I’m working with AbilityNet at the moment to help them analyse how people are using their website. It’s great to be working with Mark from AbilityNet again after working with him on a UX Brighton accessibility event and on an accessibility eBook that I wrote for No Pork Pies. AbilityNet offer a range of user testing services including helping people recruit disabled users.
A lot of people still see accessibility as a box ticking exercise, something that can be covered by a simple checklist and then forgotten about. This couldn’t be further from the truth though as ‘accessibility’ covers a range of different areas which all require careful thought. To find out more about the areas that you should consider if you want to create an accessible site you should read some of the advice on the AbilityNet site. This blog post focusses on just one aspect of accessibility; creating accessible personas.
Why consider accessibly issues when creating personas?
Accessibility is not just the right thing to do for moral reasons, it also makes financial and business sense. Mark presented the case for The Business Case for Accessibility at a UX Brighton event earlier this year.
The main reasons why accessibility is not something that can be simply ignored are:
- There are over 11 million people with a disability living in the UK which is around 20% of people of a working age
- Their spending power is in excess of £100bn
- An aging population means the numbers are likely to increase
- 1.8 million people have a vision impairment, of which 180,000 are registered blind
- Roughly one in 12 men are colour-blind, but only around 0.5% of women.
- 2.6 million have difficulties using their hands which could impact their use of keyboard and/or mouse
- About two million people have a hearing impairment, of which 50,000 use British Sign Language to communicate
- About two million people are dyslexic
- 2.2 million people have difficulty with memory, concentration or learning, of which about one million have a learning difficulty
- 83% of disabled people will not return to a business that does not meet their access needs
These kind of numbers show that we’re not looking at a small group of ‘edge case’ users.
Good personas are specific. They contain a lot of information and are not just a general overview of a section of your users. Good personas take into account personal information that, on the face of it, may not feel directly relevant to their use of your website. Your personas should describe real people with backgrounds, goals, and values and should be based on in-depth user research. Real people have disabilities. Latest figures show that around 18% of the UK population is living with some sort of disability.
Be careful to avoid just making ‘18%’ of your personas disabled. Make sure you’re taking your other research into account when you create disabled personas. For example around one in 20 children are disabled, compared to around one in five working age adults, and almost one in two people over state pension age; so the figure of 18% is a combination of all age groups. If you’re targeting an audience of over 65s then you may want to use a figure of 50%.
That’s still using the broad term of ‘disability’ though. There are a huge range of different types of disability that can impact on how people use technology. The following is a rough overview of the groups of disability, though within each group there are very varied disabilities:
- Visual – There are a wide range of visual impairments, from completely blind users to those with colour blindness.
- Motor/Mobility – People with difficulty or inability to use their hands, including tremors,muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc. This may make using a mouse or touchscreen devices particularly difficult.
- Auditory – People who have trouble with their hearing or are completely deaf. This is less of an issue for websites than other forms of media but needs to be considered, particularly if your site relies on using video.
- Seizures – Seizures can be caused by visual strobe or flashing effects. This is not often an issue for websites but should still be taken into consideration.
- Cognitive/Intellectual – Learning and cognitive disabilities which may affect memory, attention,problem-solving and logic skills.
While the level and type of disability varies with age, it is important to remember that it also can also vary based on gender, for example, one in 200 women are colour-blind compared to one in 12 men. Consider which disabilities are most likely for you personas rather than just allocating disabilities randomly.
Ideally you’ll want to avoid creating a separate group of ‘accessible’ personas. They should be users with disabilities rather than disabled users. They need to be as detailed as all your other personas rather than being all about their disability.
You should be thinking about the accessibility of your website throughout the design process irrespective of whether your personas happen to have a disability. However, considering disabilities when creating personas will make them more accurate, and may help you to remain focused on accessibility issues.
If you want to know more about creating personas with disabilities then you might want to read up on some examples from the UIaccess website. You could also talk to AbilityNet who will be able to offer some advice on how to get started. For a more general overview of accessibility you might want to read my ebook; A Guide to Website Accessibility.