the AccessibleName, which is the primary label or text, you can think of the AccessibleDescription as an addendum. Since there is no real concept of an AccessibleDescription in Android itself, we made a compromise and add this AccessibleDescription if it is there, and if it is different from the AccessibleName. Some web authors unnecessarily put the same text of a link or image in the title as they do in the enclosing text or alt text respectively. We detect that and suppress the redundant info. But if there is true additional information, it will now be appended to the name in the now default reading order. In the old reading order, it will be prepended, since it will honour the setting.

Support for switching movement granularities

It is now possible to traverse through text on a web page by character, word, or paragraph using the usual TalkBack gestures in Jelly Bean. Switch your granularity to one of these modes and swipe left and right to move, spell, or read word by word.

More braille features

In addition to the braille output introduced in Firefox 24, Firefox 25 also brings a cursor indicator, and you can move the cursor via braille routing keys. Also, if you type something into a text field on the web, braille will now update properly to show you what you typed.

Better support for web applications reacting to touch events

Mobile web applications such as Mobile Twitter will now work much better for TalkBack users. Before, it could happen that if you double-tapped nick names or tweets in your timeline, nothing would happen. Now, we correctly pass on touch events, which Mobile Twitter expects, so you can do things such as reply, retweet and other actions pertaining to the current tweet, view the user profile etc.

Better touch targets

Firefox for Android now allows for a better explore by touch experience by improving the discoverability of certain web elements such as plain text.

…and more

There have also been bits and pieces added, changed, and optimised to make reading web content more reliable, especially if there are frames and iframes involved.

I hope you’ll enjoy these new features! Happy browsing!

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