10 Tips for conducting research with participants with accessibility needs
The social model of disability holds that people are not impaired by any condition or attribute that they have: it is barriers in the world around them that cause their disadvantage. At System Concepts we believe that accessibility in UX research – including research participants with a range of physical and mental attributes – is vital to ensuring that everyone can use digital products and services.
People with disabilities may have strategies and tools they use to access digital technologies which can take a bit of getting used to when running UX research sessions. For example, people with lower vision or blindness may rely on a screen reader, while people with motor disabilities may use specialist input technologies.
One of our UX and Accessibility team spoke at an event we hosted with the User Research Huddle on ‘Research for Accessible Design’. At the event, our team provided some tips for conducting research with participants with varying access needs.
Top tips for accessibility in UX research
Here are our top 10 pieces of advice on conducting research with participants with accessibility needs.
Consider where the research will take place, whether the venue is accessible, and how participants will get there. They may need to be met at a station, or you may wish to conduct the research in their own environment, especially if they use a set up that is difficult to replicate (for example, they are switch users, and bringing the switch into the research venue may not be possible).
Make sure you are up front in your recruitment process, that the research is focusing on accessibility. As long as participants are aware of this, you should feel comfortable asking direct questions about any physical or mental attributes that relate to the research.
Send information and consent forms ahead of the session, so participants have time to review, process information and clarify any concerns/uncertainties.
Build extra time in to the research session to allow for any technical setup, and the extra time it will take for you to build rapport and make sure you understand the participant’s experience.
If the research involves interacting with a product or prototype, it’s best for participants to use their assistive technology set to their own tailored setup. Therefore, either ask participants to bring along their assistive technology (on their phone or laptop) of if this isn’t possible, then provide them with time to customise the assistive technology they will use in the session. This will enable you to capture their typical behaviours.
Have instructions, prompts and interview questions prepared in a variety of formats and modalities. Consider splitting task scenarios and questions into smaller steps to reduce participants’ cognitive and working memory loads.
Your research should focus on insights related to accessibility. While it is good to capture usability insights as well, they should not be your focus.
For formative research, try to identify ways in which the product/service you are working on can meet the needs and context of your research participants. Ask participants to explain or show you what life is like for them. You may want them to collect and share some information prior to the research session that will help you understand their experiences.
For evaluative research, you should be trying to identify any barriers to participants using the product/service. If the research involves testing an interface, use the ‘think aloud’ method and be prepared to ask participants to explain their experience for you, to clarify what has happened for them. It may not be perceptible to you if an issue has occurred, or what it is.
The participant’s comfort and wellbeing is paramount. Let them take multiple breaks and be prepared to finish the session early if they need to.