Conducting research with participants with disabilities

Health & Safety

seeland bridge as metaphor for research with participants with disabilitiesGeneral tips to optimise your research

You really can’t overstate the importance of conducting user research with all users, including those with a range of disabilities and access needs.

In this first of a series of 5 articles, we’ll provide handy tips on conducting research with participants with access needs. This first piece highlights some general points, while the rest of the series will focus on research with users with vision impairments, auditory impairments, motor impairments and participants who are neuro-diverse.

Why does this matter?

When considering accessibility, generally people refer to four (crude) categories:

  1. Vision
  2. Auditory
  3. Motor impairments
  4. Neurodiversity.

By conducting research with participants with disabilities in these categories, we can start to ensure that digital products work for everyone. And often, making adjustments for those with disabilities contributes to a more positive user experience for everyone.

General tips for better research with participants with disabilities and access needs

1.  Send participants the consent form beforehand
Some participants require additional time to either read and/or understand information. Providing them with the consent form a few days before their research sessions ensure that they are able to use assistive technology and re-read sections in their own time if needed, in the comfort of their home.
This allows them to take all the time they need to go through the consent form thoroughly, instead of potentially feeling rushed through it on the day. On the day of the research, make sure you offer to read through the consent form with them as well, in case this is helpful to them or they did not have the opportunity to read through it prior to the session.

2.  Allow more time during sessions to complete tasks
Participants with access needs may take longer to complete tasks for a range of different reasons (e.g. going through a webpage with assistive technology may take them longer, especially if they are a novice user). A session which may take 60 minutes with other participants may take 90 minutes with participants with access needs.

3.  Let participants take breaks as and when they want
This applies to all participants, regardless of disability, however, this is particularly pertinent to participants with access needs.

4.  Talk directly to the participant, not to their interpreter/helper
Some people with disabilities may have an interpreter or helper with them. Although it is of course OK to acknowledge the interpreter/helper, it is important to talk directly to the participant when asking them questions – after all, they are the person you’re doing research with!

5.  Let participants explore and go off topic (a bit)
Although research sessions are often structured and you have a set session guide to get through, it can be helpful for participants with disabilities to let them explore a little more as it can help them think and figure things out for themselves.

6.  Ask them how their condition impacts their use of technology
This makes a good introductory question when you’re setting the scene and getting to know your participant. It can give you an insight into any adjustments they make to meet their needs and give you food for thought in terms of how a variety of users may interact with your product. It will also allow you to consider those needs during the research session.

7.  Don’t try and be overly helpful!
This can sometimes come off as patronising and it is important to let participants do things independently. Instead, ask participants to mention when they would give up if they were at home. This will provide a good insight into when the product becomes unusable to users and will indicate when it might be appropriate to lend a hand.

8. Observe what they do
As with all sessions, it is important to observe what they do and analyse this too, rather than just going with what they say as there may be a mismatch between the two.

Deliver research insights that improve digital products

digital device used in warehouseHere at System Concepts our consultants have a range of experience conducting research with participants with disabilities, delivering insights that ensure our clients’ digital products are accessible. Please do get in touch if you think we can help!

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