Mozilla’s Firefox OS: accessibility to be included

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013 14:48pm

The not-for-profit technology organisation Mozilla is releasing its first operating system for mobile devices, Firefox OS, and its accessibility features could soon rival those offered by Apple and Android.

Since announcement of Mozilla’s intention to develop its own operating system for smartphones and tablets, many have speculated on the access potential for people with disabilities. Mozilla is a not-for profit community and software company that works to develop products that use open-source web technologies. This means many different developers can contribute to and improve the accessibility of Mozilla’s software, which can be updated to work with different assistive technologies such a screen readers.  Because of the large community of developers Mozilla has to draw on, it is likely that accessibility features will added to the operating system far more quickly than they have been to its commercial rivals.

The precedent for this is Mozilla’s Firefox web browser. Over the years, the browser’s accessibility has also been improved by a community of developers with the introduction of several assistive features including support for screen readers, in-built screen magnification and keyboard-only access for people with limited mobility.

Mozilla’s accessibility quality assurance engineer Marco Zehe confirmed in a video that Mozilla will be rolling out accessibility features for Firefox OS in bits and pieces over the coming months.

 “We’re getting there. It’s not accessible yet so if you buy a Firefox OS device now, it won’t talk to you yet but we’re working on making that happen,” he said.

In the video, Zehe demonstrates the Firefox OS smartphone screen reader (currently in development) on a test device. The screen reader shown announces items on the menu as Zehe moves his finger on the screen.

Like Android, Firefox OS will be available on a number of smartphones and tablets, not just those made by a single company. It is currently available on the ZTE Open (US$39) and Alcatel One Touch Fire (US$90) in Spain. Mozilla will be making the OS available on more devices and in more countries over the coming months.

More information about features on Firefox OS devices can be found at the Mozilla website.

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