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Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design

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Accessibility in User-Centered Design: Analysis Phase


The first phase of most User-Centered Design Processes is Analysis. The Background chapter lists Design Phase steps and shows how they fit into a User-Centered Design (UCD) process. This chapter provides information on the following aspects of UCD Analysis:

More specific information on including accessibility in parts of the Analysis Phase are covered in the following sections:

Understanding Accessibility Issues

User-Centered Design techniques for analysis include interviews, field studies, and focus groups to learn about target users and how they interact with products. These same techniques work for learning about people with disabilities and accessibility issues with products.

Much of the guidance in the Involving People with Disabilities in Your Project and Usability Testing chapters applies to including people with disabilities in the Analysis Phase.

One of our usability specialists started participating in a local visually impaired and blind computer users group. It has turned out to be mutually beneficial: we learn about accessibility issues and get help recruiting usability testing participants to make our software more accessible, and we share tips and tricks that work for all software.

Individual Differences

People with disabilities are as varied as any users; they come from a variety of backgrounds and have varied interests, likes and dislikes, goals and skills. They have different experiences, different expectations, and different preferences. They use different interaction techniques, different adaptive strategies, and different assistive technology configurations.

Be careful not to assume that feedback from one person with a disability applies to all people with disabilities. A person with a disability doesn't necessarily know how other people with the same disability interact with products, nor know enough about other disabilities to provide valid guidance on other accessibility issues. Just as you would not make design decisions based on feedback from just one user, don't make accessibility decisions based only on the recommendations of one person with a disability. What works for one person might not work for everyone with that disability or for people with other disabilities.

Setting Usability Goals

Usability goals or usability objectives are targets for product usability that are defined in the Analysis Phase and usually measured with usability testing. Usability goals include measurable behavior and specific criteria, such as time-on-task, number of errors, and completion or success rate. An example of a usability goal is: HR specialists should be able to create a new employee record within 3 minutes the first two times they use HRWeb and 1 minute thereafter, with no support or documentation.

Most usability goals should be the same for all users, regardless of disability. In some circumstances, such as those described below, it might be acceptable for some, but not all, usability goals to be modified slightly for users with disabilities.

First time use versus familiar use

Many usability goals and usability tests focus on new product users; that is, they focus on time-on-task for first time use. Such usability goals might be different for some users with disabilities, because in some cases a user with a disability might be slower the first time he uses a new product, yet after becoming familiar with the product he might complete tasks just as fast or faster than a user without a disability.

For frequently-used products and tasks, you might decide that efficient first time use is not as important, and thus modify your usability goal to focus on time-on-task once a user is familiar with the product. For example, you might change a usability goal from "the first time the user uses the product", to "after the user has used the product for two days".

Usability goals for critical and non-critical tasks

Although it is acceptable to have looser usability goals for some tasks under some circumstances, it is important that critical tasks be completed as efficiently and effectively by people with disabilities. For example, a job-related product used throughout the day as a primary tool needs to be efficient for all employees, so that no one is at a disadvantage in job performance. Another example that should be the same is the task of activating a speed dial phone number, which needs to be completed quickly and without errors even in limiting conditions; for example, dialing an emergency number in a crisis.

When considering acceptable modifications of usability goals consider the importance and frequency of the task; for example, is the task:

  1. Core, primary functionality
  2. Supplemental, secondary functionality
  3. Frequent maintenance, such as changing a battery
  4. Initial set up and installation
  5. Periodic maintenance and repair

For core, primary functionality it is usually important that people with disabilities can meet the same usability goals; whereas, for periodic maintenance and repair it may not be important.

User Analysis

A key component of the User-Centered Design (UCD) Analysis Phase is User Analysis, which provides details about who uses the product. User Analysis identifies roles and defines user characteristics—such as their knowledge, experience, and skill with similar products; environment; frequency of use; and depending on the type of product, their hardware, software, and assistive technologies.

Without a formal process to consider others, it is common to design for ourselves. Therefore, many products are designed based on designers' own preferences, abilities, and environment. Product design that considers the needs of people with disabilities is still relatively uncommon. As a result, the range of users who can use products and the situations in which products can be used is less inclusive than if the needs of people with a wider range of abilities and disabilities were considered in design.

Even when specific user analysis is conducted, the range of users considered is often too narrow. Primarily because of lack of awareness, designers tend not to include people with disabilities and people operating in unusual situations in their user analysis.

Guidance on incorporating accessibility considerations in User Analysis deliverables is included in the following sections:

Workflow Analysis

Workflow Analysis defines user task processes. Workflow Diagrams document the steps for completing a task, show the user roles that perform particular steps, identify where the product is involved, and are used to evaluate product design. Workflow Diagrams, which are often flowcharts, are just one way to model user tasks. Scenarios are another tool for capturing task processes in a text format.

When including accessibility in workflow analysis, observe people with disabilities using the product or similar products to ensure that the workflow diagrams and scenarios include adaptive strategies used to complete the task.

Guidance on incorporating accessibility considerations in Workflow Analysis deliverables is included in the following sections:


Some of the information in this chapter was previously published in:


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