User Research
Inclusive Design: Ten Tips for User Research with Older people + Disabled people
Over the past ten years, I’ve done lots of research with older people, disabled people and hard-to-reach communities. If you’re thinking of doing user research with older people or disabled people to improve the accessibility of your product or service, these ten tips can help you!

Older People and Disabled People in the UK

The population of the UK is changing and the importance of creating products and services that cater to such changes cannot be understated. This is true both for the sake of building a business that is successful but also, and most imperatively, for creating a business that is inclusive and ethically sound. For one thing, our population is ageing. As the official government statistics state, “The population in the UK is getting older with 18% aged 65 and over and 2.4% aged 85 and over”. In fact, the number of centenarians has increased by a massive 85% in just the last 15 years!. Those are some big numbers to take into consideration when thinking about your customer base! Furthermore, there are over 11 million people with a “limiting long term illness, impairment or disability”, and the prevalence of disability rises with age: “Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age”. Not only does this highlight the importance of considering disabled users, as well as older users for the sake of accessibility, but the fact that those two considerations can often overlap.

Inclusive and Universal Design

Inclusive design is ‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’
Charles Hall from Hall Media helpfully highlighted that there are differences between inclusive design, universal design and accessibility according to Kat Holme’s work. To address this, we’ve updated this section based on Kat’s work.
We’d like to clarify that there are differences between inclusive design, universal design and accessibility. Kat Holmes suggests that ‘accessibility is an attribute, while inclusive design is a method’ and that ‘universal design is defined as the design of an environment so that it might be accessed and used in the widest possible range of situations without the need for adaptation’. The Centre for Universal Design states that its goals are to create products with the following at the forefront: body fit, comfort, awareness, understanding, wellness, social integration, personalisation and cultural appropriateness. Based on these goals, they have outlined 7 key (and hugely helpful!) principles for creating inclusivity whilst designing. These can be considered the best practices for creating products of services that cater to all types of people, including the elderly and those with disabilities:
Principle 1: Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
Principle 4: Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
Learn more about these key principles here:
The design process: Considering elderly people and disabled people By involving elderly people and disabled people in the design process, namely through conducting user research with them, it becomes possible to discover what the above 7 criteria mean to them within your product. For example, if you are designing a digital application, what would make it less ambiguous and more intuitive (principle 3)? What is unclear about it to your research group? How could you make the product more comfortable for them to use (principle 6)? And, importantly, is the product actually marketable to them; is there a product-market fit (principle 1)? User research with elderly people and people with disabilities can require a little bit of extra planning and consideration to ensure that it runs smoothly for both the participants and for you, the researcher. Based on my personal experiences, I have created this list of tips to help you to get the most out of such research sessions.

Our Ten Tips for Doing Research with Older People and Disabled People

  1. Conduct short interviews and focus groups — aim for around 30 minutes of data collection time — with around 6–8 key questions. This means that less physical and mental exertion will be required from participants for extended periods of time, keeping the session open to as many people as possible.
  2. Include visual cues and diagrams to illustrate the area you’re going to be talking about, to ensure understandability.
  3. Conduct mini-focus groups of 3–4 people. This allows everyone to have a voice in the discussion with plenty of time to get through the discussion guide.
  4. Respect their stories about their personal experiences and work with them to elicit the point they are making with their story.
  5. Consider travel and transport arrangements and building accessibility: allow enough time for people to make travel arrangements to a room ideally on the ground floor.
  6. Bring tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit to help keep your research group going — being a participant is hard work!
  7. Recruit from existing networks of older people such as community centres, as individual older people may feel vulnerable. This is key to making sure that they are comfortable, which also means they’re more likely to be able to offer helpful insights.
  8. For older people, don’t talk about topics that are too abstract, but things that are more concrete that they can see and experience immediately.
  9. Consider the typeface size of any documents (it should be at least 14) and always ask if there is anyone with accessibility issues if going through a gatekeeper. Someone with visual impairment may want to bring someone to act as their ‘eyes’ and someone with a hearing impairment may want to bring an interpreter.
  10. Explain what you are doing all the time. Give an overview at the top of your documents, explain what you’re going on to next as you work with them and explain when you are finishing up. This will ensure that the session is as accessible as possible in terms of understandablity.
Have any questions about the user experience and user research of products designed with accessibility in mind? Tweet us at @snapoutUK or drop us an email to [email protected] The Snap Out Team ?