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June 9, 2022
An essential lesson on how to do great user research with people with disabilities, and why accessibility is a non-negotiable part of UX.
How accessible is your accessibility research?
We learned so much in this week’s episode of Awkward Silences. Samuel Proulx, Accessibility Evangelist at Fable (and a User Research Yearbook Class of 2022 member—check out his profile here), joined us to talk to us about accessibility and why it (really, really) matters.
He taught us about the tech many people with disabilities use to navigate the digital world, why accessibility is more important now than ever, and how designing for accessibility makes everyone’s user experience better.
Samuel talked about…
[2:09] What an Accessibility Evangelist does.
[7:39] How to start doing research with people with disabilities.
[15:59] Start your accessibility journey by making sure accessibility feedback has somewhere to go.
[17:21] How to find users with disabilities without collecting HIPPA-protected information.
[19:19] People who use assistive technology are a skilled pool of participants and should be compensated accordingly.
[25:52] Why online research is often more accessible for people with disabilities.
[34:56] A few things researchers can do to make participants with disabilities feel more comfortable during research.
[44:11] Think of accessibility as a way to improve user experience, not as a checklist you have to comply with.
Samuel Proulx is the Accessibility Evangelist at Fable, the leading accessibility platform powered by people with disabilities.
As a blind individual, Sam knows and values the importance of accessibility in all aspects of life and is a strong advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the digital world. Sam brings his previous experience as Fable’s community manager, plus life-long advocacy for himself and others, to his role as Evangelist.
[00:00:00] Samuel: making accessible designs is designing for your future self. Right. Because every single person, at some point in your life, you're going to experience disability. And I don't mean that as a downer.
I don't mean that as a discouragement because it's not because we can build a society where having different abilities or being different doesn’t limit you.
[00:00:28] Erin: Hello everybody. And welcome back to Awkward Silences. Today we're here with Samuel Proulx, the Accessibility Evangelist at Fable. Today we're going to talk about how to do research with folks with disabilities. Really excited for this one and thanks so much for joining us, Samuel.
[00:01:03] Samuel: Hey, great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
[00:01:06] Erin: Got JH here too.
[00:01:07] JH: Yeah, this feels like a pretty uh, overdue topic for us. So I'm excited. I think there's a lot of important stuff to get into.
[00:01:12] Samuel: Yeah. And, you know, it's the right time to be talking about it because I think you know, in a lot of ways the things that have happened over the past year have been a wake up call for a lot of people both inside and outside the disability community about just how critical online and apps and digital experiences have become for everybody.
And so, you know, I guess there's a silver lining in every cloud. But I think that some of the lessons that we're learning, some of the things that we're thinking about, some of the conversations that we're starting to have here and elsewhere are going to serve all of society well in the years to come.
[00:01:51] Erin: Absolutely.
[00:01:52] JH: Like that point when the world, when the online world becomes the world, you start to realize yeah. All the ways that it's still pretty deficient in a lot of respects.
[00:02:01] Samuel: Absolutely.
[00:02:03] Erin: So Samuel you're the accessibility evangelist. Before we dig into the topic, just curious, like, what does that mean? What do you do?
[00:02:09] Samuel: So what I do I, myself, I should clarify, I am a screen reader user so you know, I am a person with a disability and it's really important to me. That, when we're talking about accessibility, the voices of people with disabilities are front and center in that conversation. And so at fable, I do that myself as a person with a disability going to conferences being interviewed on podcasts like this one, presenting, talking to companies about why accessibility is so important, putting a face to it about how to do accessibility and most critically about why it's so important that people with disabilities are involved in the research, ideation, testing and development processes. Because as a popular saying in the disability community goes nothing about us without us.
And that's so critical. And so I, at Fable, am focused, not only on putting my voice front and center, but on making sure that everything we do at fable centers, the voices of people with disabilities who have lived experience, as opposed to sort of, you know, just hearing from experts.
[00:03:24] JH: Yeah. And in your role, obviously you're connected with a lot of people in this space. Have you seen any, like, have you seen this done really well where like that centering is happening and there are teams doing it in a great way? Or is it an area where like everyone's, you know, a little behind and part of your role is to just get people to catch up and kind of modernize how they approach things?
[00:03:43] Samuel: You know, accessibility is a journey. And it's not a straight line road for any organization. It's not a straight path for anyone. And the way that people have engaged with accessibility in the past and are continuing to engage with accessibility is different. And so I can tell you that there are some organizations that are a little bit further along the road in some places and are a little bit behind in others, but accessibility is an ongoing process and an ongoing goal.
And so every organization can do better. Every organization has to continue to think about accessibility and to make accessibility part of their processes because you know, technology keeps changing. And if you are perfectly accessible today and you say, well, I've done accessibility. I've reached the end of the accessibility journey.
Give it two years and you're going to be way behind the ball. And so just like anything else, accessibility is, has gotta be part of processes. And so what I'm really excited about is not so much where different organizations are, but what I'm really excited about is the rate of change, right? There are so many organizations over the past couple of years who are just taking their first steps and who are just starting to walk down this road.
And there are other organizations like, like the Apples and Microsofts and Googles who are taking big, giant steps down the road. But the thing that excites me so much is the rate of change that we're seeing, the number of people engaging on this journey and the commitment that we are seeing to accessibility now.
[00:05:31] Erin: Yeah. And it seems like people are on different stages in that journey. Where we sort of are now from what I can tell is people know this is something they need to care about. Right. And maybe that was not true years ago. And what that means in terms of how integrated accessibility is into practices or how far people are on that journey, it's now pretty known universally accessibility needs to be on your, on your radar.
It needs to be something that you care about for a host of reasons, right? Moral reasons, capitalistic reasons, uh, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:06:09] Samuel: Exactly. But now people know accessibility is something they need to care about the thing that I spend a lot of time talking about is the accessibility journey, because too often people think of accessibility as like a binary, either you are, or you aren't and too often people are afraid to do anything about accessibility because they're saying, well, if I can't be perfectly accessible, Why bother taking the first step?
Right. And that's not how it works. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, right. It's the best time to start. Your accessibility journey was yesterday, but the second best time is today.
[00:06:45] Erin: Planting a tree.
[00:06:46] Samuel: Exactly.
[00:06:47] Erin: Plant an accessibility tree. And so, so with that, with that context, right, presumably anyone listening to you knows accessibility matters is somewhere on that journey themselves and something that we haven't talked about on the show before that I'm really excited to dig into here today is Okay. How can we make whatever we're shipping, building, putting out there accessible without talking to the people we're trying to serve?
And that's where I think folks might have a lot of questions around how to do research with folks with disabilities. And so I'm excited to dig into that. And I wanted to start with, you know, as a researcher, what is your responsibility? How do you approach, like, say you're new to this, right? When it comes to doing research with folks with disabilities.
[00:07:39] Samuel: I mean the very first step is to make sure that it's on the company's radar to make sure that it's on your radar and to make sure that it's something you're thinking about because too often, right. People just sort of do research that doesn't involve people with disabilities at all.
And it's just not something that they're thinking about. And, you know, a good metric that I kind of use is that one in five people in the population is currently living with a disability.
And so we are very concerned about making sure that we get an age distribution that is reflective of the population.
We're very concerned, making sure that we get a financial distribution or an ethnographic distribution that affects the population. But why until now, has there been so little concern to make sure that we get a disability distribution that affects the population and that affects the real population of users of your app or product?
If you haven't heard from a user of your product with a disability, it's not because they don't exist. It's probably because they don't know how to give you feedback or because the people who are collecting the feedback don't know where it should go. Right. It's too often. There's this assumption that, oh, well, I'm not, I've never heard from a person with a disability using my website, so obviously they don't exist.
[00:09:03] Erin: Right.
[00:09:03] JH: Yeah. So actually to build on this is an interesting point, cause we've talked about this before. Right of, Hey, I'm going to do a study. I'm gonna talk to five or six people. It's hard, right? To get a group of five or six people that represent every vector perfectly. Right. But to your point. Every single person in that group has the same household income or something like that's a smell, right?
You want more diversity than that and a different set of backgrounds. When you start to loop in the accessibility piece, is it, you know, any like somebody with any disability, just to make sure there's representation from that angle? Or do you need to make sure that you're getting like a mix. You know, we want, when somebody uses a screen reader and somebody, you know, who, who interacts with our app in a different way. How do you think about, like, what kind of mix you need to get when you are doing some of the smaller you know, user research type studies?
[00:09:45] Samuel: Absolutely. I mean, someone with any disability is better than no one with any disability, right? That's a good place to start there. But when you are thinking specifically about disability research is not market research. It's not ethnographic research. The thing that is affecting the experience that a person with a disability has the most is the assistive technology that they are using on their computer. And so if you've got a good age distribution, but it's only screen readers using jaws, you're not going to.
A good variety because the real thing that is in sometimes I call it almost mediating. My experience, right, is the software that I'm using to read my screen.
And so you want to get a wide variety of folks using disabilities. At fable, when we're conducting kind of small-scale research like this, we like to get three screen reader users all on, on different platforms, right? So we like to get a Mac screen reader user, a windows screen reader user, and maybe an iOS or an Android screen reader user.
And then we like to get one user of screen magnification, which is enlarging the screen for somebody who can't see, that's where you get your color contrast. That's where you get things like that. And we like to get one user of what we call alternative navigation. And what we mean by alternative navigation is anything that replaces a standard keyboard or mouse. So that can be voice control software. Like you've probably heard of a dragon naturally speaking that can be somebody who uses a switch system.
The go-to example for that is the system that Stephen Hawking used in his later life. When you know, all he could move was that one, one cheek muscle, and he could operate the computer with a switch. That could be eye tracking, which you know, now for folks who can't use a mouse, they have software that can actually track your eyes and see where you're looking.
And if you blink and use that to, to help you operate a mouse and help you click, all of those diverse technologies fall under alternative navigation. And, you know, if you fix an issue for one of those technologies, it's going to have knock on effects and it's gonna fix a lot of things for the others as well.
[00:11:53] Erin: Yeah. So I, I hear. Well, the list, the list of screen readers in the variety of alternative navigations that you want to try to, that you at fable, try to make sure you're reaching folks Across all those. I imagine it depends, to JH's point, on what kind of research you're doing, what it is you want to learn.
And, you know, I hate to say what boxes to check, but which quotas are most important for what kind of research and to your point you know, talking to some folks is better than to no folks. Are there any good rules of thumb when you think about, you know, the kind of research I'm doing or the number of people I need to talk to, to get insight for that kind of research and how you want to think about, right?
How to approach that from a disability standpoint, when it comes to recruiting?
[00:12:37] Samuel: Well, one thing that I can absolutely say is that, especially when you're starting off, if you are in the prototype review stage, You are going to find it much, much easier to involve users of screen magnification and of alternative navigation in your prototype reviews, because what a prototype review is it's built in Figma or it's built in Adobe's design system, or one of the, one of the others that are on the market.
You know, other options are available as they say on the BBC. But what a prototype really is, it's a wireframe, it's a picture.
And so for a blind user, the screen reader can't get any of the semantic data like headings and lists and block quotes and all that layout data that we depend on. So we can't really give you any good feedback on like a standard prototype review, whereas someone who is a screen magnification absolutely can, they can tell you about color contrast, and if the targets are too small and if it magnifies well, and if things are visually confusing when it's magnified. All of that good stuff.
And so. Too many times people think, oh, accessibility is screen readers and screen readers is accessibility. And that's all it is. And if I can't test with screen reader users, I'm not going to bother, or they think I should start all of my testing with screen reader users. And that's not necessarily the case you can start with screen magnification and you can make changes that will help them.
You can start with alternative navigation, especially in those prototype review stages. Now it is possible.
To do a prototype review with a screen reader user. But it takes adaptation and it takes knowledge and it takes work. To give you an intro into what that involves, generally, it involves creating a layout in a word processor like Microsoft word or Google sheets or anything that supports that semantic content structure, right.
Where you can communicate, how am I going to lay out my headings? How am I going to lay out my lists? What is the text I'm going to label my buttons and controls with? And so you can build a word document that will look visually nothing like your prototype, but that will be perfect for screen reader users.
And they'll be able to tell you, yeah, Hey, the headings are all in the right spot. The landmarks are where I expect them to be. This is great. But it does take that adapting. And so if you're just starting, you would probably find it easier to start with screen magnification folks, and then move out from there.
And that's an okay thing to do, right. It's okay to target one group and say, Hey let's make a really great experience for them. And then we'll expand our circle out to the next group because accessibility is a journey. And when you do that, you'll find that, Hey we've already solved, you know, some of the problems that this other group is going to have, or is going to encounter.
[00:15:12] Erin: Okay.
[00:15:12] JH: Nice. Yeah. I love that overlap model in terms of, to your point, just like improving some of the issues in some areas, it really does cascade into improving other parts of experience as well.
A question, I guess I'd imagined researchers having is okay, like I'm sold, we should, we need to be doing this. You know, how do I find our users with disabilities? Is that a matter of looking through some of our data in terms of who's interacting with our app, using some of these assistive technologies, is it, screening for it? Um, and similarly, I can imagine maybe some people are uncomfortable, you know, screening on such an identity centric basis in some ways like, you know, asking people for this stuff.
Like, but my hunch is that people who are having shittier experiences than the average user, because they're not being included are probably pretty, pretty eager to give feedback. Is that like a fair assumption? I don't actually know if that's a good way to think about it.
[00:15:59] Samuel: Yeah, that's fair. I mean, I mean, one sort of tip that I give companies, if you haven't done any accessibility work, one really good place to start is make sure that there is a clear place for accessibility related feedback to go. Because too often, either the support system itself is not accessible.
So I can't provide feedback. I can't even tell you, Hey, I tried to use this and I failed and I'm not going to be your customer moving on now. But when it is accessible, I send in support, Hey, the website won't work with my screen reader and they say your what? And then it never gets passed on to the designers.
It never gets passed on to the researchers. It never gets passed on to the developers. So the first thing you can do is make sure that your support folks are aware of this feedback and have a place to channel it. So that you can collect it so that you can learn from these users so that you can re reach out and start working with the folks that you already have.
In most cases you will not be able to track, like how many visitors with a disability you're getting. The reason for that is because browsers don't expose to websites whether an assistive technology is in use. I mean, I'm sure you can imagine if I'm you know, filling out an online form for my health insurance. I, I don't necessarily want my browser automatically disclosing
[00:17:20] JH: That's all that stays client side in
[00:17:21] Samuel: Exactly, Exactly. But when you talked about screening and that's really interesting, it's something that we've thought a lot about here at fable, as we build and recruit our community of people with disabilities that we work with to, to test company websites, we do not screen on or collect any kind of health care or kind of disability medical information.
What we care about is are you a user of the JAWS screen reader, right? I use JAWS. You don't need to know that I have Leber's congenital amaurosis. You don't need to know that I have glaucoma. You don't need any of my medical data.
Right. That's private to me, but the fact that I'm using JAWS. That's not medical data. It has no HIPAA regulations. It has. There's nothing like that. And so if you want to screen that, the key question to ask is, do you use some kind of assistive technology, right? And have checkboxes. I use a screen reader.
I use screen magnification, et cetera, et cetera. And people will certainly be willing to divulge that. Of course, assuming that your screening forms are accessible in the first place. Right. Which is another reason why. A lot of folks find themselves just sort of conducting accessibility research a little bit separately because some of the research tools, unfortunately, just are not accessible.
And it can be hard to find. People with disabilities and kind of the standard research tools and the standard research database. So, you know, they'll come to folks like us at Fable. Another great strategy is to develop relationships with some community partners you know, every group of users every community of users with disabilities has groups that advocate for them.
If you're in the states for blind folks, right, it'll be the NFB or the ACB in Canada, it'll be the CIB. Every group is going to have an organization like that. And you can reach out to some of those organizations. And they will often be able to help you. Another good reason to do that is because it builds that trust.
Right. If you're just sort of randomly posting on social media, Hey, here's an opportunity to participate in research. Who are you? Is this another scam? Right. Too often money-making opportunities on social media are a scam. And like, another thing to think about is. Making sure that participants are being properly compensated.
And I hate to front-load that because I know researchers don't have a lot of budget and I know it's hard, but the thing to remember is using assistive technology. Isn't something you're born knowing. It's a skill that you'd have to learn. You have to get good at it. I've been using an assistant, a screen reader all my life, and I certainly consider myself an expert.
But I mean, when I was very young and first exposed to a computer uh, no, this was a while ago, so I'm going to date myself, but I sat down with one of the first versions of the jaws screen reader. And I think it came with like 12 cassettes and you started on cassette one and each cassette and was like 90 minutes long. And it taught you how to use it.
And that's what you have to do. And so when you're looking to research involving people with assistive technology. It's a skilled pool, right? And skilled pools need to be fairly compensated for their time. If you're just giving out, you know, a $5 Amazon gift card you're probably not going to get the skilled high quality participants that you need to get the best results.
[00:20:51] Erin: Yeah,
[00:20:51] JH: Nice. I feel like you just taught me like five different things in there. That was so many useful tips.
[00:20:56] Erin: Well, we have an incentive calculator where we recommend, you know, incentivizing, you know, folks that are in high paid professions, for example, will expect more money for their time. And I think this is another great vector to kind of add to that. You know, when you think about how to incentivize someone for their time, so that they'll want to take part in your study.
And so that it's fair to them and to their time. So I think that's a great thing to point out.
[00:21:20] Samuel: Exactly fair to them and to their time. And especially when it comes to accessibility, some companies, unfortunately it's lip service. Right? And so if they're asking for volunteers to do the research you know, before I came to fable, I was always up to participate in research because I want to make things better.
I want products to get better. And the things that I found is that the companies who weren't compensating me for my research. Also weren't acting on the results from the research of getting things fixed.
[00:21:50] Erin: Yeah, that's the thing. I mean, you know, budgets are always constrained everywhere to some extent, but if the incentive is the barrier to the research is research the priority in terms of acting on the insights from that research
[00:22:05] Samuel: Exactly.
[00:22:05] Erin: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So we talked a little bit about, you know, fair incentives you mentioned in passing the importance of having, you know, a screener survey or whatever kind of mechanism you're using to get the right folks for your study in and making sure those are accessible.
You talked about a few assistive technologies. We've talked a little bit about screen readers, screen text enlargers, and alternate navigation technology. Are there other big buckets of assisted technologies that you want to think about when thinking about, Recruiting and then making sure your actual recruiting screeners and the like are accessible to those technologies?
[00:22:45] Samuel: So those three buckets are kind of the three big buckets that cover everybody now, depending on what you're doing there, aren't going to be other buckets that you need to be thinking about. Right? If you're, I don't know an insurance provider, you probably don't have a lot of multimedia on your website, but if you're Netflix, you need to make sure those captions are working and are great.
And you need to be working with deaf and hard of hearing users to make sure that happens. Right. And so deaf and hard of hearing users are another big one. That applies to a lot of websites. If you're doing any kind of multimedia, if you have any kind of like, like phone support, right. Do you have a way for folks to get that and for that to be accessible and has that been tested and does it work, but I don't sort of include it in the overview.
Not because it's less, less important. It is critical, but just because it doesn't always apply to every single UX person at every single company.
[00:23:43] Erin: Yeah.
[00:23:45] Samuel: if you have multimedia on your website, it probably applies to you.
[00:23:48] JH: That makes sense.
Like I'm a researcher we've decided we need to make this a priority. We're committed. We found some great people to talk to, you know, the cover, a bunch of different of the relevant assistive technologies for our app and our use case. Is there anything else that, that researchers need to know, like when they actually go into, you know, do that research to make sure that they're doing it in a way that
is, you know, respectful and ethical or is it just treat it, you know, it's a participant, just, you know, do your thing and treat the person well, like you would
[00:24:56] Samuel: Yeah, absolutely. It is a participant from sort of the personal relationship angle. But the other thing that it's so important to think about is, are the tools you're using in your research accessible, right? If you're doing online research the meeting software and the screen-sharing software or whatever you're using to record your words.
Is that accessible because you know, too often you can get into a space where, Hey, we've got the folks to participate in this research and now they can't join our meeting. Right.
[00:25:24] JH: Smelled out.
[00:25:25] Samuel: yeah. And now you're just stalled out. Similarly when you're giving folks contracts, Are those contracts available in an accessible format?
You know, again too often, it's been this thing. Hey, we're ready to research with you tomorrow. Oh shoot. We need you to sign this contract that you can't read and that we are just sending you the day before the research. Right?
So that's another important thing or if you're doing offline research in your office as things begin to open up after the pandemic, you gotta think about that.
How do you mean.Your research lab or your office or wherever you're working, a place that is easy to get to, a place that feels safe and relaxing and accessible. At fable, we are focused almost exclusively on online research because we believe. Especially in the case of the community of people with disabilities that gives far superior results because people are participating in a place where they're comfortable, they're using their own equipment that they've configured to suit their needs, as opposed to like some random laptop where the screen reader hasn't been configured and may or may not work the way they expect it to or for.
Right. It's a lot easier for them. If, I mean, if you're say a person in a wheelchair. I mean some cities in order to get the accessible transit option require two weeks' notice of where you want to go. Right. So when you're doing it online, participants are comfortable. It allows you to kind of have more micro engagements, right?
Like, if you're having someone, you know, spend four hours booking and traveling on accessible transit down to your office, and you only want to work with them for half an hour, you've still taken their whole day. Whereas online, it doesn't have to be that way. And you're getting the real world results because they're, you know, they're in their real either home or place of business or whatever, it may be using the equipment that they'd actually be using.
And so, you know, these results are. They are from the real world as opposed to some sort of artificial lab.
[00:27:20] JH: Right, right. That makes a ton of sense. Are there good resources for people to know like, Hey, these online meeting tools are more accessible than others or things like that. Cause like, you know, speaking for myself, that's honestly something that I. Really spent much time ever thinking about or considering.
And I'd imagine researchers are busy. And so like, are there things that people can lean on to set themselves up for success or is it more like, just do some discovery on your own with the tools you're using and see you know, what seems viable.
[00:27:43] Samuel: So there are, there are some resources. Uh, we At fable participated just a few months ago to have an article in smashing magazine published about accessible meeting tools. There are studies that exist that kind of rate the accessibility of various meeting tools and various meeting software.
If you search for something like, you know, Microsoft teams with screen readers, like a whole bunch of articles will come up, like telling you where that's at and things like that. I can tell you, you know, certainly we make no, no secret of it. We at fable use zoom right now because we find that it is the tool that works the most reliably for the widest number of people.
But there are other options, depending on who you're working with, what research you're doing, what your company requires. But, you know, it's just a matter of doing a little bit of research. That documentation is out there. Or you could just use Zoom. It's something that everyone is familiar with. Right?
[00:28:37] JH: Yeah. But this stuff, you can learn the way you learn anything. Right. So if you need a Google, like, Hey, how to make a good Figma component or whatever, right. Someone's going to show you how to do that. You're saying, if you just kinda throw the right search terms on it, you can get some good results for other tools as well.
[00:28:48] Samuel: Yeah, exactly.
[00:28:50] Erin: Yeah. Yeah. And I do wonder just to dig into that just a little bit more because there are so many research tools now outside of kind of, you know, zoom and meeting tools for different kinds of tests, right? The information architecture tests, mobile tests, all the different kinds of tests you'd want to do.
And it seems like a poor use of time potentially to try to recruit a participant with a disability, get them as part of the test and find out that way that it's not, not good. So, yeah, I guess you just do your Googling best and try to put on your empathy hat and maybe if you're testing the test, right.
You might discover some areas that might be problematic for folks using different of these assisted technologies, but
[00:29:34] Samuel: Exactly. And if it's a tool that you or your company is paying for, contact your vendor, right? Ask them, ask their support folks. Because the more that they hear it from the researchers who are their customers, the more they'll prioritize it. And every time they have to say either we have no idea or no, it's not accessible.
That'll, you know, bring it up in their priority lists to make sure that it happens. And a lot of companies do have good research and good resources for you. There's, you know, survey companies like survey monkey uh, I know Qualtrics has an accessibility checker. That's kind of built into their surveys and will let you know what works and what doesn't.
So, you know, contact the vendor of whatever tool that you use and ask them because honestly, it's something that they should know,
[00:30:22] Erin: absolutely. So we talked a little bit about, right, It's better to talk to some folks with disabilities than to talk to none. you have to think About when you're recruiting, making sure that your processes there are accessible, you gotta make sure the test is accessible, pay these folks, you know, fairly for their time, they're skilled participants. So those are some of the things we talked about. What is most important when you think about being a good steward of UX research, when it comes to researching with people with disabilities, is it something that we haven't covered or is there something that we have talked about that is really important to try to get right? And are there areas maybe that are not as important?
[00:31:07] Samuel: I mean, it's that accessibility piece, right? Because if you don't have that, you now have people who can't participate at all right. It's making sure. Making sure that you are as open and welcoming and accessible as you can be both in the research process and in that support and feedback process, because when you're just getting started odds are, you do have customers who are willing to work with you because they want and need to see real change.
Right. And if you can tap into that as the first step of your accessibility journey, obviously later, you're going to have to put together a real research panel and it's going to need actual compensation and all of that stuff. But like, just start out by making sure that people who are already your customers or want to be your customers who have disabilities can get in touch with you and tell you their troubles, you know, then you as a researcher, have that opportunity to follow up and to book a call with them and say, you know, let's talk about it and learn how we can do better.
[00:32:08] JH: Is there an element of this and I'm, I don't know how to ask this right. So let's see if I can get there. But, um, when You talk to, you know, user researchers that are designers, you know, I think most people are very well-intentioned and want to do right by the widest set of their users as possible. Is there some of it that's, you know, almost like a fear or a hesitancy. I got to take out some extra work to figure out a couple of things, you know, but once I figured it out it'll be easy. Um, and then maybe I'm gonna pull something into a session and I'm going to say the wrong thing, or I'm going to accidentally offend somebody because I, you know, I use the wrong terminology or something like, is there something like that holds some people back from going forward?
And is there a way to kind of give people a pep talk.
You know, like putting your head in the sand is not the answer. And obviously like there's a way to engage with these communities that's really productive and super important. Like how is there some dynamic there that is at play that, you know, needs to be discussed and we can help people with,
[00:33:00] Samuel: A lot of the dynamic there is almost a shame, right? Like a lot of researchers know that their product isn't accessible and they've never done any research.
and so you're sort of worried like, man, this is so bad. If I bring a person with a disability into this. Like in some ways I feel bad for exposing them to how accessible this is or how difficult an experience this is going to be.
And in some ways, like I'm embarrassed that it's this bad, but that's why I focus so much on the accessibility journey because what the community wants to see, and what makes users with disabilities happy is to see that things are getting better. And that there's a real commitment to change, you know, even if it's unusable but the research is happening and people and things are happening and developments are being made and results are being collected.
That's great. As opposed to there are companies that are really frustrating that are just doing nothing right. And have continued to do nothing for years while also saying that they're committed to accessibility.
And that's where the frustration and the anger comes in. And like that's where, you know, people with disabilities are upset and wish people were ashamed. But like for someone who's trying for a company that's taking its first steps on this journey, there's no shame in being new to anything.
[00:34:27] Erin: We talk a lot when we talk about interviews in general doing user interviews, research interviews, about the importance of, you know, kind of building rapport. Right. And you don't just dig right into the insight you're trying to get you, you build a rapport with who you're talking to. Are there any special tips in that regard when working with folks with disabilities or is it just, you know, it's like, everybody's a person and that's kind of the beginning and end of it.
[00:34:56] Samuel: Yeah, it really is. It really is about the fact that everybody's a person and we are all, you know, we all want to make this better. And there's no, it's about, you know, we all want to work together right. Too often unfortunately, sometimes the legal landscape encourages like an us and them. Like these are the people with disabilities who are the enemy and we have to satisfy them. So they don't sue. And like, that's not how you do co-design Right.
That's not how you get to a solution that works for everybody. And so, you know, just building rapport, like you would with any other research subject. I know specifically when you're working with blind folks researchers need to have the camera, right.
Because you want to see the micro-expressions you want to see body movement. You want to see things like that. That can give some of us who are blind anxiety, because like, I don't know what the camera's picking up. Right. Is it showing my messy bedroom? Is it something like that? And so. Just being clear about that and, you know, helping people sort of, sort of feel okay about that and that like, you know, the recordings are being shown in public.
You're not expected to, you know what I mean? Or like if there is something that's super distracting that you think, gee maybe they wouldn't want this on the recording. It's okay to say. Right. I'd rather that I know. Then that, you know, somebody like to tell me 47 minutes in or never, Hey, we can see all the clothes, hanging on your clothes line.
You know what I mean? Cause the way you have your camera pointed or something like that. And so, you know, it's perfectly fine to tell folks. About things like that and to you know, that's just building rapport, getting people to feel comfortable again, in the place of, in the case of where when you're working with blind folks, that's where a lot of the anxiety will be centered, right is the camera.
[00:36:45] Erin: Samuel you mentioned that you used to participate in a Lot of research. I'm curious, you know, you talked a little bit about just you know, the researcher, not necessarily representing a perfectly accessible app, but you know, representing that they really cared about your insights and your time and are dedicated to progress being. A good thing when you're, you know, a participant, is there anything else that stands out from, just from your experience, you know, being a participant, researchers oughta know that can set them up for success on this journey?
[00:37:18] Samuel: You know, my favorite thing that would happen when I would participate in research and in research with folks is the follow-up because as a person with a disability, I care about your results probably as much as you do. Right. And so there was nothing better than getting that email nine months later saying, Hey, we, you know, we identified all of these problems and we fixed them.
Right. Even if it's not a product that I use, even if I just participated in research with the product, it gives you that little hit of like, wow,
Hey, they cared. And I, because of what I did, made a difference. And that's especially critical if you're doing, as you should integrate accessibility research into your process.
Because then you like, I'll come back to do more research with you, right? If you follow up, it lets you build a pool of people with disabilities who are willing and excited to participate in your research. Whereas if we just sort of, you know, feel like the results are going into some black hole all the time.
You know, I might not prioritize the next engagement. And it just, it's just, it just feels so great. Right. To know that you helped make something in the world more accessible, not only for you, but for other people.
[00:38:33] JH: Yeah, such a good feedback loop. When it happens.
[00:38:35] Samuel: Yeah.
[00:38:37] JH: you talked about being excited about the rate of change in general and seeing that progress. Are there any more specific or nuanced things that you're excited about, whether there are new technologies or trends or things like that are kind of emerging or taking hold?
[00:38:49] Samuel: So when we talked about the rate of change. The rate of change in the gaming industry has been building for a long time, but over the past, say two years, it has become incredibly rapid. Right. Like we went from the XBox and the PlayStation having no accessibility support to now every major console in the market, having a screen reader and having support for closed captions and having support for magnification and assistant controllers and all of this, these things.
We went from games, having no idea about accessibility. Many of the mainstream review websites mentioning on a little Sidebox what accessibility options our game offers. You know, we went from games, having no accessibility features to a game like the last of us to being fully playable with no vision whatsoever.
So that pace is so incredibly rapid. And it's also very interesting because I think gaming accessibility has a lot to teach. Because the point of a game is to present to you information in a clear, concise, efficient way that you can react to and make decisions based upon that is not stressful.
And like, isn't that what every app and website is trying to do really?
And so, like, I think games are pioneering and testing. Yeah. New techniques to get people, even more data, even more efficiently in ways that are even more fun and even more interesting and useful. So, you know, when it comes to like data sonification or you know, rapid glancing of things or representing, you know, maps of streets I think that as gaming creates and iterates upon these techniques, we're going to find in the wider industry that we have a lot to learn from those folks as we can build things into our apps. Sort of another really exciting field is the way that set top boxes and other things that are sort of not the web have been gaining accessibility, right?
For a very long time, accessibility in the digital space was seen as like, Well, it's on your computer. It's the web, then apple, you know, put a screen reader on the iPhone. And so we said, okay, accessibility is about the web. And it's about your phone, but now we're learning that accessibility is about your gaming console.
It's about your set top box. It's about anything that has a chip in it, right? Your Google home it's about all of this stuff. And so we're seeing the expansion of what accessibility can be. It's on your watch, you know? And that's really exciting. And thirdly, augmented reality, really exciting.
Because with things like the AirPods two and other headphones, now they have this like transparency mode. It can pass on the audio from the outside environment through your headphones. So that headphones aren't blocking your hearing. And of course for me I want to use GPS. Like that's amazing, right?
For the first time I can be wearing earbuds and still be hearing the outside world unimpeded. And so it's just like, oh, well now there's a voice on top of the world, you know, telling me to turn left here or playing a beacon sound in 3d audio. So if I turn to face the beacon and walk straight, I'll get where I'm going.
And there's all kinds of other uses for that. I think augmented reality. Is a technology that is just getting started. I think obviously it's going to change a lot of things for people who do not have disabilities, but I think that it has such incredible potential to help those of us who do have disabilities in ways that are only scratching the surface and starting to explore.
[00:42:36] Erin: Kind of a leading question. I don't know if you have an opinion about this,
so do you know, it's just react, react to it, however you react to it, but is it better you know, assuming you have resources, right? Like to have a team or a person who's dedicated to thinking about accessibility, because I'm thinking about Apple, right.
And all these amazing technologies with air pods and it's like, well, clearly they have like a lot of people have been thinking about accessibility for a long time. Um, so obviously not every company has those kinds of resources, but like assuming you have some resources to play with, you know, is it better for certain folks to just be thinking about and dedicated to accessibility in all of its flavors?
Kind of all the time. Is it everyone's business to be integrating and thinking about accessibility all the time?
[00:43:25] Samuel: I have a strong answer to that, and it's very interesting that you mentioned. Yeah.
[00:43:30] Erin: Okay.
[00:43:31] Samuel: sure apple has a single accessibility person, but I don't think, well, I'm sure that one accessibility person can't do accessibility on every single product. Look at what Apple's got. They've got accessibility on the Mac.
They've got accessibility on the phone. They've got accessibility on the AirPods. They've got accessibility on the watch. They've got one sort of little organization off in the corner. Can't do all that. In order to get accessibility done, it has to be distributed throughout the processes of a company and thus distributed throughout the responsibility of a company, because the person who is best placed to do the accessibility should do it.
An example I often use is when an image is included in an article, the content creator, or the designer knows why they picked that image. So shouldn't they be writing the alt text? Why does it fall on the developer to do that? Right. I mean, at the same time the designer, you know, shouldn't be telling the developer what HTML five roles to use on their controls.
Right? Because that's not their area of knowledge, but every area of knowledge in a business has some tangential relation to accessibility. And if everybody takes on their small accessibility piece. It's not going to be an undue burden on everyone's shoulders. Whereas if you say to one person, Hey, you do accessibility for our whole company.
You know, they've got to think about everything from the in-store experience to the website, to the app, to like it, it can't work that way. It gets bottle-necked and progress gets slowed down. Whereas when you distribute accessible, Everybody can make the right accessible designs for the fields that they have the knowledge about and that they are the experts in.
And that's how accessibility gets integrated into everything that a company does. And that's what the big companies are doing. I mean, Apple for example, famously has a lot of OKRs related to accessibility that are tied to management bonuses. Right.
So, it's not just the accessibility team that has that responsibility. It's every team that has the responsibility.
[00:45:36] JH: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, it's like any experience, right? If you're thinking of just design and there's something in general, like it being infused throughout the process almost always creates a better outcome than trying to bolt something on after the fact as a consideration, right? Regardless of what you're talking about, accessibility, or otherwise.
[00:45:50] Samuel: Absolutely. And I mean, that's also why it's so important to be doing accessibility research involving people with disabilities, because if you get folks with disabilities in, at the prototyping and at the design and the ideation process, you're building a strong foundation of accessibility, right.
Too often, a totally inaccessible product is built. And then it has to be fixed afterward and it costs more to fix it afterward. And just like your house, you can only do so much to it if the foundation is bad.
[00:46:22] Erin: Samuel closing thoughts. What, what did we not ask you that we should have?
Oh my goodness. This is, this has been, you know, pretty comprehensive. I think the most sort of, important takeaways are number one, you know, don't be afraid to get started. Figure out where you are and, you know, figure out what the first step for you and for your company looks like. And I think the second thing that I would say is that there is such a focus in the accessibility realm on compliance, right? And we haven't talked a lot about compliance and, you know, the checklists and the wikag and things like that.
And a lot of accessibility companies focused on compliance and a lot of designers and researchers see compliance as not only a checklist that they have to fill out, but like almost shackles, right.
That is holding you down, that is holding you to the ground. Well I can't make the design I really want to make, because it wouldn't be compliant. Whereas if you turn it around and you think about building great user experiences for people with disabilities. You're just naturally going to get to compliance.
And now you're thinking about it as a way to improve and a way to innovate rather than a checklist that's holding you down and that you have to fill out
[00:47:44] JH: I like it. I can't remember the name of off hand, but there's a 99% invisible episode where it talks about a lot of these examples from, you know, the physical world. And when you just see how beneficial, so many of these things are to just everybody, right. And not a specific cohort of users, like it really does help reframe that we're just creating better designs, right? It's not that we're solving it for this specific audience, even though that may be part of it, it just tends to be clearer and better for everyone as a result of going through that process.
[00:48:10] Samuel: exactly. If you start from the edges inward. Designing, you know, from the edges inward then you'll be able to cover everyone. And I think the other thing that we don't talk about enough and we don't think about enough is that disability is the only identity that everyone is going to experience at some time in their lives.
Right? There's age-related disability. As you get older your hand-eye coordination isn't what it was, your sight isn't what it was, your hearing isn't what it was. There's situational disability. You have surgery, you break a leg, you have something that happens to you. And then it gets better and you don't have a disability anymore.
And then there's a disability, you know, that folks are born with or whatever. That's what we all think about, but like making accessible designs is designing for your future self. Right. Because every single person, at some point in your life, you're going to experience disability. And I don't mean that as a downer.
I don't mean that as a discouragement because it's not because we can build a society where having different abilities or being different doesn’t limit you.
[00:49:21] Erin: I think that's a great place to end it on a hopeful and realistic note at the same time, Samuel, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a great education and I think will be really interesting and useful for a lot of folks.
[00:49:35] Samuel: Thank you so much for having me.
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Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.