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Friday, May 15 • 1:00pm - 1:45pm
Involving People with Disabilities in User Research to Guide Accessibility Activities

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Accessibility is typically approached as a technical activity addressed in code rather than as a facet of user experience, addressed through strategy and design. As user experience practitioners and product developers, we ideate, design, and build, and then perform an accessibility review on the finished product. This approach is effective for surfacing issues that may cause difficulties for people with disabilities, and can be particularly effective when the review includes an expert analysis of the impact of issues and guidance on how to go about their repair. There are always changes to be made at the code level that will improve the user experience for people with disabilities.

Adding user research with people with disabilities to the process has many benefits. We can increase the value of review and repair efforts by including perspectives from the people most affected by the issues. And through user research activities that include people with disabilities, we can learn valuable lessons about how decisions in the strategy and design phases affect accessible user experience. In this way we build general accessibility awareness and knowledge on the product development team to inform future efforts and thereby reduce issues in future products.

We work for a well-established and respected accessibility consultancy. As founding members of the user experience team, we have conducted user research activities with people with disabilities and older adults. We have used insights and observations gained from these activities to inform recommendations in different areas, including strategy and design. We will provide details about effective methods, and share insights we have gained from engaging in these activities.

In addition, we will be joined by one of our clients representing the MBTA, for whom we conducted contextual inquiry interviews as well as performed an accessibility review. We will discuss how we used insights gained from user research to conduct a more targeted review and to produce more informative results. We will also share how the review impacted decisions about future plans for the MBTA site and other service offerings.

Attendees will learn:


  • Practical tips for involving people with disabilities and older adults in user research activities

  • Ways in which insights from user research can inform other design, development, and assessment activities

  • The importance of considering accessibility in all user experience activities


We will involve the audience using polling software throughout the session, and will have an extended question and answer segment at the end. We expect a great deal of audience engagement during the session due to interest in accessible user experience and the general influence of the MBTA on user experience and quality of life in the Boston area.

The session will present information and methods that are relevant and applicable to a range of experience levels. Newcomers to user experience may not have had experience engaging in user research activities. Seasoned UX professionals will have had experience with user research methods, but may not have conducted user research and usability studies involving people with disabilities and older adults. Product and project managers may not have experience with integrating accessibility activities into the development lifecycle.

avatar for Laura Brelsford

Laura Brelsford

Assistant General Manager, System-Wide Accessibili, MBTA
Laura Brelsford is the Assistant General Manager for System-Wide Accessibility (SWA) at the MBTA. Since joining the T in 2007, SWA has been at the forefront of a number of accessibility initiatives for the agency, including the development of an internal monitoring program, trainings... Read More →
avatar for Sarah Horton

Sarah Horton

UX Strategy Lead, The Paciello Group
Sarah is interested in exploring ways to improve quality of life through good design. As User Experience Strategy Lead at the The Paciello Group (TPG), she works with organizations and product teams to create “born accessible” digital products and services that work well for everyone... Read More →
avatar for David Sloan

David Sloan

User Experience Research Lead, The Paciello Group (TPG)
David Sloan is User Experience Research Lead for The Paciello Group (TPG). He has over 16 years’ experience as a researcher, educator and consultant, helping people to create great digital products and services that can be used by as many people as possible, regardless of disability. He... Read More →

Friday May 15, 2015 1:00pm - 1:45pm EDT
Back Bay C/D

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