JAWS with Other Web Browsers

By Paul L. Oberholtzer

30 September 2011


I just finished working out some bugs in a web page that worked fine with Internet Explorer, but not so well in Mozilla Firefox. The problem arose from the fact that Microsoft uses some non standard methods, which are for the most part easier to write code for. Unfortunately, if a programmer and/or web page designer uses the Microsoft methods, other web browsers wonít work the same when they encounter the code. I was trying to do something that seems pretty simple, like put a real time clock on the web page. I grabbed some code from a java source website and since it worked in Internet Explorer, I didnít look at the code too closely.A week ago, I decided that I wanted to try Firefox, so I downloaded it and installed it. I was disappointed that the page that I had designed, didnít render the same in Firefox. That sent me scrambling to do a redesign, which wasnít easy, since I canít see what Iím doing. I had my wife look at the 2 different browsers and found that the pages looked quite different between the 2 browsers.


I went back to my CSS code, and had to add some lines so that Firefox would render the page as close to Internet Explorer as possible. In addition, I took another look at the clock code that I had borrowed. It turned out to have been written about the time that everybody was worrying about Y2K bug fixes, so I updated it from an example from the w3school tutorials on Java script. These two changes seemed to do the trick. The page looks virtually the same in Internet Explorer and Firefox, or so I am told by my wife and a friend that looked at the page on his Mac.


The whole point of this, is that different browsers behave differently on web pages, unless the designer takes care to follow certain rules and standards. Not all designers do this or even care as long as everything works fine on their own computer and browser.


At my last count, there are at least 5 browsers that are in common use and available to Windows users. For the blind community, the choice is more limited. If you are a JAWS user, Freedom-Scientific only supports Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. I have tried both of these and they seem to work fine for me. I am pretty new to Firefox, and havenít yet figured out bookmarks. They donít work anything like favorites on Internet Explorer, but most of the other features are pretty much the same. I tried to download 3 other browsers, but couldnít make sense of any of these. They were, Google Chrome, Opera, and Safari. I really wanted to get Safari working , since this is the default browser for the Mac, but After being unable to get past the startup page, I gave up and uninstalled it. The other browsers were pretty much useless. Even the installation of Chrome and Opera were difficult, since they use a graphical type installer with non standard controls and JAWS canít read these unless you turn on the JAWS cursor and move it around to find out which button to click. You canít tab, or even read the instructions without the JAWS cursor. Safari was the easiest to install, and I thought that it might be more accessible, but when it started up, I couldnít get past the setup and introduction. Clearly all 3 of these browsers will need JAWS scripts to be written for them, and I doubt that this is a priority for Freedom-Scientific. The Opera website has a great deal to say about making their site accessible, but havenít, as yet, addressed how to make their browser accessible for JAWS users. Perhaps Google will do something about Chrome, but I donít think that will happen any time soon.


If Apple is smart, they will do something about Safari. Right now, most of the blind community uses Windows, as is true with most computer users. The Apple Mac has the potential to be a much more accessible device, if anyone will take the time to work out some of the limiting issues. Beginning with Windows Vista, many former Windows users fled to Macs, and arenít likely to come back.Younger users seem to prefer the Mac, and a growing number of wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are wanting to use Macs instead of Windows machines. A good way for Apple to lure blind users is to offer a browser that is accessible on Windows. That way Windows users will be able to transition easier.


The central piece of software these days seems to be the web browser, and many companies are scrambling to make sure that users prefer their browsers. For a JAWS user, the choice is limited, and most JAWS users donít really care about the visual aspects of the browser. As long as the computer can read the content, that is basically all that matters for myself and others like me. However, the ďlook and feelĒ of a browser does matter, since more and more electronic gadgets are coming out that need a browser to access the internet. People are more likely to buy a handheld device or smart TV, if it has a user interface that they are use to. That seems to be the primary force, these days, that is driving companies to come up with browsers. I am sure that Google is hoping Chrome will become a standard interface which will allow them to make even more money than they already are. While this flood of browsers give sighted users a great deal of choice in how they surf the Internet, us blind users will just have to wait, like always, until someone decides that we might like a few more choices too.