Answering Your Questions: How to Conduct Accessibility UX Research

Posted by AnswerLab Research on Jun 12, 2020

Designing for accessibility means millions more users can effectively use your products and services. And while UX research is being conducted remotely, now is a great time to meet these users where they are and uncover accessibility insights that can enhance product development for everyone.

We hosted a webinar (recording below) on the ins and outs of getting started with accessibility research to provide you with the tools needed to bring this into your practice.

Accessibility has a wide range of topics and intricacies tied to it, from needing to know laws and regulations to learning how a web page should be coded to understanding the experiences of those with disabilities. We received many questions from all of you that hit on how we as researchers can approach accessibility in our tools, moderation, and stakeholder engagement.

To continue the conversation, we’re answering some of the questions we couldn’t get to.

Watch the recording and then continue reading for additional Q&A:



1. I’m glad to hear that with remote research we can access a diverse sample but I’m concerned about participants’ internet access or even accessibility during the study itself. What are some pre-planning steps you suggest we take in case these issues arise during a session?

Remote research enables you to access people across more geographic locations in a larger range of backgrounds and abilities. But of course, there are always things that can be trickier when you’re not in person. We’ve developed a number of steps you can take to make sure your research runs smoothly.

Start with using remote “walk-ins”—we call participants just prior to the session to walk them through joining a potentially brand new video conferencing tool for the first time and help set up their audio and video. This is similar to the in-person experience of checking in with our research host in our office lobby. It minimizes tech hurdles and ensures participants feel mentally and physically prepared to join.

Make sure your preferred video conferencing tool is screen reader accessible, meaning participants can use their screen reader to successfully join the meeting and share their screen and computer audio. This allows you to observe as the participant navigates a website, listen to the participant’s screen reader audio, and gather feedback about the participant’s experience. Participants with mobility impairments will also be able to use their regular assistive technologies or workarounds to join the meeting as well.

And, don’t forget to make use of the chat functionality! We like to use the chat function in our video conferencing tool to communicate with participants with hearing impairments, alleviating the need for an interpreter.

2. How can researchers convince product teams and product owners of the importance of accessibility and include it in our research?

Not only is designing accessible products and experiences a legal requirement. It’s the right thing to do and means millions more people will be able to use and benefit from your product. According to the last U.S. Census, nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability – that’s 20% of the population.

Consider all the benefits accessibility research brings to your design process and advocate for those when discussing research plans with stakeholders and product teams. Try tying the benefits to your company’s goals, brand, and values. We find accessibility research can help you:

    • Uncover accessibility issues with early testing to avoid added development and design costs
    • Identify areas that interfere with any users’ ability to use a product
    • Gather data that accurately represents your entire user population
    • Improve your product for not only those with disabilities, but all of your users
    • Provide critical insights that help you innovate on your products, not just fix existing issues

We hear from many clients that they’re committed to getting on board with accessibility, but often have a hard time creating team alignment around what it means. Start by creating some clear definitions and shared language. It’s not the most exciting part of research and design, but defining how teams consider different populations and subsequently getting everyone on the same page is an important step. Host a workshop or working session to help create definitions, discuss them with your team, and brainstorm how you’ll move forward. It’ll set the scene for accessibility research and build alignment you can build on later. 

Lastly, accessibility doesn’t necessarily need to be a high-level strategic focus to gain critical insights. Instead, inclusive design can come from grassroots efforts by baking inclusive practices into every research session. Try to expand your recruitment criteria to ensure a diverse group of people are included in every study you run, whether accessibility focused or not. You’ll start to uncover powerful findings that speak to inclusivity and accessibility and can use those as proof points for stakeholders on why follow-up research focused on accessibility could be beneficial.

3. How do you make things like surveys or digital diaries accessible for use via screen reader?

In order for your surveys to be accessible, you need to make sure you’re meeting WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. The first step is making sure your survey or diary tool is accessible and meets these requirements. This means the actual form interaction is accessible with the use of screen readers, screen magnifiers, voice recognition softwares, etc. and the user can tab through the answer options, select something from a dropdown menu, and complete it with the help of any of these devices. These are settings that must be built into the tool you use.

Then, when designing your survey within this tool, make sure to follow standard accessibility guidelines like adding alt text to images; using high contrast colors for text, icons, and formatting; and providing captions for videos. And lastly, always test your survey by trying to complete it using only the keyboard. This mimics how a screen reader would read the survey. If possible, always test your survey before launch with assistive technology users to uncover any issues before you share it more broadly.

4. I’m a UX Researcher. Where should I start to learn more about this topic?

A great first step is to think about and define how accessibility plays a role in your organization, product, or experience. Start by asking yourself, “Who is this product for?” “Who might be impacted?” and “Who might struggle to use this?” Then, consider how you can fix the difficulties this population might have with your product or experience.

Next, take some time to educate yourself on different disabilities, assistive technologies, and the regulations and laws for making sites and products accessible. See our resource list below for some further reading from our team!

Once you have a better understanding of all your users and a baseline knowledge of the many intricacies of accessibility, start your research! When you’re just starting out, we recommend using some lightweight options, especially if you’re struggling to get stakeholder buy-in. For example, if you’re conducting a survey, you could include a question at the end to see if your users are using any assistive technologies with your product. You can also get a sense of how well your product performs using situational disabilities or impairments. For example, If you can’t recruit low vision users, try taking your phone outside in direct sunlight to test the contrast. While this doesn’t replace the rich insights you’d get with full in-depth research, it can clue you into some of the hurdles and get you started on the right path.

5. Could you provide some resources or a checklist for further reading?

Earlier this year, we asked our team to share their favorite resources, books, articles, and tips to share in our Go-To Guide for Accessibility Resources. This guide is a great resource to print out and keep on hand for when you need a quick answer or resource. We’ve also written extensively on the topic of accessibility. Check out the following articles from our team:

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AnswerLab Research

The AnswerLab research team collaborates on articles to bring you the latest UX trends and best practices.

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