Making a case for accessibility standards for inclusive design at Prolific Interactive that goes beyond the bottom line. 

Deliverables:

—  research plan 
—  interview digests
—  personas
—  recommendations
—  resource guide

Role:            UX researcher

Client:          Internal intiative for Prolific Interactive 
Team:           Natalie Blair, project mentor 

Just as you can tell whether or not these ramps were designed with intention, users with disabilities can tell when digital accessibility was an afterthought. 

Gytis Lietvaitis / Creative Commons

Prolific Interactive lacked a strategy for implementing accessibility standards into its products. At the same time, legal requirements for accessibility, especially on mobile devices, are very thinly documented due to federal deregulation of standards. 

Scanning the landscape

To start with a firm foundation for my design research, I needed to understand the context of what the accessibility world currently looked like in regards to mobile. Some of the questions we hoped to answer were:

  • Who are people with disabilities and how do they interact with technology?  
  • What is the current tech/mobile industry doing to address their needs?
  • What are known best practices? What’s failed in the past, and why? 
  • Which organizations are pushing the edge?
  • What are the business implications of their pain points for both Prolific and our partners?
  • What are the trends with policy, litigation, and compliance standards? How can we define grey areas?

Research

7

interviews with
industry experts

7

interviews with
people with disabilities

1

day of contextual inquiry

Industry experts

With guidance from my project mentor, Natalie, I created a project timeline and identified industry experts; people who work for accessibility-minded consultancies, lead accessibility initiatives at their workplaces, or work in the community. General themes from our conversations included: 

The price of retrofitting 
Unanimous agreement that it will be cheaper and far more accessible when you plan for accessibililty from the get-go 

Nebulous policy
The absence of regulation will drive more enforcement in the courts because there isn't a clear definition of  compliance

Beyond litigation
Treating accessibility standards as we would anything else in our process, like performance or customer feedback 

What’s missing 
The irony of the accessibility conversation is that it lacks people with disabilities

Through an outreach plan that included attending many accessibility-minded events and meet ups, I made connections with more accessibility advocates, but more importantly, with mobile users with disabilities who were interested in participating in user research. 

A packed house for an a11y NYC event with disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold / Organizing themes from expert interviews 

User research 

Names changed to respect the participants' privacy 

In general, recruiting research participants with disabilities will take longer than you expect because it takes time to invest in the community and build trust. One unforeseen issue we encountered was finding alternative recruitment sources and non-disclosure agreements since what we usually relied upon were not accessible by screen readers. 

  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image

I created personas to take a closer look into some of our participants, differentiated by ability (both physical and cognitive), aptitude (their knowledge and skill with technology), and attitude (their motivation, risk tolerance, emotion, and persistence.) As we talked with our participants, we discovered: 

The tenacity of seniors with tech

Mobile's impact with users who have low or no vision

People with disabilities use creative workarounds

Seniors well into their 80s and 90s may be apprehensive about new technology, but value the challenge. They get help using devices from family and friends

With live assistance apps and native accessibility features, smart phones have revolutionized the lives of people who have low vision

Whether it’s using Bitmojis or clocks that chirp at every hour, users have unexpected workarounds suited to their abilities

I interviewed two low-vision participants in their New York City apartment and accompanied them to a trip to their local grocery store. Employing contextual inquiry and sharing that footage was the most effective method to uproot stakeholders' assumptions. I recorded how they crossed the busy Manhattan streets, their relationships with their neighbors and building super, how they grocery shop, and even how they interacted with abrasive strangers who confront them about their disabilities. 

An iPhone user with low vision connects with a visual interpreter on the app Aira to help her and her wife find root beer soda.

Recommendations

Based off of all my research, my recommendations for Prolific included a few strategies to start with: a tiered workflow process involving Product, Design, and Engineering departments, long term internal education, external education for our partners, and outreach with accessibility community groups. 

In the end, I not only found a passion for users with disabilities and digital accessibility, but learned how to convince a business to care. There is a return on investment for accessibility, but it’s not in the profits—it’s in the margins. It’s in the money not spent, or spent more wisely that's translated into savings from avoiding litigation and lower maintenance costs. 

Above business objectives however, digital products that are accessible shouldn't just be a nice to have, it's the law and ultimately a civil rights issue. As a designer who believes in the impact of inclusion and the power of empathy, I'm thrilled that these conversations around inclusion are occuring more often, but there's much more work to be done to include people who rarely have a seat at the table.