Firefox 57 will be less chatty to screen readers in some situations

Over the last few days, I landed two changes to Firefox which change how we expose implicit landmarks of some HTML5 elements. This is to make screen readers a bit less chatty in certain situations.

For many years, Firefox has exposed certain new HTML5 elements like <header>, <footer>, <nav>, <main>, or <aside> with their corresponding WAI-ARIA landmark semantics. This way, when authors used these elements, screen readers that already knew about WAI-ARIA landmarks would just expose these transparently and give blind and visually impaired users the benefit of easier navigation on pages.

However, over time, it has become apparent that some landmarks were over-exposed and the semantics didn’t really fit the real-world use cases. To that end, the WAI-ARIA 1.1 and HTML 5.1 specifications were updated to reflect this feedback from screen reader users.

Firefox 57, due to be released in the fall, and currently available as a Nightly build, will follow that spec and reduce chattiness for screen reader users. The two changes I worked on over the last couple of days, and the second of which I landed this morning, are:

  1. The <section> element will now only be exposed as a region landmark if it has been explicitly named via WAI-ARIA or the title attribute. So not every <section> element will be announced as a region by assistive technologies any more, only those who were named by the author.
  2. The <header> and <footer> elements will now only be exposed as header and footer, and banner and ContentInfo landmarks respectively, if these elements are direct descendants of the body tag, and therefore are scoped for the whole page. If they are descendants of other sectioning or sectioning root elements, their meaning is changed to be sections, and no landmark is exposed any more.

These are just two of several more changes that make Firefox accessibility more compatible with WAI-ARIA 1.1 and HTML 5.1. Other changes include better correctness for certain WAI-ARIA widgets and their attributes, better exposure with more modern roles on ATK/Linux, and more. Some of these changes are already in Firefox 56, which is currently in beta and will be released in a few weeks. These changes were contributed by long-time community member Joanie.

We hope you’ll enjoy these changes when they land on your desktop! :-)

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