Seven tips for user testing with users with disabilities

Like regular user tests, it’s not rocket science to test with users with disabilities. And it will give you so much more than reading checklists or testing with non-disabled users.

Hands on keyboard. Black and white photo.

Tips for testing

Earlier, I wrote an article on why you should test with people with disabilities:

Skip WCAG! User tests with users with disabilities instead.

So in that article I go through why. But now I’d like to focus on how.

Below are seven practical tips that I’ve learned through years of conducting user tests on digital products with people with disabilities.

1. Don’t call it “user test”

The word “test” is something most people associate with anxiety, failure and other rotten feelings. And it can be extra negatively loaded for many people with disabilities, who may have been forced to go through tests to show they have a lowered intelligence or lowered functional ability.

So call the user tests something else when you communicate to test subjects. For example: “Feedback session”. This makes it clear to the users that you’re looking to improve your product, so they know they can’t do anything wrong.

2. Get help recruiting test subjects

People are often very supportive when you say you want to improve the accessibility of your product. So go search for groups to collaborate with. Maybe find someone in charge at an elderly center nearby or post in a Facebook group for people with autism. Or if it’s too big of a hassle, contact us and we will recruit and do the tests for you.

3. Give some love to the invitation

A good invitation will both make the test subject feel more comfortable and reduce the number of people who don’t show up to the test session. So make it clear in the invitation on what is going to happen at the user test. This is extra important for people with cognitive impairments who might have a hard time imagining what will happen. Include this in the invitation:

  • Image and name of the people they’ll meet, for example the test leader.
  • Time – how long will the session last.
  • Address and direct link to a map.
  • Details on what to do when I get there. Which level to go to? Is there a code to get in? Who do they ask for when they get there?
  • Contact information and what to do if they’re late or have to cancel.
  • What to bring. For example: “If you use any assistive technology like a screen reader, it would be great if you bring it to the session”.

4. Send Reminders

Send at least one reminder before the user test. Preferably in a text message. This will be super helpful for everyone and reduce your no-shows. And for people who have a hard time with time management, these reminders will be crucial. In Sweden we are using a service called “There-in-time” but you can use any reminder service out there really.

5. Don’t ask questions, give tasks

I still fail at this a lot. When leading a user test, I find myself asking “What would you do to find the contact information?” And the user starts explaining instead of actually doing it on the computer: “I would probably go to Google and search for it.” And I have to ask them “Well, please do that!” which makes them feel stupid for not understanding they were meant to actually do it, and I feel stupid for asking such a bad question. Instead go straight to the point: “Find the contact information”.

6. Be patient

It can often take a person with disabilities more time to complete a test scenario, get set up with their assistive technology, process information, navigate the site etcetera. Be patient as a test leader. Skip a test scenario if there is not enough time at the end of the test instead of speeding through all of them.

7. Don’t force users to speak out loud

Many user tests apply the think-aloud-method, where you want the user to say what they think. You can still use this for most users with disabilities, but make sure to give alternatives. Some people find this type of communication really hard. So instead of saying: “Tell me what you’re thinking when using the site” say “If you want to, you can say what you’re thinking when using the site. Otherwise you can tell me after we’re done.”

If you need help getting started, we can help, or we can even do the user testing for you. In any case, we hope this guide was useful.

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