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
- Types of disabilities
- Interview considerations
- Persona exercises
- Inclusive design processes
- Users with diverse abilities
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
- Most use a screen reader to experience interfaces.
- May rely on Braille output.
- Cannot be expected to use a pointer or mouse for input.
- 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.
- 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
- May use screen reader, screen magnifier, high-contrast modes, as well as monochrome displays.
- May have browser font size adjusted to a larger setting.
- May not use adaptive technology at all.
- Maximize the readability and visual clarity of content.
- Consider how relative proximity of information changes when a page is magnified.
- To get a better understanding of the various low-vision experiences, we recommend using the NoCoffee Chrome plugin to preview websites.
- Users without disabilities sometimes need to view screens in poor lighting conditions. For example, imagine using a screen outside on a bright day. A higher-contrast design will make the screen more usable for everyone.
- Vision worsens gradually starting around age 40, so good contrast and designs that can be resized help this very large demographic use your interface.
- Large monitors, enlarged views and resized text, high contrast modes, alternate color palettes
- Will not be able to differentiate between some colors on an interface.
- Rely on contrast and non-color information to use an interface.
- Run your design through a color-blind simulator. If the design doesn’t work, try another approach. If you’re working in Sketch, we recommend the Stark plugin for color contrast.
- High contrast modes, alternate color palettes
- May rely on captioning and other alternative representations of audio.
- Find alternatives to conveying information exclusively with sound.
- Transcribe and caption all videos and animations that have meaningful audio.
- All users can benefit from closed captioning. Imagine using your device in a loud environment or, alternatively, in a quiet environment when it wouldn’t be appropriate to turn your sound on. Captioning also improves search results.
- Captions, alternative cues for audio alerts such as text and haptics
- May rely on track ball, voice recognition, and other assistive technologies that operate through keyboard interface.
- May not be able to use standard keyboard or mouse.
- Design for good keyboard interaction, making sure all actions are keyboard accessible and efficient.
- Learn how to navigate using a keyboard and spend some time navigating the web, e-mail, and digital products using only the keyboard.
- Many users prefer to navigate interfaces with a keyboard and no mouse for efficiency. Good keyboard navigation can help everyone be more productive.
- Keyboard, voice recognition, key guards, eye trackers, switches, and other controllers
- May have limited working memory and need information to remain visible throughout a task.
- Designers should understand the danger of complex language, and fundamental cognitive usability heuristics.
- Design in as linear a fashion as possible and focus on design heuristics that have to do with cognitive load and memory.
- Best practices for cognitive disabilities benefit all users. Busy environments can tax anyone’s cognitive load. Aging adults may also experience a decline in cognitive abilities. Placing a low cognitive load on users reduces mistakes and improves effectiveness, regardless of abilities.
- Dyslexia content viewers, reflow, text simplification, use of multimodal presentation
- 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.
- 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.