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Accessibility survey reveals PDF problems, technology types and satisfied users

The UK Government online services portal, GOV.UK, is aiming to cut down on PDFs after an accessibility survey revealed that many users encounter problems with them.

Launched in May, the GOV.UK 2016 assistive technology survey aimed to find out about the range of technologies that people are using to access and navigate the site. The survey received 712 responses from assistive technology users.

Results are now being published on the Government Digital Service (GDS) Accessibility Blog. Some of the key findings are highlighted below.

Screen magnifiers – used mainly by people with a visual impairment – are the most popular form of assistive technology accessing GOV.UK, used by 30% of respondents. ZoomText is the most popular magnification software.

Screen-readers – again primarily used by people with sight loss – are also commonly used, by 29% of respondents. The most popular screen-reader software is JAWS.

Read and Write, a type of software aimed at users with dyslexia, was found to be the most commonly used ‘reading solution’.

The survey also revealed that many assistive technology users accessing GOV.UK found PDFs difficult to access and read, and would prefer content in HTML format – an issue that many accessible technology users will be familiar with.

One of the survey’s designers, Chris Moore – a content designer and digital accessibility champion at HMRC – told e-Access Bulletin that GOV.UK is aiming to lessen its reliance on PDFs as a result of the survey findings. “Many users just don’t like PDFs,” Moore said. “We’ve run workshops to identify why content producers prefer to use that format and to enable us to provide them with solutions, so they don’t have to continue publishing that way.”

Other issues uncovered in the results included that some users felt that search results pages on GOV.UK are too complicated. Also, some users found the site’s use of black text on a white background difficult to read.

However, as well as identifying accessibility barriers, the survey results also showed that a “significant number” of people are happy with GOV.UK’s level of accessibility, with some users being pleased at the simple design of the site.

“It looks like we are on the right track,” said Moore, “as quite a significant number of users told us that they find GOV.UK to be really accessible for them, so we will continue our efforts to make GOV.UK as simple as possible. We are using the survey results to help us decide which assistive technologies we will use to test GOV.UK and which assistive technologies we will advise other departments to test with.”

Other findings and results from the survey will be published on GOV.UK, including blogs about the range of assistive technologies that respondents are using, and the issues around PDF content. Moore said that another assistive technology survey will be launched in 2017, using the data from the current survey to compare against.

Read the first batch of results from the survey at the GDS accessibility blog: .

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