Best Practices for Accessible Recruitment & Research

At Generation Focus, we are passionate about contributing to research in the accessibility space. Conducting research with individuals with accessibility needs helps ensure that products will be usable and accessible for all types of people. It is our collective responsibility to help meet the needs of our community, and in doing so, we enhance the human experience as we learn to understand each other’s needs. 

Inclusive research begins with inclusive recruitment. In this post, we share our best practices for how you can make your recruitment process more inclusive and accessible for participants with different abilities.

Keep it Human-Centered

In a previous blog post, we introduced our approach to human-centered recruitment. In summary, the human centered approach is about making each participant feel that they matter; that they are valued and are adding value. Although this is always important, it is especially so when it comes to recruiting participants with disabilities. Prior to conducting research, explain to the participants how their participation in the study will help make products more accessible and user-friendly to individuals who, like themselves, may live with disabilities. Make sure the participant understands that their time, opinions, and feedback are highly valued and important. 

Evaluate Personal Biases & Check Your Assumptions

Remember to treat each participant as an expert of their experience. Keep an open mind while making screening calls, and allow participants to share their answers in-depth. Each participant’s experience of their disability is unique, so it is best not to assume what their answers will be. If you need clarification, always ask from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. Always capture a participant’s answers objectively and verbatim if possible, to avoid inserting your own interpretation into the data. It is also helpful to ask open-ended questions, rather than leading questions, to avoid confirming any biases in responses. Oftentimes, we do not realize that we are showing bias toward a certain group or individual. If you’d like to learn more about implicit biases, you can do so here. (There is a test specifically designed to assess biases towards disabilities.)

Express Gratitude Instead of Sympathy 

Your language matters! When recruiting participants with various impairments, we recommend that you focus on the candidate’s abilities and experiences instead of their impairments. For example, if someone shares the story of their diagnosis, you might feel prompted to express sympathy (“I’m so sorry to hear that”). Instead, we encourage you to thank them and express your appreciation (“Thank you so much for sharing that, this will be important for our research”). It is also important to be mindful of smaller reactions and responses such as “Hm,” “Really?,” and “Wow!,” as these can signal to the participant that you are perceiving/interpreting their response with a level of judgment. Try your best to give neutral or validating/encouraging responses. 

Make the Recruitment Process as Accessible as Possible

We recommend adjusting your recruitment practices based on the potential participants’ abilities. For example, if a participant has low vision, it might be better to call rather than email or text them. During the call, you may choose to alter your speaking pattern or volume if it may benefit the participant. If you use an initial screener survey, we recommend checking that the survey platform is compatible with screen readers, screen magnifiers, and other assistive technology. When in doubt, ask your participants directly for their preferences. They may suggest conducting sessions on one video conferencing tool over another, or they may request their incentives to be distributed through a specific tool that is more accessible. Additionally, pilot sessions are very valuable for accessibility studies, as they help the research team make any adjustments needed before the main sessions. 

Provide Support Throughout the Recruitment & Onboarding Process

At Generation Focus, we strive to build a culture of flexibility and accommodation for participants. While always important, this is especially crucial when we’re working with individuals living with disabilities/impairments. We recommend being available to answer any questions the participant might have and provide support with technology when joining remote sessions. Make sure the participants have the assistive tools they need to join the session (e.g. screen reader, screen magnifier). For remote interviews, we recommend that you meet the participant in the meeting room 10-15 minutes prior to the research session to assist with tech set-up, including helping the participant set up their assistive devices or technology. When possible, aim to communicate instructions for joining the session ahead of time, so participants have time to practice and troubleshoot before their sessions. Instructions should be as clear as possible and sent in text or Word format versus PDF (which can be difficult for assistive technology to read).

Allow Opportunity for Learning and Growth

We recommend that you keep an open mind and welcome feedback from your participants. After finishing a project, debrief on any lessons learned. You might ask yourself, “What worked well?” “What didn’t work out so well?” Take time to reflect and discuss your findings with your team, and improve your recruitment and research practices accordingly. For example, maybe your participants didn’t have a good experience with the initial survey platform? If so, use a different survey provider next time. Learn and grow from your experiences, so that your recruitment and research practices can be even more accessible in the future.

Share Your Thoughts 

We hope you enjoyed this blog post and that you feel inspired by our tips for accessible recruitment practices. Do you have any questions? Are you curious to learn more about our work? Feel free to reach out if you would like more information about the recruitment services we offer or wish to explore how we can support your research projects. 

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