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  1. Service manual
  2. User research
  3. Running research sessions with people with disabilities

When you do research with people who have disabilities, it’s important to plan your sessions carefully, treat participants with respect and take account of their individual needs.

Steps to follow

Think about what you need to do to make sessions easy and comfortable for participants, both before they start and when they are underway.

Before a session

If you’re running a session at a research lab or other venue:

  • meet the participant at reception (or arrange for someone else to)
  • bring them to the lab or research room - find out how to guide a blind or partially sighted person
  • ask if they need you to set up any equipment they’ve brought - this can take time so make sure you plan for it
  • explain where the nearest toilets are, including the accessible one
  • explain what will happen if the fire alarm goes off

If your participants need to use assistive technology, ask them to bring it with them. This is because it’s hard to recreate someone’s personal settings on a different device. If a participant can’t bring their technology, it’s best to visit them instead.

Don’t pet a participant’s assistance dog, unless they say you can.

Before you start the session:

  • introduce yourself and explain who else is with you (like observers or notetakers) and what their role is
  • make sure they can use and understand the consent form so you get their informed consent

During a session

Regardless of what you’re researching and which user research method you’re using:

  • talk directly to the participant, not to their interpreter or helper
  • speak clearly and use everyday language without worrying about causing offence - for example, people who are blind or partially sighted use common phrases like ‘see you later’ and ‘see what I mean’
  • check if they need you to speak up or slow down
  • don’t guess what the participant is saying if their speech isn’t clear - ask them to write things down if you need to
  • don’t guess or make assumptions about what they can or can’t do - ask before you help them with something
  • don’t guess or make assumptions about how they feel or why they did something - if you want to know, ask
  • if you’re unsure how to refer to the participant’s disability or impairment, ask them what terminology they prefer
  • ask how their condition affects their use of technology, if this isn’t clear

After a session

When the research session is finished, thank the participant for taking part.

If you’re at a research lab or other venue:

  • make sure the participant packs up any assistive technology they’ve brought
  • check if they need you to book them a taxi or arrange for someone to meet them
  • take them back to reception (or ask someone else to)

Examples and case studies

Read a blog post about how the passport service was tested with visually impaired users.

Learn more about interacting with people with disabilities in the book ‘Just Ask: Integrating accessibility throughout design’.


Researching access needs: who to include when, made by the Home Office

You may also find these guides useful:

Published by:
Accessibility community
Last update:

Guidance first published