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Research with assistive technology users

Use the process outlined in the research checklist and the following considerations to help prepare for research sessions with participants who use assistive technology (AT).

1. Planning for research with assistive technology

Planning your study

  • Partner with an accessibility specialist
    You can request an Accessibility Specialist during the Collaboration Cycle Design Intent checkpoint. They can help you write and review your research plan and conversation guide before submitting your study for a formal research review.

  • Prepare your prototype
    Learn more about testing your prototype with assistive technology users

  • Conduct a separate study
    Consider conducting a separate study just for assistive technology users. This will help the moderator and team focus on the unique needs of conducting this research.

Writing your research plan

  • Recruitment criteria
    When defining who to recruit, strive for a balanced mix of perspectives.

    • Recruit beginners and advanced AT users during recruitment as their needs and behavior may differ significantly.

    • Recruit users with congenital (from birth) and acquired disabilities.

  • Group similar AT users in cohorts
    Grouping your sessions into cohorts will make it easier for recruiting and for the moderator and Accessibility Specialists to plan and conduct.
    See an example of how to note schedule and availability

  • Plan for more time per session
    Plan for 2x the time you'd usually need. We recommend 2 hours for most studies. There may be technical difficulties, the need for breaks, or unexpected situations during the study. Beginner AT users will also need more time to complete tasks.
    See an example of how to note session length

  • Write assistive technology-specific screener questions
    Confirm the participant's technology ahead of the session. You'll want to know the following:

    • The specific combination of AT and devices they are using. For example, "VoiceOver on desktop with magnification tools" or "TalkBack on Samsung Galaxy 8" is better than just "Screen Reader."

    • If they have a screen (they may not be able to screen share if there is no screen to share).
      See screener questions example

  • Request a kick-off call with Perigean
    You can use this time to ensure they are clear on the type of assistive technology users you need.

2. Research review

At least ten days before research begins

3. Participant recruitment

At least seven days before research begins

  • Kick-off call with Perigean
    Use this time to ensure that everyone is clear on the type of assistive technology users you would like to recruit.

4. Run an AT pilot test

Anytime before your first research session

  • Schedule a pilot test with an accessibility specialist
    Schedule the pilot before the study to practice and gain familiarity with the anticipated AT. This is also a great time to get engineers and others on your team involved.

5. Conduct AT sessions

As Perigean schedules sessions

Before research sessions

During research sessions

  • Take separate notes about the assistive tech experience along with general notes
    For these sessions, it's helpful to have someone take notes on everything related to using the assistive technology. Tag them with a11y to make synthesis easier later.
    Start with this Accessibility Research Notes Template

  • Introduce the accessibility specialist
    Make your participant feel comfortable and let them know we have someone on the call to assist if needed.

  • Give participants a choice both before and during the session for the following topics:

    • Private (no observers) vs. open (maximum of 3 observers) studies

    • Video on vs. video off

    • Recording vs. no recording

    • How they prefer to receive links if you're planning on sending links during the study

    • Closed captions (CC) on or off; if the user does not have a preference, turn them on by default unless the participant uses a screen reader

  • For sessions with screen reader users

    • Screen reader users do not navigate the same way sighted users do. Typically, they navigate by keyboard using a combination of mainstream key commands and those specific to their screen reader. When working with screen reader users, refer to the screen reader checklist.

After research sessions

  • Debrief with your accessibility specialist
    Make sure your accessibility specialist is there to help you talk through any issues that may have come up or answer questions.

6. Synthesize AT data

  • Conduct a separate accessibility synthesis workshop
    Gather an accessibility synthesis group (in addition to the general synthesis) to focus on accessibility findings, insights, and bugs. Make sure to invite the accessibility specialists present in your research.

  • Document any risks and plan for future assistive tech studies.
    Work with your accessibility specialist to understand what this research will realistically (and unrealistically) cover. For example, if you only conducted research with advanced screen reader users, you may have gaps in your data around beginner screen reader users, voice technology users, and more.

7. Share your findings with colleagues

  • Share with the broader design practice
    Please help our community of researchers out and note any lessons learned that others can learn from.

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