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?
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.