ResearchOps and Accessibility

Guiding principles to consider during the research process and to ensure research tools are accessible.

Why we need accessibility principles

As Research Operations grows there is a real need to share best practices for inclusive design and accessibility. Especially when planning and carrying out research and testing with people with disabilities.

How people use Assistive (or Adaptive) Technologies (AT) to navigate and interact with digital products and services is one aspect, but it is also important to understand how AT is used during the research process and to ensure research tools are accessible.

These accessibility principles can be aligned and considered as part of the ResearchOps 8 Pillars.

How the accessibility principles were developed

The ResearchOps and OZeWAI (Australia’s Web Accessibility Initiative) communities are offering an accessibility training workshop where  these guiding principles have been developed. 

Our aim is to review and update the principles as more workshops are held with ResearchOps practitioners.

The workshop aims to be fully accessible and to share input from people with lived experience, mixed with practical advice and examples.

The three accessibility guiding principles

These principles have been developed with the direct input of people who use AT. The guiding principles consider three main themes: Immersion, Equity and Safety.

Immersion

  • Means becoming  familiar with AT
  • Learning about the different environments and uses for AT
  • Understanding the overlap between different conditions but similar AT use
  • Recognising the different ways people with similar conditions or needs can differ in how they use  AT
  • Become directly engaged with AT communities

Immersion speaks to the realisation that there's a lot of diversity in the experiences of people using assistive technology. And so it's actually not helpful to try and generalise too much about ‘best practice’.

The best practice is to understand the experience of the individual person who you're wanting to have participate in your research.

  • This speaks to people's digital use, the tools that they're using and their particular personal workarounds.
  • It includes considerations that come up even before understanding the digital environment.

Example workshop story

In developing materials for the workshop, we shared information with participants beforehand and found that Google was blocked, so the Google doc didn't work. So we had to think of workarounds beforehand which included providing a word attachment in the email, so a key part of accessibility is to give people choice.

So we tested this workshop by meeting with a screen reader user and asking if they can access the different documents and platforms and testing functionality and asking questions, such as:

  • Should we use the Google doc?
  • Should we use the Zoom chat?

We actually learned these practices as we developed the workshop. As we communicate, we’re learning things like how to break up long emails into separate actionable content. For example, send the meeting invite with the conference link. Send a second email with all the relevant information for the participant to be prepared before the workshop.

Equity

  • Be respectful and considerate of the participant and their needs
  • Never request AT changes
  • People using AT are research co-operators
  • Share research operations plans with AT participants
  • Collaborate with people using AT for operational solutions
  • Pilot everything (piloting tips are described below)
  • Always remunerate for people’s time at a respectful rate

And about Remuneration. People with disabilities should be viewed as subject matter experts and remunerated accordingly. NOT be expected to participate in research ‘because it benefits them’ or given tokenistic ‘incentives’. Vouchers are often appropriate for those AT users who are on fixed incomes and cash could threaten their income rate. Always offer a voucher option. If working with people within the organisation, investigate with the participant if being a part of the project is appropriate for personal development.

Safety - 3 types: Physical, Cognitive, Psychological

Safety is an extremely complex and sensitive area. Again, the first principle is: to pilot everything, as it is really important for safety.

Physical safety

As you ‘pilot everything’ check for:

  • Sensory effects - temperature, lighting, sounds, smells, textures. Make environments adaptable, .e.g, dimmable lights, find a quiet space, camera off or on
  • Mobility effects - distances, inclines, lift access
  • Timing - duration of session, do they need breaks? What time of day is best?

Cognitive safety

As you ‘pilot everything’ check for:

  • Sensory effects - distractions, brightness, noise, 
  • Capabilities - listening and processing, processing speed, reading/viewing and processing, multiple people vs one at a time, responding to questions
  • Compatibility - can the person participate using their familiar set up for communication or interaction?
  • Timing:
    • Asynchronicity as default. We have to understand that the assumption a person can engage, be exposed to a data collection experience and respond to the ‘request’ immediately is an ableist assumption. Always allow for ‘pre-reading’ / asynchronous participation and ‘follow up’ if necessary. 
    • Session duration choices. It’s important that participants are explicitly told they can end a session early. 
    • Session time choices. Ask participants how much time they need to do things. Often AT processes are more elaborate and therefore slower than non-AT. Reading a document may take 4-5 times longer than anticipated.
    • Exercise duty of care: give participants the options to choose the length of a session (e.g., suggest 30, 45, 60 min sessions and options for morning or afternoon or evening).

Psychological safety 

Understand the dynamics of stigma, discrimination and trauma. People will have experienced discrimination and have different coping mechanisms. Internalised stigma should be respected. Don’t ever try to make people ‘feel less stigmatized’ directly, but create trauma informed environments and practices to encourage psychological safety.

As you ‘pilot everything’ be aware:

  • Never try to ‘improve’ or directly change someone’s attitudes or behaviours (e.g., if there is high internal stigma)
  • Train to become trauma informed - don’t ask people about their experiences, keep the conversation about what adjustments they should be offered
  • Become stigma informed - don’t seek irrelevant data about participant’s experiences, conditions
  • Consciously aim to provide a psychologically safe environment, have your moderation guides critiqued by potential participants. 

The best information on appropriate research operations is through engaging with the disabled community. Rather than asking participants directly ‘what makes you feel safe?’ seek out advice and guidance from the disabled community. 

Different people will have different tolerances and preferences, what works well for one will not work for others. Be vigilant and reflect. Offer post research surveys that humbly allow for participants to give negative but constructive feedback.

Always exercise duty of care 

  • Tell participants they are in control of the session
  • Tell participants they can end the session for any reason 
  • Tell participants they can elect not to participate in a specific activity or answer a specific question for any reason
  • Tell participants they can request to have data removed from the research record (and have a research operation that allows for that).
  • Offer post-session resources for support without asking if they need them 
  • Be vigilant for signs of distress or discomfort when researching. Offer a break or to move onto something else or to stop.

As you can see, because there's so much detail around safety, pilot everything is the short answer. If people find language hard to understand, if people find visual design difficult and uncomfortable, all sorts of things.

Accessibility resources