Making research activities inclusive and accessible
Our sixth research principle is to make research inclusive.
We want to help our teams understand and value the needs of all the people who might use, operate or be affected by a service.
So we must make sure that all of those people can participate in our research activities.
There is a good guide to Running research sessions with disabled people in the GOV.UK Service Manual.
In this guide we provide additional advice on adapting our methods for a broader range of accessibility and other needs.
In following this guidance, we remember to continuously evaluate and adapt our practice to meet each participant’s individual needs.
Using inclusive language #
In all our communications, before, during and after a research activity, we take care to use inclusive language.
We do this in:
- descriptions of participant groups and research activities in our research plans
- participant recruitment messages and conversations
- research information and consent materials
- messages providing incentives
- instructions and explanations we provide, and questions we ask during research
- follow up and thank you messages to participants
- reports and presentations of our findings
Communicating clearly #
We communicate what we want to say literally, unambiguously and without assumptions.
- ask one question at a time
- be clear who in a group we are addressing, using participant’s given names
- provide instructions verbally, in writing, or another format that is accessible to our participants
- are prepared to explain the same thing in a different way
- expect honest answers to our questions
And we avoid:
- vague questions and explanations
- unwarranted assumptions
- euphemisms and idioms
This is particularly important for many neurodivergent people, and people with intellectual disabilities, who need us to say what we mean.
Giving people the time they need #
We give people the time they need to answer and to form sentences.
Everybody benefits from being given time to:
- understand instructions
- think of an answer to a question
- pause and reflect
- being interrupted while building an answer verbally
- having someone trying to complete our sentences
This is particularly applicable for people that stutter/stammer and for some neurodivergent people.
Avoiding assumptions about responses #
Some neurodivergent people are very good at masking (producing facial expressions and controlling tone of voice to mimic neurotypical responses), while others are not.
Some people with language and communication difficulties, or conditions such as an essential tremor, may have quite different ways of speaking and gesturing.
We keep this in mind, and don’t try to interpret a participant’s facial expressions, behavioural responses or tone of voice.
Instead, we ask follow up questions to make sure that we properly understand what a participant is telling us.
Considering sensory sensitivity #
Choosing session times #
Sensory sensitivity increases through the day, so we check with participants and try to schedule research sessions at the best time of day for them.
Preventing an overstimulating visual experience #
Some neurodivergent people get visually overwhelmed with colourful and busy visual stimuli, such as highly patterned clothing, and moving backgrounds.
When doing research in person or online, we help prevent visual overwhelm by:
- wearing dark or neutral unpatterned clothes
- using plain or blurred backgrounds on video calls
- choosing research environments that are not overstimulating
Preventing an overstimulating hearing experience #
Some neurodivergent people have a hypo sensitivity to sound. And some autistic people have an increased auditory capacity that can be both an asset and disabling.
When doing research in person or online, we:
- use quiet spaces where our participants can hear what we say
- reduce any background noise
Making online research inclusive #
Letting people turn off their cameras #
Some neurodivergent people find eye contact and facial expressions management exhausting and sometimes painful. And people with a visible difference such as a facial injury, mark or skin condition, can find being seen by strangers difficult.
We always give participants the option to have their cameras off. We are explicit about this in our introduction to an activity. And may add this to our information and consent materials.
By offering this option, we remove the need for participants to ask.
Keeping your camera on when it is needed #
Some participants will need to lip read. While others will need to see everyone taking part in the session, such as observers and note takers.
At the start of the session we ask participants for their preference.
We keep our camera focussed on our face, and we keep our hair, clothing and any head covering, away from our face. So our entire face and lips are visible.
Turning on automated captions #
Many people benefit from reading captions, not only people who are Deaf/deaf.
Some neurodivergent people use them. And people for whom English is an additional language can find them helpful.
Making in person research inclusive #
Choosing a familiar setting #
Where possible, we use locations that our participants already visit and use, consider safe, and know how to travel to and access.
This can help with recruitment and encourage wider participation.
Providing an access guide #
People who are blind, have low vision, have mobility problems, and some neurodivergent people, can find it difficult to manage unpredictability and environmental wayfinding.
It is helpful to provide to all participants with:
- a guide to travelling to and accessing the research location
- information, including photos, of the space where the research will take place
Where possible, we use the location’s existing access guide. But we may need to create one.
The Sensory Trust have useful advice on how to make a visitor access guide.
As examples, here are a basic guide to get to a research space and a visual guide to a cinema.
Positioning ourselves #
During one to one research sessions, we are careful to face our participants, so that they can hear us clearly or see our face and lips.
In group sessions, we are careful to position ourselves so that we are facing our participants, both when we are speaking to them individually, and when we are speaking to them as a group.
Additional guidance #
There are useful guides to:
- Choosing a location for user research in the GOV.UK Service Manual
- Doing research remotely by phone and video call in the GOV.UK Service Manual
- Accessibility guidance for user research in the NHS Digital service manual
- Making meetings accessible and Venues and accessibility at Seeds for Change
Last updated: 29 January 2024 (history)