I just landed the final set of patches that will enable explore by touch for Ice Cream Sandwich screen reader users. If you use our nightly builds, you should probably see this feature in Tuesday morning’s build – if it all works out.
One of the things that I am most proud about is our focus on the core Android accessibility experience. Being “accessible”, is more than just providing a rich set of accessibility features (although we are committed to that too), it is about allowing the user to get Firefox from the Play Store, and start using it immediately with no extra “self-voicing” extensions, no extra settings and checkboxes, and no new special gestures and interaction modes to learn. When a user with a disability purchases an Android phone, they will go through the painful process of learning how to use it and customizing it for their needs. When they install Firefox, they should be able to put the knowledge and muscle memory they acquired for every other task on the phone to browsing the web as well.
When accessibility is done right, it could be downplayed, and make space for the actual application you are using. In our case it is Firefox for Android. The positive feedback we are mostly getting from the blind community has not been about our accessibility features at all, but about the browser. The fact that Firefox for Android is fast and responsive, supports Flash, and syncs with your desktop tabs did not get “lost in translation”, it is the primary appeal for blind users just as it is for sighted users.
Why am I mentioning all this in regard to explore by touch? Because introducing this feature brings us one step closer to doing it right. Explore by touch works exactly the same in Firefox as it does in the rest of your Android TalkBack experience, move your finger around the screen and have the web content spoken to you, raise your finger and single tap to activate a link or control. Scroll with two fingers and hear the scrolling pitch change. There is nothing new here, just the same old experience you are used to in your Ice Cream Sandwich phone. Now go explore.