Q&A: Usability testing with people who have disabilities

We worked with the Cincinnati Art Museum to conduct an accessibility audit of their website. Part of our audit included usability testing with people who have different disabilities at Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Visionaries + Voices. The experience was tremendously educational for our UX designers and developers. Our team members Ashley, Krista and Mike sat down to answer some questions about what they learned.

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Questions and Answers:

Why did you test people with different disabilities?

Everyone is different and everyone uses the internet in a different way. In order to really understand accessibility issues, it's best to observe real users interacting with your website. We wanted to understand what struggles and frustrations they would encounter with the current website design. Our tests included people who are blind or low vision, have different levels of cognition and manual dexterity limitations.

Did you have to change your approach for testing a website with users of varied disabilities?

It was definitely a different experience compared to the user testing we typically do. Some people struggled with things that many people take for granted, so some tasks took longer to complete.

We encouraged users to select the device they were most comfortable with. For example, some people were more comfortable with an iPad than with a laptop or desktop computer. If they struggled too much, we would give them the opportunity to switch to a different device.

How did you setup the tests?

We created a list of user tasks just like we normally would – we considered the common tasks any user might come to the site to complete like finding museum hours, locating contact information and buying tickets online.

Did everyone complete the same tasks?

No. In some cases, we had to adjust the tasks based on their abilities and time available. Being flexible and patient was key. The goal was to observe them interacting with the site and understand where we could improve the user experience for people with varying disabilities.

What did you learn by testing with people with different disabilities?

We already knew that users adapt and find unique ways of browsing on devices based on their own abilities, but just how diverse these adaptations can be was eye-opening. In one test group we had a non-reader who relied completely on Siri to find answers to the tasks we presented him with. We never expected this, but he was able to complete several tasks this way. His ability to word questions correctly for Siri was remarkable, but it also taught us the importance of building your site for voice search.

The tests reinforced the importance of keeping things consistent. For example, if you have clickable thumbnails on your website, all images that size should be clickable, not just some. And the importance of never making assumptions. While many people understand that a logo in the upper left-hand corner of a website is used as a way to get back to the homepage, not everyone does. Having an explicit "Home" link is important to some user groups.

What will you remember for next time?

Encourage participants to bring their own devices whenever possible.

Be prepared to be flexible in our task approach. The tasks themselves are less important than observing the interaction with the website.

Make sure to take ample notes and record the screen interactions in real time so that you can go back afterwards and review them.

Would you encourage other UX designers to do the same?

Absolutely! We learned to identify the differences and challenges people have while interacting with a website. Many features that we take for granted such as a mobile navigation or an accordion menu can cause a lot of frustration. It was really eye-opening and further stressed the importance of accessibility.

Is your website accessible for all users? If you're unsure or have questions about your website's accessibility, get in touch!