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Design research

Research activities such as interviewing, persona creation, empathy mapping, usability testing, and learning in general should include people with diverse abilities. Talking to people who use technology in different ways can help you realize what elements the product is lacking, and where attention is needed in the design process.

Nature of disabilities

Disabilities can be thought of as a mismatch between one’s ability and one’s environment, and can be broken into three main types:

  • Situational: A person with typical vision might struggle to view their screen in a bright environment. Or, a hearing person sitting in a library may be unable to watch a video with the audio turned on.
  • Temporary: A person with a broken wrist may not be able to type but will regain the ability when healed.
  • Long-lasting: This is what people typically think of when they hear “disability.”

Types of disabilities

How users experience an interface
  • Most use a screen reader to experience interfaces.
  • May rely on Braille output.
  • Cannot be expected to use a pointer or mouse for input.
What designers should think about
  • Is visual information translated effectively into text? Can the image be understood through its metadata alone?
  • Providing keyboard interaction anywhere a mouse is used; follow keyboard guidelines for correct operation.
  • Understanding how the content is going to be read out. Ensuring the page reads logically. Where possible, test all designs through a screen reader.
How this applies to everyone
  • As audio-only interfaces gain popularity through devices like AI assistants, users are expecting more and more from the audio representations of experiences.
  • Screen readers, keyboard control, audio descriptions of visual content

Interview considerations

  • Interview individuals who represent a wide range of abilities to understand their context and methods of accessing technology.
  • Ask questions that consider outlier cases.
  • Synthesize and implement interview insights and user considerations into project.

Persona exercises

  • Establish a user persona from your interview research.
  • Create an empathy map for a persona of an assistive technology user.
  • Ensure the empathy map is used and reflected upon in each software use case.

Inclusive design processes

  • Use inclusive language in recruitment and research materials.
  • Actively seek out design input from people who use assistive technologies or alternative control methods.
  • Make design activities accessible.
  • Revisit the persona using assistive technology regularly and ask how they would use the proposed design.

Users with diverse abilities

  • Test content, prototypes, and visuals with people who have varying abilities or use different access methods.
  • Implement changes based on user feedback.