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Taking Firefox Accessibilty to the Next Level


Hi. I'm Asa Dotzler, product manager for Firefox Accessibility and I'm thrilled to be starting this discussion with you all.

This year Firefox celebrates its 18th birthday. For the first 10 years or so, Firefox was in a class all its own when it came to usability for users with disabilities. Today, however, there are more browsers to choose from and those browsers are increasingly accessible.

It's great that users with disabilities have a choice of several accessible web browsers, but the way I see it, accessibility is never actually "done" and there's still a lot more browsers could do to better support users with disabilities. So, what innovations could Firefox provide that would improve the accessibility of web browsing and empower users with disabilities in a way that no browser currently does?"


Making moves

I've posted about this in detail in other threads and issues.  In short, I'm still using Firefox 90 with the old theme because Proton took a giant step backwards in terms of accessibility, especially for the visually impaired.

Pre-proton things that we need to get back:

We don't need a full-on high contrast theme (the OS already provides that,) but the default theme should have more contrast by default to account for more varied environmental conditions.

Grab a laptop and turn down the screen brightness (as many do to save battery.) Use it outside in the sun. Test it in a brightly lit room. Try it with a light or window reflecting on the screen. Turn on night mode (Night Shift on Mac, Night Light on Windows); note, this is not dark mode with inverted colors, it's the color filter that reduces blue light to help late-night sleep patterns. Try a non-native screen resolution where things are a bit blurry. All of these conditions make the Proton theme extremely hard to deal with, even for people with good vision.  It's even harder for people with visual impairments.

Once you have those essentials down, here are some new areas where Firefox could innovate to surpass the accessibility of its competitors:

  • Provide an option to disable/override all forms of scrollbar customization. Many sites replace native scrollbars with tiny iPhone-style scrollbars, remove the arrows for fine adjustment, change the colors to something with no contrast, or automatically hide them in opposition of the OS settings. Firefox's default scrollbars have lower contrast than the Windows default style. Low contrast is an issue for the visually impaired, and thin/auto-hiding scrollbars affect those with motor disabilities. Scrollbar size and contrast should be controlled by the user, not the app or website designer.
  • Add a reduced motion mode (and/or honor the OS setting in Windows/MacOS) that does not auto-play any distracting video, animated GIFs, or other moving page elements. Restore the old functionality where the ESC key stops all animations. These will help people with certain visual and cognitive disorders.
  • Reading comprehension becomes more difficult when line length gets too long. Some pages (like Wikipedia and Slashdot) display the full width of the screen, which can negatively affect readability. It'd be nice if there was a way to reduce the width of certain pages, while still keeping the browser maximized so we can utilize the edges of the screen with the scrollbar and tabs on Windows (Fitts's Law/Rule of infinite edges.)
  • Display closed captions on picture-in-picture video windows.
  • Firefox Android: Integrate with Google Assistant's "read this page" feature to read web pages aloud.  Useful for the visually impaired, and also sighted people who want to listen to an article while doing something else.

Look, I'm not even disabled, yet I will always be an advocate for better accessibility. I would personally use all the features above to make my Firefox experience more comfortable; I strongly believe improved accessibility makes things better for everyone, not just the impaired.

Vincent, Great comments, especially for a person who is not disabled. Your perceptions are a rare find in a non-disabled person. Some of your points have been in the WCAG statute for some time but nobody pays attention. Thanks.

Vincent, thank you for the detailed post and for your advocacy.

@vincentj wrote:
  • Reading comprehension becomes more difficult when line length gets too long. Some pages (like Wikipedia and Slashdot) display the full width of the screen, which can negatively affect readability. It'd be nice if there was a way to reduce the width of certain pages, while still keeping the browser maximized so we can utilize the edges of the screen with the scrollbar and tabs on Windows (Fitts's Law/Rule of infinite edges.)

I wonder if the existing "Responsive Design Mode" could serve as a starting point for implementing this.  This is tucked away in the web developer tools (or can be accessed using Ctrl-Shift-M), and lets developers simulate devices with various screen sizes, without changing the size of the actual browser window.

You'd want to name and brand this in a more user-friendly way, but optimistically, a lot of the code behind the existing feature might be reusable for this purpose?

Making moves

This is a copy I saved to the clipboard because after writing a long post, I realized I need to sign in.

Asa, Thanks for getting this started. I don't know what browsers you think are increasing accessibility. Chrome and Edge are worthless. There are no tools in the toolbar. I only use them when a web page is not optimized for FF.

Firefox has virtually no competition if FF wants to be the most accessible browser. FF can be the browser we love, not the best of the worst. Maybe FF needs to make an FFA, Firefox Accessible add-on that includes these features. A stand alone userChrome editor with check and value boxes to select preferences. Think of a Configuration Editor for dummies with these features that have been removed. Tabs on top, tabs below bookmarks, tabs at bottom of window: colors and shades: icons with text: minimum line width: font choice: add-ons on toolbar or in a drop down folder (maybe this should be a regular feature to create a add-on/tool drop down folder so infrequently used tools or add-ons can be off the toolbar but accessible):

Maybe we need to understand what you and your group consider Accessibility to mean. It does not mean adding features for power users. userChrome and Configuration editing is not an accessibility feature as it exists now.

The FF GUI needs to be accessible.

Screen reader functions are a given. There are only 5 million blind people in the US market but they get first billing. There are over 50 million with other visual disabilities, whether it is visual processing or struggles with contrast, memory issues, understanding objects/icons, or such. We are the ones with accessibility needs that are not being addressed. The worst part is FF has been removing accessibility features, especially since Quantum. Why is FF intent on breaking things until they are not functional? I want FF56 back with Classic.

I'll critique this page for accessibility. The banner at the top uses too much vertical real estate, about 60% of the vertical dimension to have a search field and a few links. WCAG suggests limiting the vertical scrolling. Too many shaded texts like just below this box  [ Additional options ] should be much darker. It barely meets the minimum contrast, 4.67 vs a WCAG minimum of 4.5

Those contrast issues are all over the FF browser, Shades of blue behind narrow line fonts, no perceptible difference between the tool bar and bookmarks bar. The address bar is barely noticeable. The URL in the address bar is shaded so only is readable.

So, let me tell you about the disabilities many have, excluding the blind or nearly blind. We are the people that often appear to have full function in our daily lives. The disabilities fall under 4 basic groups of cause. Brain injury, autism, age, and vision issues such as cataracts and PVD. 

Brain injury can make visual processing difficult. Understanding what icons mean (visual aphasia) is the basis behind icons with text. The brain understands words far better and faster than it can interpret the meaning of an icon. What the f does that old one room school building mean? School building, school house, house, home..... HOME button. It has taken me years since Quantum took away icons with text to convince my brain that the school building icon means HOME. When I had icons with text, I didn't even have to think about it. What does that icon that looks like a shoulder patch mean? How about the purse in the address bar? Stars, 3 slashes, a box with 2 1/2 slashes...... They are Greek to me and many.

I have actually asked others if they know what these icons mean.Most only know a few.

Almost nobody knows what the circle with a tail means in the upper right of a web page. It is supposed to be a magnifying glass to use to search. You don't use a magnifying glass to search. You use binoculars or a telescope to search. Wrong concept to use to suggest search. (not a FF issue but a great point for understanding how people perceive icons)

Too much undefined clutter impacts many on the autism spectrum and brain injured. Microsoft destroyed the accessibility of Office when Ribbons was added in 2007. Too much visual clutter.

Like many applications, MS made changes that required FORGETTING previous ways an action was done. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FORCE ONESELF TO FORGET. Let me see, FF has had 4 different ways of doing function X over the years. Which way is used now? It is not obvious. (A WCAG standard is to be obvious) This is not as critical on FF if we can just find the right icon to begin with.

Visual presentation for somebody with mild cataracts is a challenge. Cataracts need to 'mature' before they are surgically corrected. That early stage of developing cataracts does not reduce acuity but it makes shades and contrast a serious issue. My cataract corrected right eye sees this page as white. My mild cataract left eye sees this page as light beige/grey.

As we age, many suffer detached vitreous (PVD, Posterior Vitreous Detachment) that causes them to see strings in their view. Think of loose spaghetti floating in your view, in the same place, all the time. This makes low contrast and very fine lines a challenge.

I could go on but hopefully, this post kicks the discussion into motion.

Just realized, It appears I must sign in before I can post under my name. Or, is the forum form just confusing? I copied and pasted a back-up copy, just in case.

Thank you for the great feedback, Mark, on Firefox and this tool.

Making moves

Everything Vincent and Mark said goes for me, too.

I'm vision impaired and slowly losing my sight altogether. I've been on the internet daily since 1988 (yes, I'm old) and used all the Mozilla browsers since they debuted.

I had to put this page at 150% to read it comfortably. When I look at the tools in FF, clicking the 3 bars on the upper right, I can barely see the words. Zoom doesn't increase them. Why not? The bookmark toolbar is tiny, again, why can't I make it bigger?

I look forward to more discussion and lots of action on the part of the developers. I was one and all the suggestions that were made about viewing the screen in different lights, etc., is excellent. Also put on a pair of glasses with some fingerprint smudges and dust to experience how many of us see, everything slightly out of focus.
Clare from Pittsburgh

Thanks for the great feedback, Clare. In general, the browser itself doesn't respond to Firefox's zoom feature which is designed to magnify web content. To zoom the browser itself, I recommend using your OS settings to increase text size.

Of course, I tried that. It doesn't change the problems I noted.


Clare, what OS are you using? If Windows, have you tried going to Ease of Access settings then Display, then adjusting the Make Text Bigger setting. That should enlarge all browser user interface text, for toolbars and menus, etc. I've just tested that myself and it seems to work as expected in the latest version of Firefox.

Somebody needs to make the email link so it Signs On automatically. Typing a reply then realizing the Reply will not post until after Sign On is a pain.

Asa, Classic 'dump the problem back on the user' response.

This is exactly how we have been treated since FF started putting up barriers.

You lock down the tool bars so we can't make them accessible then you blame us for not finding a work around using the OS.

btw, The Windows Zoom feature (Windows key & + key) only GREATLY enlarges the web page. The browser disappears. The (Ctrl & + key) enlarges the web page to a smaller amount. The Windows Magnify function enlarges everything but screws up the scrolling so you can't move the window.

We need control over how the FF browser GUI presents.

It has been 2 weeks since this started. It appears to be the same dark hole we have experienced since the beginning. At least before Quantum, the community supported the accessibility needs. Now, those customizing features are locked out.

To make matters worse, FF has become a HUGE memory hog. It usually has 12 or 13 FF applications running in task manager with only 3 tabs open, often YouTube, CraigsList, and Quora. It can easily use 3 gb of memory. I need to run Glary Utilities frequently to get my touch pad to work without jumping. I can close Tabs and the memory use does not change.

I wasn't trying to "dump the problem on the user". Firefox has never adjusted its UI with the page zoom feature and probably never will. For users who need larger UI, the OS offers that functionality through, on Windows for example, the Make Text Bigger feature or the Make Everything Bigger feature. Those have always been and probably always will be the most appropriate way to resize application user interface.

Can you say more about "it has been two weeks since this started"? I'm not clear on what changed for you.

Familiar face

Hi, I have a (slight) mental disability. Don't get me wrong, I'm ok with it and can handle it most of the time during my daily life. It's just that sometimes I'm having troubles thinking for myself.

It would be great if you could provide users a list with state approved news outlets, for example featuring credible sources like the WHO. which is neutral I think and doesn't accept any outside funding.

I saw that you started blocking specific Firefox Addons, you took away the users choice to consume news through the Russian News Addon, citing it could pose a security risk so you deleted it.

I feel safer and more informed already, knowing our opinion is right.

I think it would be wise to also block users from accessing any .ru domain in the future, because of the russian hackers and the security risk with those domains.

Thanks for keeping us safe, looking forward to the next update!

Thanks for the feedback!


Thank you all so much for the detailed feedback. This discussion was a great kick-off to what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about Accessibility at Mozilla.

It is clear to me that you all share the passion for accessibility and also that Firefox and other Mozilla products can and should do more to support users with disabilities. As the Accessibility team makes progress on the issues you've brought up here, as well as other planned work (including a major re-write of the engine in Firefox that powers ATs) I will stay engaged with you all, providing updates and soliciting further input.

Thank you again for kicking off this conversation.

- Asa


Community Manager
Community Manager

Hey all,

Thanks so much for participating in this important discussion about taking Firefox accessibility to the next level. It was great seeing so many valuable insights shared both ways! We are closing out this thread, but want to encourage you to continue sharing your feedback and ideas about this particular topic (and more, of course) in new posts—just be sure to use the necessary labels and tags, so your posts are easily searched for and discovered by our teams.

Also, we are excited to announce that a new discussion hosted by a Mozilla employee has just kicked off and can be found here: Creating and Collaborating with Media in Firefox

This will be an ongoing series here in the Mozilla Connect community, so we look forward to continuing to collaborate with you all 😀

-The Community Team