GOV.UK assistive technology survey 2016

1 November 2016 | Ted Page

The results are in for the GOV.UK assistive technology survey 2016, detailing the different types of assistive technology people are using to access the GOV.UK website. They are notable for a number of reasons, in particular the numbers and types of screen magnifier users identified.

One caveat before going further is that a number of the percentage breakdowns in the GOV.UK survey release do not add up to exactly 100. Here we have made very slight adjustments so that the data values for each pie chart below sum to 100%. 

Types of assistive technology

The first point of interest is that screen reader users are not the largest group of assistive technology users. This may come as a surprise to many in an industry that is often very screen reader focused (even, arguably, to the detriment of other assistive technology users).

Pie chart showing percentages of users of different types of assistive technology

As can be seen, screen magnifier users (30%) outnumber screen reader users (29%) in this survey, albeit by a small margin. The figures for all the different categories of assistive technology user are as follows:

  • Screen magnifier: 30%
  • Screen reader: 29%
  • Speech recognition: 18%
  • Readability (literacy software solutions): 15%
  • Other: 8%  

Types of screen magnifier

Not only are screen magnifiers more numerous than might be expected, the different types of screen magnifier are noteworthy. Of particular interest is the rise in popularity of SuperNova (at 10.9%), although ZoomText remains by far the biggest player (54.3%).

Pie chart showing percentages of users of different types of screen magnifier

The figures for the different categories of screen magnifier are as follows:

  • ZoomText: 54.3%
  • SuperNova: 10.9%
  • MAGic: 3.9%
  • Other: 6.1%
  • Don’t know: 11% 

Combined magnifier/readers

The rise of SuperNova is even more pronounced for combined screen magnifier/readers (at 23.2%), although again, ZoomText still dominates the field.

Pie chart showing percentages of users of different types of combined screen magnifier/reader

The figures for the different categories of combined screen magnifier/screen reader are as follows:

  • ZoomText: 57.3%
  • SuperNova: 23.2%
  • MAGic: 6.1%
  • Other: 11%

Notes on magnifier/reader combinations

  • SuperNova is a screen magnifier with an optional reader.
  • MAGic is a magnifier only, but works well with JAWS (both are, of course , Freedom Scientific products).
  • [Update, January 2017] At the time of publication of the survey, ZoomText (like SuperNova) came with its own optional reader. However, ZoomText 11 has since been released.  Significantly, it is now also compatible with JAWS, making for a very powerful combination.

Our PDF accessibility test bench

All three of these screen magnifier/readers can highlight different potential accessibility problems in PDFs, which is why we test PDFs for accessibility with all of them (ZoomText versions 9, 10 and 11, SuperNova 16 and MAGic 12.0). 

Types of screen reader

The reported trends in screen reader usage come as little surprise, with VoiceOver being the most significant winner in recent years. However, this does not directly affect us in our PDF accessibility work, as VoiceOver does not (yet) support PDF. And although it is by far the most significant screen reader for EPUBs, that particular story is beyond the scope of the GOV.UK survey, at least for now.

Pie chart showing percentages of users of different types of screen reader

The figures for the different categories of screen reader are as follows:

  • JAWS: 38.5%
  • VoiceOver: 21.2%
  • NVDA: 12%
  • SuperNova: 3.8% 

JAWS versions

JAWS is, of course, still the most widely used screen reader, with the latest version at the time of the survey (version 17) accounting for 40.5% of all JAWS users. However, it has always been the case that many people continue to use older versions of JAWS (with cost no doubt being an important factor). The survey confirms that this is still the case with many people continuing to use different versions all the way back to JAWS 11 or earlier. We have used JAWS since version 5 and have available in our test set up all versions from JAWS 9 onwards.

Bar chart showing percentages of users of different JAWS versions

Types of reading solution

Another often overlooked area is that of “reading solutions”, otherwise known as “literacy software solutions”.

Pie chart showing percentages of users of different types of literacy software solution

The figures for these are:

  • Read&Write Gold: 68.4%
  • ClaroRead: 6.1%
  • Other: 25.5%.

We have for many years optimised all PDFs for Read&Write Gold (it is particularly widely used in the context of accessible PDF-based exam papers). We also maintain and test with ClaroRead, as appropriate. There are a number of important PDF accessibility problems that will only show up when testing with one or the other of these applications. 

Speech recognition

In the area of speech recognition, Dragon Naturally Speaking, as ever, dominates. It is particularly useful for testing navigation and interactivity in PDFs.


The GOV.UK assistive technology survey 2016 provides a great deal of useful information on assistive technology use in the UK. Hopefully it will encourage content producers everywhere to take into account the widest possible range of end-users. Doing so can only raise standards for everyone.