Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day


Putting our accessibility participants in the spotlight

GAAD keyboard logo

21 May 2020 marks the ninth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). System Concepts has been promoting digital and physical inclusion far longer than this, with accessibility at the heart of what we do. Whilst we draw on our knowledge and experience undertaking both digital and physical access audits to identify barriers for people with different disabilities, we also rely on conducting research with people who have a range of real-life access needs.

A close-up of a man wearing casual clothing, he has his smartphone in his hand and he is using a visually impaired mobile app to help assist him.

To support us with this, over the years we have built up our own confidential database of potential participants; comprising people with a wide range of impairments who are keen to help us make products more usable and accessible. This includes people who are blind, partially sighted, deaf/Deaf, have a motor impairment, cognitive and/or neurological impairment.

To mark GAAD 2020, we spoke to five people who had recently taken part in a one-to-one research session with us; including people who were either blind, visually impaired, had a brain injury or were profoundly deaf. The aim was to shine a light on the importance of making digital products accessible and to find out what it is like to take part in accessibility research with us.

Improving the digital world for people with accessibility needs

All participants stressed the importance of product designers including people with disabilities in their research and development; to meet obligations under the Equality Act, but also for companies to maximise their reach to potential users/customers.

“It’s 100% important that I am able to use the same or similar products and services as others. At the most basic [level], doing so makes me able to do what they can do and is therefore very inclusive. Research that focuses on enabling my use of products also has the benefit of opening markets up to disabled people and profiting the providers.”
Partially sighted participant

Here are the top tips our participants wanted to pass on to designers and developers to improve digital products.

Blind user

Icon for blind

  1. Provide text/audio alternatives for visual content, including captures and images.
  2. Make buttons and fields keyboard accessible and provide labels and instructions on how to use them.
  3. Place important content high up the page so that it is quick and easy for people navigating by keyboard only.

Partially sighted users

  1. Ask all designers to follow a standard set of guidelines, for forms etc. For example, to ensure high contrast between fonts and  backgrounds and appropriate use of images.
  2. Provide built-in accessibility options for people who do not have accessibly software, and ensure their presence is obvious.
  3. Always test digital products with people who have accessibility needs.

Cognitively impaired user

Cognitive impairment

  1. Make important information large and bold, to reduce the likelihood of it being missed.
  2. Provide simple tutorials, where relevant, to explain processes.
  3. Provide clear error messages and a simple route to correcting them.

deaf/Deaf user

Icon for Deaf / deaf

  1. Provide clear subtitles, in sync with the audio.
  2. Provide colour-coded subtitles for different speakers.
  3. Ensure that the image quality of each speaker’s face is good, for lip reading.

Participating in research at System Concepts

A man with his smartphone in his hand and he is using a visually impaired mobile app to help assist him, a female can be seen sitting down next to him.

Before we recruit participants for research, we ask people on our database to answer some basic questions about themselves, their accessibility needs and their use of products similar to what we are testing. This allows us to screen people to ensure we get participants with a range of different accessibility needs and experience and/or interest in the product area we are testing. We usually have very specific quotas to meet and try to aim for a mix of genders and different age groups. We’re often overwhelmed by the enthusiastic responses we get from people about taking part, but we generally can’t invite everyone who answers our questions to get involved in a given piece of research. There are always other opportunities for them to get involved in other projects, however.

Most of our accessibility research takes place at our labs in London, since technical and communication barriers can sometimes occur that can be more easily overcome during face-to-face sessions. Where necessary, we meet participants at local train stations and escort them to/from our office – extending a special welcome to guide dogs who might join us in the office for a short time! Our research sessions usually last 60-90 minutes, which seems a long time until you’re in the room with us. We’re often told that the time flies for participants.

Some of our participants described their experience taking part in research with us. Here’s what they said…

“The staff and environment are great. They are deeply understanding and knowledgeable of my needs and the sessions roll past with ease. The time is just long enough not to make you tired, and keep you focused on your task… Thank you, guys at System Concepts, for always being so professional and understanding… I always feel I’m doing something very useful when I visit you.”
Participant with a brain injury

“They were very friendly. I would go back again for future research. I highly recommend you take part!”
Profoundly deaf participant

“The researchers are polite and non-judgemental. The process is not complicated, and the outcome is something tangible. You often see your input reflected, which makes you feel more than just a person with a nuisance disability.”
Partially sighted participant

If you have a disability or accessibility need and are interested in being added to our database of potential participants, please get in touch.

Below we provide some additional insights about why people on our database enjoy taking part in research with us.

“I like a challenge, but more importantly it gives me a voice to ask questions and make suggestions to companies… Using digital products is a lifeline.”
Blind participant

“It is hugely interesting and challenging on one level, and on another the thought that my input could help another with a disability is greatly rewarding.”
Participant with a brain injury

“This is one way of making sure that products are fit for use by a wider audience than just the designers and people like them. It highlights unexpected needs and patterns of use, which can be adapted for the population at large. Like voting, it gives me a voice and a chance to contribute to effecting a change.”
Partially sighted participant

We would like to use this as an opportunity to thank everyone who has helped us with our extensive accessibility research to date. Your insights enrich our research and add value that can’t always be gathered from audits alone.

Speech bubbleIf you have an accessibility project you’d like help with, we’d love to talk to you.

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