May 30th, 2014
Ken Saunders is co-owner and founder of AccessFirefox.org, a web portal of accessibility tools and resources for users of the free Firefox web browser. Here, the US-based volunteer answers questions on his work, motivations and passions.
Q: What accessibility tools do you use to facilitate your own work?
A: I am legally blind due to a congenital condition known as ocular albinism with nystagmus. My visual acuity is documented at 20/200 right eye, 20/400 left which means I do have trouble seeing objects both near and far. However my visual acuity can’t ever be accurately determined because of nystagmus, which is an involuntary eye movement that causes my eyes to move rapidly in a horizontal direction: side-to-side.
In terms of the tools I use, I get a lot done using many of the Firefox add-ons I helped develop like Big Buttons, Page Zoom and Font & Theme Size Changer (more on these later). Firefox itself is great because it is so customisable, meaning I can make it fit my needs so it is as comfortable for me to work with as possible.
There are a lot of free accessibility tools and default accessibility options I rely on like text-to-speech and magnifier applications. There are other more advanced tools out there but when you start to look beyond default accessibility features and free software, your options start to get very costly. I’ve never really understood why and I would love to see more affordable or free tools out there.
Q: When and how did you start coding?
Q: When did you get involved in helping to make Firefox more accessible?
A: Back in 2005, I downloaded Firefox and clicked on the “Get Involved” button, which was included as a default bookmark within the browser at the time. I soon started volunteering for Spread Firefox (a former website where enthusiasts helped promote Firefox) and eventually became an administrator on that site. Since 2011 when we retired that website, I’ve become involved in testing as part of Mozilla’s quality assurance community, where I’ve handled testing for Firefox across all platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux and Android).
I’ve tried to help out wherever I can by testing and providing feedback for new projects too. One example is the early beginnings of the Mozilla WebMaker project (known as ‘Mozilla Drumbeat’ at the time). Webmaker is a fresh approach to teaching technology and digital literacy, the goal being to create a new generation of digital creators and webmakers.
I also spent some time as an Accessibility Steward, which saw me taking on the role of guiding and directing new and potential volunteers interested in contributing to Mozilla’s accessibility goals. I’ll be picking this responsibility up again soon as I start to help test Firefox OS devices and provide feedback from the perspective of a person with visual impairments.
Q: What is it that you like about Mozilla and Firefox?
A: I like that Mozilla fights for the rights of Internet users, especially the right to privacy on the web and user sovereignty; the idea that any data relating to an individual belongs to the individual.
What amazed me and really hit home when I first started volunteering was the sheer volume of like-minded people from all over the world who were coming together to work towards Mozilla’s mission and goals; to keep the Web open and accessible to all. The community is very diverse; anyone can contribute, regardless of ability, income, education or background.
Q: How did Access Firefox come into being?
A: I co-founded AccessFirefox.org with Otto de Voogd when we were new to Firefox and the various accessibility options that came with it. At the time, the majority of information about these tools and features was spread across several websites, so we wanted to bring them under one roof. So we set about creating the project and the specific accessibility add-ons that come with it.
Over the years there have been several different contributors to Access Firefox from the Mozilla community. Some have written or contributed to the site’s coding, some have created accessibility related add-ons, and many others have supported the site through advocacy.
Q: What are your favourite Firefox Accessibility add-ons?
A: Access Firefox accessibility add-ons are slightly different to standard Firefox add-ons. I briefly mentioned my favourites earlier, and I’m proud to have contributed to the development of all three of these: Theme Font & Size Changer, Page Zoom Button and Big Buttons.
Theme Font & Size Changer is a simple browser tool that lets people change the font size and type in Firefox. It is an especially valuable tool for visually impaired people and wide-screen users. It is different from add-ons that enlarge and reduce font size and type on web pages because it does so in all windows, menus and toolbars within Firefox itself. All font size and font family changes are instantly applied, saved permanently and maintained through sessions.
Page Zoom Button gives users control of all three page-zoom functions in Firefox from a single button. Users can click on or roll the mouse wheel over the button to zoom in, zoom out and reset a web page back to its default view. Users can also zoom in and out of local offline files such as photos, graphics, and various documents.
Big Buttons provides large and extra-large Firefox navigation toolbar buttons.
Q: How would you recommend accessibility users get started with Firefox?
A: I would recommend starting by taking a look at the features that Firefox offers its users and then download the browser. However, for more detailed information on accessibility add-ons we recommend you take a look at Access Firefox’s beginners’ guide. Then take your time getting familiar with what’s possible. Once you’ve done that, invest some time in customising Firefox so that it is as comfortable to use as you need it to be.