Mozilla’s mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.
People with disabilities can experience huge benefits from technology but can also find it frustrating or worse, downright unusable. Mozilla’s Firefox accessibility team is committed to delivering products and services that are not just usable for people with disabilities, but a delight to use.
The Firefox accessibility (a11y) team will be spending much of 2021 re-building major pieces of our accessibility engine, the part of Firefox that powers screen readers and other assistive technologies.
While the current Firefox a11y engine has served us well for many years, new directions in browser architectures and operating systems coupled with the increasing complexity of the modern web means that some of Firefox's venerable a11y engine needs a rebuild.
Browsers, including Firefox, once simple single process applications, have become complex multi-process systems that have to move lots of data between processes, which can cause performance slowdowns. In order to ensure the best performance and stability and to enable support for a growing, wider variety of accessibility tools in the future (such as Windows Narrator, Speech Recognition and Text Cursor Indicator), Firefox's accessibility engine needs to be more robust and versatile. And where ATs used to spend significant resources ensuring a great experience across browsers, the dominance of one particular browser means less resources being committed to ensuring the ATs work well with Firefox. This changing landscape means that Firefox too must evolve significantly and that's what we're going to be doing in 2021.
The most important part of this rebuild of the Firefox accessibility engine is what we're calling "cache the world". Today, when an accessibility client wants to access web content, Firefox often has to send a request from its UI process to the web content process. Only a small amount of information is maintained in the UI process for faster response. Aside from the overhead of these requests, this can cause significant responsiveness problems, particularly if an accessibility client accesses many elements in the accessibility tree. The architecture we're implementing this year will ameliorate these problems by sending the entire accessibility tree from the web content process to the UI process and keeping it up to date, ensuring that accessibility clients have the fastest possible response to their requests regardless of their complexity.
So that's the biggest lift we're planning for 2021 but that's not all we'll be doing. Firefox is always adding new features and adjusting existing features and the accessibility team will be spending significant effort ensuring that all of the Firefox changes are accessible. And we know we’re not perfect today so we’ll also be working through our backlog of defects, prioritizing and fixing the issues that cause the most severe problems for users with disabilities.
Firefox has a long history of providing great experiences for disabled people. To continue that legacy, we're spending most of our resources this year on rebuilding core pieces of technology supporting those experiences. That means we won't have the resources to tackle some issues we'd like to, but another piece of Firefox's long history is that, through open source and open participation, you can help. This year, we can especially use your help identifying any new issues that take away from your experience as a disabled Firefox user, fixing high priority bugs that affect large numbers of disabled Firefox users, and spreading the word about the areas where Firefox excels as a browser for disabled users. Together, we can make 2021 a great year for Firefox accessibility.