Accessibility features in Firefox on Android

One of our principles in the Mozilla Manifesto states that the Internet ”is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible”. Our goal is to remove barriers that traditionally block participation, such as affordability, language and disability.

We have been working hard to bring Firefox for Android to everyone on the planet, including blind and visually impaired users. Firefox 15 for Android introduced preliminary screen reader support. In Firefox 17 we have come full circle, and now support Jelly Bean’s advanced accessibility features. To get these great features right away, download Firefox for Android from the Google Play store.

What are Accessibility Features?

Firefox is designed to meet the needs of the broadest population possible. Sometimes that is not enough. In the case of blind and visually impaired users, a conventional graphical interface with a touch screen is not usable. Assistive technologies such as screen readers exist to bridge that gap. They provide speech and audible feedback that represents the visual state of the application. They may also provide alternative interaction modes that make more sense for blind users. For example, a user could explore the visible items on a screen by moving their finger across the screen and have the screen reader tell them what is under their finger.

Accessible by Default

We believe that equal access requires Firefox for Android to be ready for any type of user once it is installed, with no extra setup steps or addons. When Firefox for Android launches for the first time on a blind user’s device, it should start talking and be responsive to the user’s input.
Firefox for Android is the first Android Web browser that integrates tightly with Android’s native accessibility framework and supports TalkBack, Android’s screen reader. This provides a consistent feel with the rest of the device, and the user’s specific screen reader configuration.

Under The Hood

Our Android accessibility solution leverages the same powerful accessibility engine we use on the desktop. This means that it is fast, and leads the industry in support of standards such as WAI-ARIA and HTML5.

Touch Exploration & Gestures

Android’s built-in accessibility features have been modernizing ever since Ice Cream Sandwich. Users can now explore the contents of the screen with the tip of their finger and have whatever is under their finger read out loud. Jelly Bean introduces “flick navigation”, a user could swipe left or right to navigate the contents of the screen in a linear fashion.
We have worked hard to support all of those features in Firefox for Android as well and stay apace with Android’s evolving Accessibility and offer a consistent user experience.

Quick Navigation

Web pages can be very big, complex, and contain a lot of content. When a screen reader user visits a large page it can be tiring and time consuming to step through every item on the page until they find what they are looking for. That is why we introduced Quick Navigation Keys. With the help of a physical keyboard or the Eyes-Free Keyboard, a user can press “k” repeatedly to step through all the hyperlinks on the page. Similar keys are available for headings, list items, various form fields, and more.
This type of feature is familiar to desktop screen reader users. But the Android screen reader does not have this kind of functionality, so we decided to implement ourselves.

Trying It Out

Accessibility on Jelly Bean is really easy to set up and play with. Go to System settings->Accessibility->TalkBack and enable it. Once TalkBack is enabled move your finger across the screen, you will hear audio feedback and speech telling you what your finger is resting on. Close your eyes and try to find different apps on the home screen. Are you getting the feel for it? If you want to sequentially step through items swipe your finger left or right quickly across the screen. If you want to activate an item (say, Firefox Beta?) double tap.

You already know everything you need to know about using Firefox with TalkBack. Launch it, explore the interface with your finger, swipe left and right, and double tab to activate items. This is a good opportunity to try out websites and applications you created and test to see how accessible they are. Could you manage with your eyes closed?

Here is a short video of Firefox Beta on a Nexus 7 working with TalkBack:


What we are most proud about in our accessibility story on Android is the invisibility of our solution. It integrates well, and it gets out of the way to allow blind users to enjoy the easy and fast mobile browsing experience that Firefox for Android provides.

About Eitan Isaacson

Eitan is a member of Mozilla's accessibility team. Mobile accessibility solutions are primarily what gets him excited.

More articles by Eitan Isaacson…


  1. Deedra Waters

    Nice job. I’ll have to play with to see which i like better, chrome or firefox. As a side note, the accessibility under the linux desktop seems to be sluggish and frustrating. Under windows though it works flawlessly. I like it.

    October 11th, 2012 at 12:57

    1. Robert Nyman

      Thank you! Please try it out and let us know what you think.

      I hope we can improve on Linux, but good to hear that you’re happy with the state of support on Windows!

      October 11th, 2012 at 12:59

  2. tapper

    thanks for all your hard work. i love the fact i can sink all my bookmarks to my phone and pick it up and use it like i do my desktop you have no idea what that meens for a blind dude who loves firefox lol keep up the good work! thanks

    October 11th, 2012 at 19:58

    1. Robert Nyman

      Thank you, glad to hear that it helps you!

      October 11th, 2012 at 23:42

  3. Gill Bates

    When are you going to fix the address bar in native Fennec? Is it so hard to make it disappear when you scroll down and appear when you scroll up or press menu? Even Opera gets that right why can’t you?

    October 12th, 2012 at 07:34

    1. Eitan Isaacson

      Good question, Gill! It is a work in progress.

      October 12th, 2012 at 12:37

  4. Ticker

    Is it possible to make the Quick Navigation works with gesture? Just like the read by character/word in TalkBack.

    October 16th, 2012 at 18:21

    1. Marco Zehe

      This is definitely something we want to do! However, we’re not there yet unfortunately, but it’s definitely on our agenda! Thanks for bringing it up!

      October 17th, 2012 at 05:51

  5. Caspy7

    You said that we’re the first to integrate tightly with Android’s native accessibility framework and support TalkBack.
    Does this mean the stock browser doesn’t even do this? (I don’t have an Android phone.)

    November 19th, 2012 at 17:00

    1. Eitan Isaacson

      The stock browser and all embedded web views have injected javascript that makes the application speak directly to TTS without taking advantage of the platform’s accessibility APIs.

      November 19th, 2012 at 18:25

  6. Juan Pablo Bello

    This sounds really interesting, and I have been frustrated with the stock browser, so i cannot wait to install firefox into my phone! You have managed to describe pretty much how accessibility works in the browser, but when I need to enter data and review it.. is there any way of switching from say, an edit box liek this one where i type the comment and the regular page_ I am asking this because in the stock browser entering information in fields was annyoing since if you had just accidentally happen to press the down arrow or the right arrow to review by character and got out of the edit field you would be navigating the page and it would be very hard to find the edit field again. If I type into de edit firled will the quick navigation keys feautre interfere with the text I am entering? Also, what is the equivalent on right-clicking a link (say I don’t want to download an audio file but i want to copy or send the URL to a friend via chat) are any ways of doing this? Great work on windows, you definitely deserve many more things and you also got it really nice with NVDA . Now, if only android was part of mozilla and not google…! Things would have been much better in the accessibility world for any phones and not just the proprietary and pesky IPhones.

    January 9th, 2013 at 17:40

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