The Designer’s Guide to Accessibility Research

The Designer’s Guide to Accessibility Research

Digital products still lack basic features for users with a disability. Imagine the frustrating UX experience of an elderly woman with arthritis whose soft hand movements aren’t registered by her smartphone’s touchscreen. Accessible digital design can make a world of difference to users like these—and millions more.

Research is one of the best ways designers can begin crafting user experiences with accessibility in mind. Here are seven tactics for conducting accessibility research:

1.Do your homework before your fieldwork

Respect for the user and their life experience comes first. Before you start talking to people with disabilities and asking for feedback, do your homework. This helps you understand some of the limitations and pain points disabled people experience, and gives you an idea of how they use technology to make everyday activities easier.

2.Try the technologies on yourself

If you’re interested in designing for people with blindness or low vision, put on a blindfold and try out screen readers like ChromeVox, TalkBack on Android, or Voice Over on Apple. See what it’s like to not use a mouse and have to rely only on your keyboard for browsing the web. Your personal experience with these tools may give you a sliver of insight and set the stage for the next step: exercising your empathy.

3.Develop empathy by observing and being open-minded

While trying out an assistive technology is useful, you’ll likely use the assistive tech differently from the people it’s designed to help. Before coming up with a prototype based on your assumptions, observe how your target users go through their daily lives. See how they navigate around their homes, work environments, communities, and grocery stores—both with and without assistive technologies.

4.Be humble: Admit your ignorance and break assumptions

When you’re new to accessibility, conducting research with unfamiliar users can get uncomfortable. It’s best to be honest. Tell the people you’re observing that this is new to you and that you may be asking a lot of basic questions but you sincerely want to know about their lives.

5.Choose a variety of participants and technology

To design a product that will work for all types of users, it’s important to see how a diverse group interacts with their environment and technology. Observe differently-abled people across age groups, activity levels, and familiarity with technology. Younger and older users may use products with varying degrees of proficiency.

6.Bring various stakeholders on your research trips

Implementing accessibility changes in design and engineering may require new budget allocations and the collaboration of a number of people in your company. When people from different product groups and levels of management see how target users interact with and are challenged by existing technologies and products, they’re more likely to support design and engineering changes.

7.Test for your target users and beyond

Once you have mocks or a prototype, test them with your target users. Ask for their feedback on what it’s like to interact with the product. In some cases, products need to be easy-to-use by both the disabled person and the person assisting them. Make sure to test both individual features and the entire product experience.

Research is an important part of the design process, but it’s just one step toward making a product that’s accessible for all users. You still have to think critically about your observations, synthesize potential solutions, and test and implement new approaches in your design.