Anticipate and Adjust: Cultivating Access in Human-Centered Methods

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.

  • 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.


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:

  • 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 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.



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Kelly Mack

Kelly Mack

PhD Student at the University of Washington