3 considerations for accessible in-car UX research sessions

April 9, 2024

Exceptional user experience (UX) is a key player in the success of automotive products today. Automakers continue to innovate and remain competitive by introducing a plethora of technologically advanced features, including interactive and intuitive voice assistants with Generative AI, automated driver assistance systems, intelligent climate control, ambient lighting, and more. While these features are intriguing, they also beg the question: are their designs as accessible and inclusive as possible to all users? Conducting in-car UX research with populations having varying accessibility needs serves as a valuable tool for assessing the accessibility of an automotive feature or product 

Key strategies for inclusive in-car user experience research

It’s vital to emphasize inclusivity in the design and testing processes, making sure your approach accommodates a diverse range of participants. 

Be adaptable

Participants’ individual needs always require flexibility during in-car sessions. This is especially true for those with accessibility needs, who may require alternative accommodations and approaches within both the vehicle and the structure of a research session. The confined space of a car escalates the importance of the research team adapting to these needs. 

Consider a participant who requires an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, a support animal, or a caregiver to be present for the session. Researchers should plan for how to best adjust the in-car setup to accommodate that additional person or animal. For example, the caregiver might need to sit next to the participant, potentially shifting the research team’s seating arrangement in the car. If space in the vehicle is tight, the notetaker might need to consider taking notes remotely instead of being in the vehicle during sessions. Additionally, the project team should plan on how to adjust the camera setup if the additional person is expected to contribute to the data. 

Participants with accessibility needs may also require longer sessions or breaks built into the session. Focus on creating a discussion guide that incorporates breaks integrated throughout, allowing for necessary adjustments or comfort breaks during the session.  

Develop a prioritized and flexible task list 

It is not uncommon for sessions with participants who have accessibility needs to take longer than an average session, whether due to the inclusion of an ASL interpreter or because of the time needed to adjust the setup to accommodate mobility needs. Additionally, a scenario where one task is particularly difficult for an individual requires having a plan in place to pivot and keep the session on track.  

With this in mind, create a task list that is both prioritized and flexible. Prioritize study tasks that are key to fulfilling study objectives, ensuring thorough coverage, and collaborate with stakeholders to identify which tasks or questions, if any, could be deprioritized or shifted to the end of the discussion guide if absolutely necessary.  

Consider alternatives

Develop a backup plan for an in-car setup that does not meet the participant’s accessibility needs. Perhaps, even with thorough screening to understand participants’ needs in advance, a wheelchair occupies more space than anticipated, or there is more than one caregiver present during the session. Consider whether a larger vehicle could more effectively accommodate adaptive equipment or an additional person.  

Always consider the target user groups and the study’s proposed methodology, and how those two factors work in tandem. For example, in a study that utilizes dynamic sessions, where the participant drives the car along a predetermined route, the accessibility needs of each participant might make it advantageous to hold some sessions statically, with the vehicle parked throughout. If static sessions successfully meet the same objectives, consider identifying a location where the vehicle can be parked for an extended period of time as a backup plan. 

Consider another alternative: utilizing simulation. A buck is a structure that holds a specific automotive component or subsystem in place during testing. It enables researchers to simulate real-world conditions in a lab setting and measure the component’s performance without needing an entire vehicle. Using a buck in a lab, the research team can mimic real scenarios in a static environment when needed. 

Prioritizing accessibility in automotive UX research

Preparing effectively for in-car studies that involve users with accessibility needs will ensure the collection of accurate, impactful qualitative insights. Planning a research study through the lens of accessibility and considering the diversity of accessibility needs helps in identifying and prioritizing which user needs the research plan should address—and in the design and development of the end product.  

Are you considering an in-car UX research study of your own? Reach out! Our team would love to help you uncover impactful user insights.