10 tips to better support a11y participants during user research

January 25, 2023

As UX researchers, we play a critical role to ensure all research participants feel comfortable and respected. For those in the accessibility (a11y) community, we are cognizant of the variety of accommodations that may need to be employed throughout the participant journey. Participants may have various accessibility needs related to visual, cognitive, auditory, or mobility impairments.  It is key to set up and conduct sessions during which participants can understand and interact with the stimuli, follow along throughout the session, and relay their responses in a manner that works best for them. We’ve conducted hundreds of sessions with members of the a11y community and have pulled together 10 tips for researchers to help create a comfortable and enjoyable participant experience that will hopefully encourage participation in future research.

Prior to the research session

Ask preference for person-first vs. disability-first language regarding accessibility.

Previous research indicates that person-first language is preferred when talking to/about a person with accessibility needs; however, some people may have a preference here. Asking the participant at the beginning of the session if they prefer to use person-first or disability-first language (e.g., a person who is deaf vs. a deaf person) helps to build rapport with the participant and ensures we use the correct language throughout the session.

Ask communication preferences: Determine if they will rely on lip reading, ASL, or other visual cues.

We want to meet participants’ needs to support a successful session. Asking communication preferences helps to determine the technology and equipment needed and how the lab should be designed to capture data. For example, if you know your participant will rely on lip reading, you need to be mindful of turning your face away or not obscuring your face with a mask.

Inform participants when their camera is on, if others’ cameras are on, and if the session is being recorded. Bring attention to visible background distractions in the camera to be sure they are comfortable with everything that will be captured on the recording.

This transparency sets the stage for the participant, providing them with as much information as possible to comfortably complete the session. The contextual information you provide will vary depending on the person and their accessibility needs.

Be specific with instructions.

It’s important to provide as much context as possible, making sure everything is clear and everyone is on the same page. Although something may seem obvious to the researcher, it can be easily overlooked by the participant; without providing proper instruction, it can lead to confusion. This is true when providing any instruction, whether for a task during the session or when describing how to get to the facility. For example, when conducting research with a person who is visually impaired, you may mention auditory landmarks to listen for when arriving at a facility, which can bring a sense of comfort that they are in the correct location.

For those with assistive devices, include time for participants to check their devices and make sure they are working properly.

Conducting a technology check before the session and scheduling time at the start of the session can prevent technological complications later, facilitating a smoother experience. Also, be mindful that those who are hard of hearing or visually impaired/blind tend to turn off auto-updates or may not want to make the required updates for session technology requirements because of the impact these updates may make to their support tools.

During the session

Use positive language with an emphasis on accessibility.

Use positive language and be aware of your tone, volume, and how you present yourself and the content. Avoid making assumptions about accessibility needs. Avoid using language like “victim” or “afflicted” and when possible, focus on using words like “accessibility” rather than disability. This awareness is also important when probing or describing things. For example, instead of saying “what do you expect to see” try “what do you expect to find/happen.” This will likely happen when you go off script, but the most important tip to remember is to apologize. Acknowledging the mistake, apologizing for it, and moving on will go a long way with your participant and showing them that you are present and trying.

Avoid distracting service animals.

Be respectful of the fact that this service animal is working, focus your attention on the participant.

Ask if help is needed before giving it.

Don’t make assumptions about what the participant can and cannot do; the participant might not want nor need help.

Build in additional session time.

Add extra time for those using interpreters or assistive technologies, providing them with time to finish their thoughts or navigate the stimuli as needed.

Talk directly to the participant and make eye contact.

Do not ignore the participant by directing the conversation towards their interpreter/caregiver. Remember that the responses shared are those of the participant, not the interpreter/caregiver.


Ultimately, research that includes the a11y community is critical to ensure we are designing products and experiences that meet their needs. Recruiting these user groups can be difficult. Building a good rapport and being respectful throughout the research experience can help promote future research, either by the return of participants or through word-of-mouth participation. With a few considerations and thoughtful planning, UX researchers can create and foster a comfortable environment for all participants.