One of the most important and challenging aspects of running inclusive user research is finding participants with a wide range of access needs, who can provide feedback on different features of your products. Our third post from the Inclusive user research series answers key questions around recruitment.
In our first two posts on inclusive user research, we discussed moderating usability testing sessions with people with disabilities, and analysing findings from inclusive user research. Another key aspect of conducting inclusive user research is finding participants who are representative of the product's users, and can provide the feedback you need to improve its usability and accessibility.
When running training courses on inclusive user research, or delivering our user research mentoring programme, we are often asked questions around recruitment. This post answers some of the most commonly asked, and provides advice based on our experience of running research with people with disabilities.
Do I need to recruit people with disabilities?
Definitely. Regardless of the product you are testing, research objectives or methodology, you should include people with disabilities. As a researcher, your aim is to have participants who are representative of products' users. With 15% of the World population living with a disability, according to The World Bank, if you don't recruit people with disabilities, you will end up with a sample that is not truly representative.
When can I start testing my product with disabled people?
You should test products with people with and without disabilities at every stage of development; from concept all the way to launch. Feedback collected throughout the process will help you shape, design and build truly inclusive experiences. For example:
- Concept: at the concept stage you can get ideas for features to make products easier to use for people with a certain type of disability
- Design: at the design stage you can collect feedback on the size and colour of components, particularly important for people with visual and cognitive disabilities
- Development: once products are functional, you can test their support for accessibility settings and assistive technology
Proper planning and innovative thinking will allow you to come up with effective and engaging ways to test products in any format, and at any stage of development, with people with a wide range of disabilities. Often it's all about providing information in alternative ways, such as audio describing a wireframe to people who cannot see it, or producing a large print version for people with low vision. Choosing research tools, such as online survey and video conferencing platforms, that are fully accessible is another way to allow all people to take part in research.
How many people with disabilities should I recruit?
As with participants without disabilities, the number of disabled people you should recruit will be affected by many factors, such as research methodology, budget, timelines, and the total number of people you are planning to include.
For moderated usability testing, we generally recommend clients recruit 12 participants. This allows to include people with a range of disabilities, who use a variety of specialised technology or settings. However, we appreciate this may not always be possible. As a general rule, you should ensure that at least 20% of participants have a disability; considering that 15% of the World population has a disability, this would be a representative sample.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to always include some disabled people. Recruiting just two or three people when budget is particularly tight is better than recruiting none, and contributes to making it become a standard practice.
What disabilities should I include in my recruitment criteria?
The wider range of disability types you can include the better. However, when constrained by budget and time, you will need to carefully choose whom to include, to get the most out of your research.
The people to recruit will depend on your research objectives and the type of content or service you are testing. You want to include a representative sample of all people who may encounter barriers when trying to use your product. Start by analysing the content and components that make up the product, ask yourself who may find them challenging to understand or operate, and base your recruitment criteria on those considerations.
As an example, if you have a content-heavy website, you want to test it with people who may struggle to read, process or understand information. This may include people with some reading and cognitive disabilities, but also Deaf people, for whom English is a second language. If you are working on a highly interactive app instead, your priority may be to test it with assistive technology users, to ensure they are able to operate controls with ease.
How can I find participants with disabilities?
You can either try finding people yourself, or ask an accessibility consultancy or recruitment agency to do it for you. Each approach has its pros and cons.
Reaching out to people yourselves via social media, charities and community groups can be time consuming. However, collecting information on potential participants first-hand means that you are more likely to find people who fit your recruitment criteria. We also find that the brief conversations we have with potential participants during recruitment helps establish a connection, which often results in people feeling more relaxed in the research sessions.
Using a consultancy or agency is indeed an easier option. Not all recruitment agencies have experience recruiting people with disabilities, though, and may not fully understand your requirements. So you don't end up with people who do not quite fit your participant profiles, be very specific when explaining your recruitment needs. Asking for someone with a motor disability is not sufficient, for example. Depending on the product or service you are testing, you may need someone who accesses digital products via specialised technology or uses a wheelchair.
Selecting and recruiting people with disabilities who are representative of your products' users is both crucial and challenging. Budget and time can limit the amount of people you can recruit, and little experience in inclusive user research can make choosing whom to include difficult at first.
Identifying aspects of your product or service that can be particularly challenging for some people is a first important step in the recruitment process. Unless recruiting yourself, choosing an agency with experience in the accessibility field, and being very specific when explaining your recruitment needs are also important.
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