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Automated and Manual Accessibility Audits are Not Enough: Raise the Bar with an In-Home Usability Study


While an automated or manual accessibility audit can ensure a product is legally compliant, your organization can do so much more to improve the user experience for people with disabilities.

To test out the accessibility of features beyond checking off WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines and ensure your product is effectively serving a diverse set of users consider an in-home usability study for accessibility. This type of research can help shine a light on usability issues and more.

What is An In-Home Usability Study?

An in-home usability study entails a user experience researcher going to the home of a participant to observe and measure in-person how they use a service or product in their own space. The researcher pays special attention to any pain points and challenges the participant experiences with the service or product during the study session.

Why Conduct In-Home Usability Studies for Accessibility?

An in-home usability study for accessibility allows researchers to see the natural environment where people use assistive technologies. Testing the accessibility of products in-home:

  • Creates a realistic test environment in a comfortable space for users
  • Gives users easy access to assistive technology they routinely use
  • Allows for interaction with users who may have limited mobility

Manual and automated accessibility reviews ensure legal compliance. Testing in-home for usability study and accessibility raises the bar by:

  • Emphasizing improvements on actual user experience
  • Creating empathy for users
  • Demonstrating buy-in opportunities for improving accessibility

With an in-home usability study for accessibility, your team will:

  • Learn from real users about how they use, experience, and feel about your product
  • Observe usability issues people with disabilities encounter when using your product with and without assistive technology
  • Improve your organization’s approach to accessibility by building empathy towards users with disabilities and directly observe the frustration caused when accessibility best practices are ignored

Incorporating the voices of these users into your iterative design and research processes ensures their needs are met by future design improvements to your product.

How Do These Studies Shift the Conversation?

These studies often change the framing of the questions around business decisions. They shift from considering only stakeholder input or expert recommendations to put users at the center of the conversation.

In these studies, you can effectively:

  • Document quotes and videos for real-world use cases
  • Collect the data you need to show how your features or content are functioning with a wide group of users
  • Emphasize the hard facts about whether you need to pivot or reconsider the accessibility of certain features
  • Help your company comply with accessibility standards and legal requirements
  • Build empathy for the user and generate support and stakeholder buy-in for making design changes

Stakeholders can be very motivated by witnessing accessibility issues firsthand. In a recent in-home accessibility study we conducted, the software engineer from the product team accompanied us to a handful of sessions. During the sessions, the engineer witnessed firsthand the challenges users were facing with his product from an accessibility standpoint. The engineer was more than a passive observer: he took detailed notes during the studies and made changes to the product immediately afterward. This example of immediate action speaks volumes about how informative and impactful this study method can be to important stakeholders and executors.

When we presented our research findings to this engineer’s product team, we could see that the team was affected emotionally by viewing these user stories, brought to life by verbatim quotes and video clips. We presented the study findings by focusing on the user, their unique story, and the barriers they face when an app or its features are unavailable to them. These stories drew visible reactions from the product team – laughter, cringing, and frustrated sighs galore. These emotions turned into empathy for the user and lead to action to create better services and products for the user.

How Do I get Organizational Buy-in For In-Home Usability Studies?

Showcasing user stories can be a great instrument for building empathy for the user within your organization. Observing people with disabilities interact with your product within their own homes (often with their own assistive technologies) allows your team to identify accessibility and usability issues that are not bubbled up by other testing approaches. Seeing firsthand how barriers to your product impact a wide range of users can be a powerful tool to get buy-in from stakeholders on the importance of correcting accessibility and usability issues and improving the overall user experience.

By making sure features are more inclusive and accessible, a product is better for everyone. Equal access to a product empowers users and bolsters a positive experience in which nobody is left out or excluded based on their abilities.