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Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design

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Accessibility in User-Centered Design: Conducting Usability Testing

The Evaluating for Accessibility page provides guidance on incorporating accessibility into common evaluation methods, including standards review, heuristic evaluation, design walkthroughs, and informal evaluation with users with disabilities. The Usability Testing section is an overview of usability testing with participants with disabilities.

Conducting a successful usability test that includes people with disabilities involves the following considerations:

Some of the considerations in this section might or might not apply to a given usability test, depending on the participants, the product, and other parameters. The Recruiting Screener near the end of the book lists questions to ask to find out which considerations apply based on participant needs.

See Interacting with People with Disabilities for guidance on avoiding assumptions, asking before helping, talking to and about people with disabilities, and more.

Setting Up the Room

Check that the area is clear. Look for power cords, cables, and wires, which can be especially hazardous to participants with visual impairments.

Right before a participant in a wheelchair came in, I noticed that someone had put a stack of boxes in the hallway leading to the lab and now there wasn't enough space for a wheelchair.

Specific considerations for some participants who are blind or visually impaired

One time we were testing at a participant's house, and when the test started there was enough daylight in the room. As the sun set it became too dark to see our test papers and notes. Eventually we asked the participant if we could turn on the room light, at which time we discovered that the light bulb was burned out. Because the participant was blind, he didn't know the light wasn't working.

Specific considerations for some participants who are deaf or hearing impaired

Specific considerations for some participants who have physical impairments

Orienting the Participant

Encourage the participant to become familiar with the setup of any hardware that will be used in the test, such as keyboard, mouse, and speakers. Encourage them to adjust the equipment, chair, etc. so they are comfortable. If assistive technology will be used in the usability test, allow time for the participant to check the settings and to change them if necessary.

Specific considerations for some participants who are blind or visually impaired

Specific considerations for some participants who are deaf or hearing impaired

Specific considerations for some participants with physical impairments

Completing Paperwork

Participants who were sent consent forms and other "paperwork" before the test, as discussed in "Preparing test materials" in the Preparing for Usability Testing section, might bring it already signed.

Specific considerations for some participants who are blind or visually impaired

Specific considerations for some participants with physical impairments

Completing the Tasks

Some people with disabilities will be particularly eager to complete tasks without help, and might be bothered by being stopped before they are done if they aren't expecting it. Tell participants at the beginning of the session that you might stop tasks before they are complete. For example, you could say something like, "When we have enough information for a task, we might go to another one, even if you haven't completed the task." Also consider what to say when interrupting a task. Instead of, “In the interest of time I'm going to stop you there,” consider something more like, “Let's stop there and I'll give you something new to do.”

Be prepared to use alternative techniques for facilitating. Facilitating usability tests and focus groups often involves subtle communication. Some facilitation techniques might not work with participants with disabilities. For example, body language won't work with participants who are blind and with some people with autism; and if a participant is deaf, the technique of just not answering a participant's question during a low-interaction session won't work.

When facilitating a focus group with blind participants, it became apparent that my practiced use of eye contact and body language to regulate the flow of discussion was of no use. I had to devise strategies for communicating the same cues verbally.

Specific considerations for some participants who are blind or visually impaired

Specific considerations for some participants who are deaf or hard of hearing

Collecting Data

Consider debriefing after each task instead of after the entire test. This is helpful for participants who have spent a significant amount of time on the task, seniors who might have short-term memory loss, and participants with cognitive disabilities who have difficulty processing a large amount of information.

Specific considerations for some participants with speech impairments

Specific considerations for some participants who are deaf or hard of hearing

Providing compensation

Specific considerations for some participants who are blind or visually impaired

We misspelled a participant's name on his check, and he didn't figure it out until he tried to cash it. We had to re-issue the check and he had to make a second trip to the bank.

The next section discusses analyzing and reporting a usability study with participants with disabilities.

References

  1. Communicating with People Who Have a Hearing Loss. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, 1996.

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