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Integrating Accessibility into Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a powerful tool for eliciting critical research from users within their work environment. We’re going to look at a few ways you can integrate accessibility learnings into your contextual inquiry sessions to learn about your client’s accessibility needs and goals.

Note: This article assumes the reader’s familiarity with basic contextual inquiry research. If you are new to you contextual inquiry, we recommend checking out some of the linked resources at the bottom of the article.

Add an accessibility question(s) to your screener

A nice, easy technique is to add 1-2 accessibility-focused questions to your participant screener. This will let you know if a screened individual has a disability and what it is. This will give you the more criteria to choose from when scheduling participants for your contextual inquiry so your data is more representative.

Example questions:

  • (General question) Do you or anyone on your staff have any disabilities? If so, what are they?

  • (For individuals who are visually impaired) What kind of assistive technology do you use?

  • (For individuals with motor skill impairments) Do you use any peripherals that augment your {product/functionality name} usage?

Ask to see their process and tools

If you are able to do contextual inquiry with an individual with a disability, see if you can get permission to observe them using any tools they have to assist them in their job. For example, if they use a screen reader, see if they would be willing to turn the volume up (and possibly the speed down) so you can hear the feedback they get in real time.

Individuals with hearing impairments many times make great use of notebooks to convey information and messages to colocated colleagues, see if they would be willing to share some of the relevant notes with you. If one of your participants has a physical disability, make note of what affordances they use and advantages they provide. All of this tangential information will help paint a picture of the world they work in. This may go without saying, but always ask permission before documenting an individual’s workspace.

Ask about your client’s goals around accessibility

It may also be worth asking about accessibility when discussing the participant’s goals. For a product you’re building that they use internally, what accessibility needs does their staff have? Do they have accessibility legal requirements they have to adhere to? Is being/using accessible products/services a market differentiator for them? This kind of information gives you insight into not only their goals around accessibility but their perception and understanding of it.

Integrating accessibility into your contextual inquiry is great way to not only learn about the accessibility needs of your participants/clients but can give you insight into enriching other research techniques such as mental modelling, cognative walkthroughs, and user personas. If you have other techniques or ideas on how to explore accessibility during contextual inquiry, we’d love for you to leave them in the comments below.

Contextual inquiry resources

Usability Body of Knowledge
UX Matters – Why Are Contextual Inquiries So Difficult
Measuring U – The Essentials of Contextual Inquiry

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About Aaron Pearlman

Aaron is Deque's Principal UX Designer. In addition to leading both strategic and tactical UX efforts, Aaron works on creating accessibility centric standards around user research, ideation, sketching, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing.
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