Anticipate and Adjust: Cultivating Access in Human-Centered Methods

This post summarizes our research paper “Anticipate and Adjust: Cultivating Access in Human-Centered Methods,” which was accepted to the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2022. This work was created and/or written by authors Kelly Mack, Emma J McDonnell, Venkatesh Potluri, Maggie Xu, Jailyn Zabala, Jeffrye P Bigham, Jennifer Mankoff, Cynthia L Bennett, and interviewees Kayla Brown, Heather Evans, Christina Granquist, Jae Kim, Daniel Martinez, Rebecca Monteleone, Zack Siddeek, Michele Williams, and the 10 interviewees who are anonymous in the paper. Please also see this blog post where we list practical advice provided by our interviewees around accessible study and event planning. This paper also received an honorable mention, which recognizes the top 5% of submissions.

Human-centered research requires human-centered methods, but which humans are being centered in this process? As accessibility gains momentum in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research communities, those of us who are part of this community are increasingly recognizing that people with disabilities are an important subset of humans who are impacted by our research. Ensuring that people with disabilities are respectfully included in our research requires that we reconsider our research questions and approaches. All research should be accessible research.

Evolving our practices to be more accessible can raise a lot of questions. For example, consider the following scenario.

Imagine wanting to conduct research interviews with Deaf people who use sign language. Your participants require interpreters, which need to be hired weeks in advance of the study session. You may have collaborators with additional access needs, such as an interviewer who is hard of hearing and uses captioning, not sign language. Further, the interpreters and captioners may not be experts in the research domain, so you need to send them a list of vocabulary words unique to the research area to prepare. After running some practice interviews, you learn that during the actual interviews the seating arrangement of all interview attendees (the project lead, the participant, two interpreters, and a captioner) matters. You must ensure that the interviewer can see the captioner and caption screen, the interpreters can see the participant, and the participant and interviewer can see each other. Finally, throughout the interview, you learn that with multiple levels of interpretation you must build in pauses and check-ins to guarantee that everyone understands each other clearly. [1]

This example demonstrates that preparing for and running an accessible interview study takes careful effort and time. Otherwise the researchers and study procedures may unintentionally hurt or exclude the participants, collaborators, and colleagues with disabilities.

So, how can researchers learn to implement this preparation into their general practice? And how can they prioritize accessibility when things don’t go as planned, as is common while doing research?

In our paper, we argue that there is a valuable opportunity to address those questions by collecting examples of accessible research, learning from these examples, and developing frameworks to help us plan future accessible research. Further, to enact the famous disability activist call of ‘nothing about us without us,’ our research on accessible human-centered methods highlights the need to make all research activities, not just participation, accessible to people with disabilities. So, we also give examples on how to conduct accessible project leadership and management, research facilitation, data collection, analysis, and writing practices that anticipates that our colleagues, supervisors, and other project partners may have disabilities and/or accessibility needs.

To do so, we interviewed 17 researchers and disability community organizers about how they make activities popular in HCI research accessible. We asked about activities including interviews, workshops, and experiments. Their efforts revealed that accessibility was a core consideration throughout all phases of the research and event planning process. We now share our interviewees’ [2] experiences, and we conclude with a pipeline that we suggest HCI researchers and disability-community organizers can use to plan accessible events and studies.

As a note, some of our interviewees wanted their real name to be used in the paper, and others preferred pseudonyms. We indicate real names with an asterisk (*).

Core mindset: first anticipate, then adjust

Many of our interviewees approached accessibility with a mindset of “anticipate and adjust.” They began by making a careful effort to design studies that would be accessible for themselves and their participants. This access labor, or the effort necessary to meet people’s access needs, included learning about known and relevant best practices (see “Do your homework” below) and building capacity to make each step of the research practice accessible accordingly. At the same time, each individual’s access needs were unique and, as studies and events progressed, new access needs emerged. For example, one of our interviewees, Heather*, did interviews with people with fluctuating fatigue. Heather designed her study so that she interviewed participants for a shorter time over multiple sessions (anticipation). Even with this planned accommodation, Heather* canceled or ended interviews early if she or a participant got too fatigued mid-session (adjustment). Full accessibility often involved adjusting events and studies in the moment to meet participants’ shifting and emerging needs. However, these last-minute changes were much easier to make when interviewees planned ahead and predicted needs in advance.

Access across stages and Dimensions

We now share how accessibility was considered during the different stages of research studies that our interviewees discussed. We also categorized and labeled the example accessibility considerations into four dimensions: communication, materials, space, and time. For more details, please see section 4.1 of our publication.

  • Doing your homework- Interviewees, such as Michele* ,spent time learning about the access needs of the communities their participants belonged to (e.g., Deaf communities). They looked to many resources, including existing guides created by disability activists and scholars (see 5–12 below) and their own experience.
  • Method selection- Interviewees rarely avoided methods for accessibility reasons, but instead adapted them to be accessible. For example, Christine*, who is blind, asked her blind participants to perform diary studies with voice memos and text entries (dimensions: communication, materials) rather than photographs. These decisions increased access for herself and her participants.
  • Recruitment- Interviewees ensured that 1) recruitment materials were available in participants’ most comfortable medium such as email or phone calls (dimension: materials), 2) materials used plain language [4] below a certain reading level to ensure they were understandable (dimension: communication), 3) materials were available in participants’ preferred languages, including sign languages (dimension:communication).
  • Initial access needs conversation- Interviewees had conversations with the team to plan how to meet facilitators’ access needs. Interviewees also contacted participants before the study to ensure their access needs would be met. This process included providing access for participants with multiple disabilities (e.g., ensuring studies recruiting blind and low vision people were also accessible to DeafBlind people). For example, during these initial conversations, some participants with brain fog or those who used alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices requested interview guides ahead of time to prepare answers (dimensions: time, communication).
  • Transportation- Interviewees chose study locations that were close to accessible parking and publication transportation stops. They provided participants with directions and often met them in the parking lot to guide them to the correct room inside a building (dimension: space).
  • Preparing the space- Interviewees ensured that rooms were as comfortable as possible (dimension: space), by making preparations such as bringing door stops to ease entry and removing chairs to allow wheelchair access. Zack* and Jae* provided sensory descriptions of spaces [3]. In some cases, like during Heather’s* studies, participants and facilitators had a discussion to agree upon a space that met both people’s access needs, like rooms that allowed wheelchair access for the participant and were temperature controlled for the facilitator.
  • Obtaining consent- Interviewees shared consent information in participants’ preferred modes such as providing paper forms, or allowing participants to sign an image of the consent form using their smartphone (dimension: communication). Lindsay created plain language translations of consent forms which included simplified text, and images to reinforce what the text was communicating (dimensions: materials, communication).
  • Running the study- Interviewees adapted many study activities to make them accessible for both themselves and their participants. For example, Heather* printed out large-print study protocols to aid her if she had brain fog during the study (dimension: materials). Daniel* and Hazel brought a variety of materials to design workshops to facilitate visual and nonvisual engagement (dimension: materials), and Yuzu led a workshop-type activity and standardized rewinding the video in her plan so that people could rewatch if they wanted to, or proceed with their activity if they did not (dimension: time).
  • Data analysis and writing- Interviewees with disabilities often created custom workflows or tools when common tools were inaccessible. Hazel qualitatively coded interview transcripts in a spreadsheet when she learned that her blind colleague could not use some qualitative analysis tools (dimension: materials), and Dhruv wrote his own scripts so his quantitative analyses would take fewer fatiguing mouse clicks (dimension: time).
  • Member checking- Some interviewees asked participants to check their final analysis to ensure they interpreted the data correctly. Lindsay found that summarizing her findings and listing individual’s quotes in a document was more accessible for her participants with cognitive disabilities than sending them a raw transcript (dimension: communication).
  • Reflection- Making studies accessible is always a learning experience. Several interviewees shared that their participants acted as experts teaching them how to improve their interactions. Making time to reflect on what went well and what to improve for the future was an important part of interviewees’ accessibility learning.

Takeaways

We developed several key recommendations which may be useful to run accessible research. We urge HCI researchers to consider and implement them whether they are accessibility researchers or not, because all research should be accessible research:

  • Acknowledge access labor in publications and other recordings of studies and events; this practice allows us to better review and learn from each other’s work.
  • Develop an onboarding for people new to performing accessible research, as it is a skill that takes time to learn. More generally, research training should include accessibility and disability awareness training to anticipate that participants and study partners may have access needs and/or have disabilities.
  • Plan to involve people with multiple disabilities and access needs and plan to involve people with different disabilities and access needs. For example, some access needs may conflict, and planning ahead will make adjustments easier when these conflicts arise.

A flowchart for planning accessible studies and events

We created the following flowchart to help facilitators plan accessible studies and events. At each stage in the research and event planning process, we suggest that planners use this tool to help identify relevant tasks, people, their access needs, and other constraints (e.g., institutional rules). We argue that when keeping all of these key elements in mind, researchers and organizers can plan more successful, accessible events and studies. We acknowledge that this workflow is only useful when people feel safe to share their needs. Power dynamics can influence who feels comfortable to share access needs and must be considered in determining whose access needs to prioritize. We challenge project leaders to set an example with the power they do have by listening to needs and appealing to their organizations to provide the necessary resources to meet them.

Diagram with 5 boxes; bidirectional arrows connect each. 1. Identify stakeholders: list who will be involved e.g., participants, collaborators. 2. Define tasks for this stage. 3. Assign tasks to relevant stakeholders. Consider access needs, the benefits/costs of familiarity, other constraints. 4. Plan accommodations: Think about how to meet everyone’s access needs. Consider communication, materials, space, time. 5. Reflect: Review the plan. Consider access synergies or conflicts, power dynamics.

We now give an example of applying the workflow with a fictional scenario similar to our opening example. A team is running interviews with Deaf participants. First, the team identifies the people involved: two researchers named Kentrell and Mei, Deaf participants, and ASL interpreters. Next, they identify tasks. Some tasks include, hiring and scheduling access support staff, setting up a tablet with interview questions to support communication (dimensions: communication, materials), reserving a space to conduct interviews, asking questions, and answering questions. To divide up tasks, the team considers individuals’ access needs and project roles. Kentrell has a chronic illness that causes fluctuating fatigue, Mei doesn’t report any access needs, and all of the participants will be Deaf and communicate via ASL. Kentrell is the lead researcher while Mei is a research assistant. The team decides that Kentrell will ask the interview questions, and book an appropriate room to conduct the interviews. Mei will take on some of the other administrative tasks given Kentrell’s fatigue levels. For example, Mei will hire and schedule interpreters, prepare the tablet with interview questions, and rearrange the furniture in the interview room to optimize sight lines and minimize visual distractions (dimensions: materials and space). After making the initial plan, they reflect and review it. Kentrell realizes that his fatigue may conflict with his ability to run interviews because interpreters require rigid scheduling in advance (dimension: time). To prevent this potential access conflict, the team invites their lab mate, Luz, an experienced interviewer interested in working with signers in the future. Luz agrees to be on-call to run an interview if needed as it would provide a valuable learning experience in return for their flexibility and time volunteered.

We hope that this work spurs conversation and changes in practice around performing, teaching, and recording accessible events and studies. We invite you to read our paper for a more descriptive analysis and this blog post where we list practical advice provided by our interviewees around accessible study and event planning.

Acknowledgements

We thank our interviewees Kayla Brown, Heather Evans, Christina Granquist, Jae Kim, Daniel Martinez, Rebecca Monteleone, Zack Siddeek, Michele Williams, and the 10 interviewees who are anonymous in the paper. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-2140004, by NSF 2009977 and 1836813; NIDILRR ARRT 90ARCP0005 and by the University of Washington Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences.

[1] This example very closely mimics the experience of one of our participants, John. See more about John’s reflections about his experience in our paper.

[2] Throughout this article, we refer to the people we interviewed as “interviewees” and the people who our interviewees worked with for studies and events as “participants.”

[3] Sensory description of spaces share information about the space (e.g., lighting, temperature, sounds), especially aspects that might make people distracted or uncomfortable. See an example here.

[4] Plain language is “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.” This practice can help improve access for people with disabilities.

[5] Cynthia L. Bennett, Abigale Stangl, Alexa F. Siu, and Joshua A. Miele. 2019. Making Nonvisually: Lessons from the Field. In The 21st International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS ’19), 279–285. https://doi.org/10.1145/3308561.3355619

[6] Raja S. Kushalnagar and Christian Vogler. 2020. Teleconference Accessibility and Guidelines for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users. In The 22nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS ’20), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1145/3373625.3417299

[7] Abi Roper, Ian Davey, Stephanie Wilson, Timothy Neate, Jane Marshall, and Brian Grellmann. 2018. Usability Testing — An Aphasia Perspective. In Proceedings of the 20th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS ’18), 102–106. https://doi.org/10.1145/3234695.3241481

[8] Amelie Unger, Dieter P. Wallach, and Nicole Jochems. 2021. Lost in Translation: Challenges and Barriers to Sign Language-Accessible User Research. In The 23rd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–5. Retrieved December 13, 2021 from http://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3476473

[9] 2020. Accessible Remote Attendance. AccessSIGCHI. Retrieved December 13, 2021 from https://accesssigchi.com/accessible-remote-attendance/

[10] Making a Makerspace? Guidelines for Accessibility and Universal Design | DO-IT. Retrieved December 13, 2021 from https://www.washington.edu/doit/making-makerspace-guidelines-accessibility-and-universal-design

[11] Accessible Writing Guide | SIGACCESS. Retrieved December 13, 2021 from http://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-writing-guide/

[12] Accessible Conference Guide | SIGACCESS. Retrieved December 13, 2021 from http://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-conference-guide/

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