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Tips for effective accessibility research

How do you make sure your research project is truly accessible? Ashley Wheat, User Researcher on the NHS website, explains how the team worked with people with a range of access needs to improve their product.

By Ashley Wheat. 10 June 2019

Ashley Wheat

We believe that if we make the NHS website work better for people who have the most complex needs, then we can make it work better for all.

As we’ve been working on the redesign of the NHS website, we have made sure we have tested our new pages with people who have access needs at every stage.

We do research in a number of ways including surveys, online studies and face-to-face interviews. This helps us better understand how all users including those who have a disability or need that affects the way they use the internet, interact with our website. We can then take the necessary steps to improve it.

Since June 2018, we’ve done 79 face-to-face interviews with members of the public. Over half of these have been people who have access needs. This includes people who have Parkinson’s Disease, vision loss, dyslexia, and autism

Here are some top tips for anyone thinking of recruiting people who have access needs for website or other research.

  1. Ask recruiters if they can source your chosen audience - and if they can’t help, ask others. We often use specialist recruiters to invite specific groups of people to take part in our research, saving time and cost.
  2. Build relationships with charities - We’ve collaborated with charities and organisations who represent or work with people who have access needs. We’ve found they’re happy to help, not only with the current project but in the longer term. We’ve nurtured relationships by sharing how their feedback has influenced the website via talks and webinars. So far, we have interviewed members of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Health and Wellbeing Alliance, NHS England Learning Disability and Autism Advisory Group, Parkinson’s UK, Leeds Hearing and Sight Loss Service and the Technology Association of Visually Impaired People.
  3. Make sure you use a venue that’s accessible. If you’re running research in a lab, whether your own, or one you are hiring, make sure people can get to it. That means checking that people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility have access using a ramp or lift and that there are accessible toilets. We try to use facilities that are on the ground floor.
  4. Offer help with transport - Some users may not have their own transport or might be unable to use public transport. Ask users if they need you to arrange transport for them. Use a taxi company with accessible vehicles and give the participant plenty of notice about what time they’re going to be picked up and dropped off so they can plan around this. If users simply can’t get to a research venue or use assistive tech that they can’t bring with them, it is worthwhile to travel to their homes as it can be even more valuable to see them in their natural environment
  5. Be prepared - Allow plenty of time before the research session for participants to get to the venue and settle in. Make sure there’s available seating for a chaperone or helper. Ask participants to bring along any assistive tech they use, such as a laptop and screen reader. When you go to a person’s home, don’t go alone, but don’t take the whole team - two or three people is enough. Make sure you take along any necessary recording equipment, such as a video camera or dictaphone and get the user’s permission to record. Arrange a time to start and finish the research and make sure to stick to it.
  6. Avoid tech traumas - If you’re testing with a prototype, make sure it’s hosted somewhere the user can access it from their own device and that there is free WiFi available. Consider making a short URL using Bitly or another service.
  7. Make sure participants feel looked after - Let participants know they can end a session or take a break if they need to and that there are no right or wrong answers. If something isn’t working, let participants know that it’s not their fault. When you invite members of your team to observe your research, let them know how to be a considerate observer.
  8. Don’t forget your team - Doing research with people who have access needs can occasionally be tiring and emotional. Sometimes users might tell you stories that are hard to hear or you might see them struggle. It’s important that your team support one another when doing or watching research. It’s okay to take some time out during a day of research or as a user researcher, ask for someone to stand in for you.

Making our research accessible

Our research with users who have access needs has helped us make successful decisions while redesigning the NHS website. There is still much more to be done. We have some work to do on our consent processes and we also want to find ways to reach more people who use assistive technology, such as screen readers. We will be sharing our research along the way so others working in the field can learn from our experiences – watch this space!

Last edited: 1 July 2019 1:43 pm