Accessibility should be at the forefront of digital product research and development. This involves understanding the needs and challenges faced by people with disabilities and incorporating their feedback into the design process. Research involves gathering feedback and insights from users, which can help inform design decisions. It also ensures digital products meet the needs of a diverse range of users, including those with disabilities.
Benefits of research
- Identifying barriers to accessibility: User research can help identify barriers to accessibility that may not be immediately apparent to designers and developers. By collecting feedback from users with disabilities, designers can gain insights into the specific challenges and barriers that these users face when using digital products. This information can then be used to inform design decisions and ensure that the product is accessible. Fixing accessibility issues can often improve the experience for all users.
- Ensuring that products meet diverse needs: User research can also help ensure that digital products meet the diverse needs of users with different abilities, backgrounds, and preferences. By gathering feedback from a wide range of users, designers can gain insights into the specific needs and preferences of different user groups, which can help inform design decisions and ensure that the product is inclusive and accessible to as many users as possible.
- Improving usability and user experience: User research can also help improve the usability and user experience of digital products. By collecting feedback on how users interact with the product, designers can identify areas that may be confusing or difficult to use and make improvements to ensure that the product is easy to use and navigate for all users.
- Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity: Conducting user research demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, which can help build trust with users and stakeholders. By actively seeking feedback from users with disabilities, designers and developers can show that they are committed to creating products that are accessible and inclusive for all users.
Engaging with users
Engaging with users and understanding their needs provides the biggest long-term gain for teams creating or procuring new products and services.
When we engage with users, we want to be inclusive. Building or designing for the 'average' users is a mistake—there is no such thing. Users' diversity is the norm and not the exception. Including diverse perspectives early on saves you the trouble and expense of fixing your products later in the development process.
Every user possesses a unique set of abilities. These abilities include auditory, cognitive, learning, neurological, physical, speech and visual capacities and limitations. The richness of the diversity offers a wealth of insights. Ensure you define and conduct research with an inclusive cohort to take advantage of these insights and improve your product.
Understand the goals of your project, so you can better understand what’s required of you. Speak not only to people who will use the product or service, but also those that are responsible for it and those who will deliver it. This will be important in helping you plan your research.
Start by identifying the target audience for your digital product. This may include people with different types of disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, cognitive impairments, and more.
Conduct user research with people who have disabilities to understand their needs, challenges, and preferences when using digital products. This may involve conducting interviews, surveys, or usability tests with people who have different types of disabilities.
Analyse the feedback collected from user research and identify patterns and trends. Use this information to identify areas where your digital product may be inaccessible or difficult to use for people with disabilities.
For complex fixes or new projects, design with an inclusive cohort of participants to help you generate lots of possible solutions then prioritise them based on your users' needs and the goals of the project.
Make the necessary changes to your digital product to ensure that it is accessible and usable for people with disabilities. This may include adding alternative text for images, providing captions for videos, using colour contrast that meets accessibility standards, and more.
Continuously test and improve your digital product to ensure that it remains accessible and usable for people with disabilities. This may involve conducting regular accessibility audits, engaging with the disability community to collect feedback, and incorporating accessibility into your product development process from the beginning.
By following these steps, you can ensure that accessibility is at the forefront of your digital product development process and that your digital product is accessible and usable for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Defining a Minimum Viable Cohort for research
A cohort of 6-8 participants is the Minimum Viable Cohort (MVC) for qualitative research. This should be based upon users' functional needs, differences in demographics, abilities and tools.
Inclusive research cohort
Cohort members should include users who use a screen reader such as VoiceOver, Narrator, NVDA, JAWS, or Talkback.
Cohort members should include users who either use inbuilt screen magnification software or third-party apps such ZoomText. Potential cohort members include users with age-related macular degeneration, age-related farsightedness, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and myopia. Additional consideration should be given to users with other vision conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (‘tunnel vision') or people who cannot distinguish between certain colours (often referred to as 'colour blindness'). Can include users over 65.
Potential cohort members include users with auditory disabilities range from mild or moderate hearing loss in one or both ears (‘hard of hearing’) to substantial and un-correctable hearing loss in both ears (‘deafness’). Some users with auditory disabilities can hear sounds but sometimes not sufficiently to understand all speech, especially when there is background noise. Some deaf, Deaf users will require access to signing interpreters.
Potential cohort members include users with muscular dystrophy, repetitive strain injury (RSI), rheumatism, tremors or spasms, quadriplegia. Can include users over 65.
Core cohort members are users whose main language is not English.
Potential cohort members have a low Australian Digital Inclusion Index score based across three dimensions of Access, Affordability and Digital Ability.