In May 2016 the accessibility team responsible for the GOV.UK domain posted a survey looking for information about the types of Assistive Technology (AT) people visiting the site were using. GOV.UK is the central online hub in the UK for all government services and information and as such, it takes accessibility very seriously. The survey which was open for 6 weeks, was answered by over 700 people and has produced some interesting results. You can read a post on their blog with all the results here.
Around the same time here in Ireland, Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland conducted their own online AT user survey which also had some interesting findings. You can read more about that here.
Online Accessibility Vs Personal AT Use
Before comparing the results we must first highlight that we are not comparing like with like here. The UK.GOV survey was at heart about accessibility: the information we learn about AT is in the context of accessing a website whereas the Irish survey was seeking to find out about the range of AT which people use, and their experience in securing it through public or private funding. This will obviously skew the UK.GOV sample towards software solutions (they don’t appear to have asked about hardware like alternative input devices) to support computer access, literacy and visual impairment. Taking this into account what does stand out is the amount of “premium” AT solutions identified as being used in the UK. 29% of those responding to this survey used a screen reader and of these just under 40% identified JAWS as being their solution of choice. VoiceOver was next (but by far the most popular choice for mobile users) followed by just 12% using the free Open Source NVDA. (See graph below).
About 30% of respondents use magnification software, and almost 70% identified high end proprietary solutions like Zoomtext (54%), Supernova (11%) and Magic (4%). Within magnification the lack of a credible open source alternative could help to explain the result. There is a similar situation within literacy support software with Read & Write from TextHelp accounting for almost 70% of the total. Finally it’s no surprise that various iterations of Dragon Naturally Speaking from Nuance accounted for almost 90% of speech recognition software.
Do these results tell us that there is a thriving market for high end proprietary AT software in the UK? Maybe not, it’s far more likely that the people responding to this survey were professionals working in a corporate enterprise type environment which might favour proprietary over open source or inbuilt solutions.
Cost of AT
In terms of cost of AT, the surprise result of the Irish survey was that 62% of AT solutions cost less than €1000 and the UK.GOV results seem to be similar. JAWS and possibly some versions of Zoomtext would cost in excess of €1000. However, all other solutions identified here would come in below that.
It’s interesting to see both the U.K. and Ireland attempting to gather current data on AT use. What these surveys highlight most of all is the need for more comprehensive data gathering to enable us to plan for the future, across the life span: from early childhood to old age. Assistive Technology is a tool for all, but still, far too few people who could benefit from it, are aware of it, or know how to apply for funding for it.