Are you capturing feedback from all of your users with usability testing, or are you leaving out an important segment of the population - people with disabilities? You might think of web users with disabilities as having mobility issues, colorblindness, or severe vision or hearing impairments. A disability doesn't need to be severe or require technology adaptations. For example, aging adults often begin to display low-level or early-stage disabilities (poor vision, slower motor function) and may already be a significant user group. And, disabilities can affect anyone at any time - consider the person with a broken arm, or the employee working through a headache.
One of the best ways to make sure an application or website is easy for people with disabilities to use is to include them in usability testing. It is often not necessary to plan and conduct special "accessibility" usability tests, as people with disabilities perform the same tasks as those without disabilities.
Usability testing isn't the only way to include people with disabilities in the UX process. People with disabilities should also be included in user research, represented in personas, and invited to be beta testers.
Recruiting Participants for an Inclusive Usability Test
If you are iteratively usability testing a product, consider including one or two participants with a disability in each round. Over time, you will have generated feedback from people with a wide range of experiences: vision problems, difficulty hearing, motor issues, and cognitive impairments.
Where to find participants:
- Post an open invitation asking for participants (Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, community boards)
- Charitable or support organizations
- Senior citizen centers
- University accessibility accommodation offices
- Use a third-party recruiter
Use screening questions to determine if potential participants use a screen reader, a magnifier, a special mouse or keyboard, or any other adaptations.
Testing with Assistive Technologies or Special Adaptations
People who use assistive technologies or hardware adaptations may have highly personalized setups or expensive equipment. So, it may be best to conduct sessions using his or her computer remotely or as a field study. If you take this approach, note what technology or adaptations are being used.
Should you usability test a prototype or the actual product?
You can test a prototype when you know the population does not use assistive technology or certain adaptations like keyboard-only input. People with vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive disabilities will still be able to identify usability issues concerning readability, function, and content.
However, if you intend to test participants who use assistive technologies or who only use the keyboard to navigate, you will want to use the real application or website so that any errors related accessibility actually belongs to the product, and not the prototype.
Also, make sure the tasks you are testing are navigable via a screen reader or a keyboard prior to the test. It is not a good use of time to discover that the participant can't make it past the first screen because the product was never coded to be accessible in the first place.
Draw Conclusions with Caution
Be careful about generalizing issues that participants with disabilities found. No two people are alike, and, as with any usability test participant, the range of experiences is very diverse. Finding any usability issue in a product is likely to impact other users, not just those with a disability.