It took ’em a while, but apparently JAWS and Firefox have figured out how to work together again as of Firefox version 60, which was released in the last few days.
When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, starting with version 57, in November of 2017, it introduced a number of technical changes that improve the browsing experience for our users. Tabs run in separate processes now, so that if one tab crashes, it does not bring the whole browser down with it. This is also better for security on multiple levels. Web sites load faster due to a much improved and modernized rendering engine. And a lot of other new features which you’ve probably read all about by now.
However, due to these massive technical changes under the hood, we unfortunately temporarily regressed screen reader users. And while we quickly regained much of the lost performance with Firefox 58 for NVDA users, for JAWS these improvements helped only slightly.
Therefore, a collaboration was started to bring both JAWS and Firefox back to a state together where the experience can be considered a first-class browsing experience. Over the past few months, accessibility engineers from Mozilla and VFO have identified and worked on performance and other usability issues together to improve both products to make that happen. This involved mutual understanding of what answers were required by JAWS from Firefox when it asked certain questions, particularly those that had not been dealt with in the work for Firefox 58 and 59. There were also some more architectural changes required on the Firefox side to handle very Windows-specific mechanisms. And while we were at it, we found and fixed some big memory leaks that had been bothering us since the release of Firefox 57, and which NVDA users will also have noticed improving in Firefox 59.
We’re happy to report that the combination of Firefox 60, released on May 9, 2018, and JAWS 2018, starting with the April 2018 update, are the result of this collaboration. With the combination of these versions or later, users of the JAWS screen reading software can again use the latest and greatest version of Firefox and be confident that they can browse the web in a speedy manner.
If any of this applies to you, definitely read that whole article for more info as well as instructions on switching away from the Extended Support Release and back to regular Firefox.
I also kind of predicted that I wouldn’t even bother switching away from Firefox when 57 hit, and I didn’t. And honestly, for the most part it wasn’t that bad. It was definitely slower at times and there were a few pages that were absolutely unusable, but generally speaking it didn’t slow me down at all. And slowly but surely, things have been improving. I wouldn’t say the Firefox NVDA combo is just as snappy as it used to be, but it’s getting there. If you did switch, maybe give it another try.
Oh, and welcome back, JAWS people.