Inclusive & Accessible Research

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How to Set Up Focus Group Facilities, In Person Ethnography, and In Person Interviews

Thanks for following along as we dive into inclusive and accessible research! If you missed our earlier posts about how to conduct inclusive and accessible research, you can find them here and here. It’s been a minute, so a little refresher never hurt anyone…

To briefly recap, we’re exploring how we can be more inclusive and accessible in conducting research remotely and in person. Some initial things to consider:

  • It starts with us challenging ourselves to be more open minded, collaborative and to question our assumptions more. But beyond that, we have to be okay with doing these things and knowing we will often be more wrong than right.
  • We must step out of our traditional recruiting practices to engage and collaborate with communities who could benefit from these resources.
  • We must not be afraid to ask people questions. We must create space for participants to ask for accommodations. Many have adapted to a way of life not designed with them in mind. Often they don’t know to ask for assistance unless they’re prompted.
  • Shifting to a paradigm of equity where we’re not just doing the bare minimum to accommodate people is essential. Better yet, let’s have those accommodations already available.

Last time we discussed how to set up accessible and inclusive remote interviews, focus groups, and digital diaries. We looked at hardware, software, tips & tricks that explore the platform side of things as well as the actual interaction side of things.

Now, we’re taking a look at how to set up in person interviews, focus groups, and ethnography that are accessible and inclusive. A lot from the previous post translates here, but now we’re thinking more about physical space. As ever, keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and is an ongoing process. In an ideal world, a facility would have all of these things. Ultimately, you want people to feel welcome, so here’s what’s needed for in person research.

General Principles

We’ve broken down some things to consider prior to running the interview, focus group, or ethnography that will help ensure that everyone can fully participate in in-person sessions.

It’s important to prepare as much as possible, but have a flexible plan and be willing to adapt and improvise during the engagements. Remember - Universal/Inclusive Design positively impacts the reasonable accommodations process & removes the burden from the individual of needing to ask for changes to the environment.

Start by offering the basics. These are what we consider to be ‘low effort’ offerings. They don’t really change anything about your method (i.e., your discussion guide or stimulus). They don’t usually require you to change the length of an interview or require any additional personnel. Most of these tools are free or cheap; many are already built-in to tools you already use. But you will need to build in additional time to prepare your guide, the room, and your materials.

Leave assumptions and what you think you know at the door. Don’t assume people need assistive technology. Present options, and create space for participants to choose what they need or want to be available. We always ask participants who tell us they have some form of disability if they want or require any of a variety of assistive technologies. A lot of times, people tell us they don’t need or want them. So rather than assume that a particular type of disability requires a tailored setup, collaborate with your participants to discover what they want, and what they need.

Training the Team

It’s important to prepare your team ahead of the fieldwork for any possible hiccups, keeping in mind there will likely be hiccups no matter how much you think you’re prepared. And that’s okay! Collaborate with your participants.

  • Training your consultants:
  • Train all organizers, presenters and moderators in how to run meetings that are accessible for everyone.
  • Provide instructions and training on how to make videos, images, documents, emails, and surveys accessible for all, including adding captions and audio descriptions.
  • Share resources for running an inclusive meeting. These resources can be easily translated into running an inclusive in person interview or focus group. Some examples:
  • Jessica Rafuse, Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Accessibility, published a blog entitled Accessible Events, Climbing Toddlers and Barking Dogs [1].
  • Spark Inclusion in Your Workplace: [2]
  • 7 Steps to Make Your Presentations Accessible: [3]

Before you get there…

Recruiting / Screening

  • Drafting screeners:
  • When putting together screeners for recruiting, make sure to include questions that ask for participants’ accessibility needs and preferences.

Activity, Discussion Guide and Stimulus Design

  • Design your interview guide to prompt you to provide visual directions and not just audible directions
  • Keep in mind that some people may need more time or different materials than you’re used to, and adjust the timings of your guide accordingly.
  • Use assistive technology such as to provide live captioning of web content) Google Chrome [6]), your speech (Ava [7]), and in the case of clients listening from a back room audio enhancing technology for better comprehension (Krisp [8])
  • Use a variety of question types
  • Allow for unstructured time so all can participate and/or offer to break up activities to shorter periods of time for those who have learning disabilities or shorter attention spans. This allows for a lot of great information outside of activities.
  • Create opportunities for your participants to provide feedback on activities within their in-person ethnographic experience

For your stimulus:

  • For people with vision impairments, include/offer the following options:
  • Braille
  • Image to text / screenreaders
  • Image descriptions
  • Audio recordings or live reads of written instructions for immersive exercises (e.g., a gallery walk of positioning statements with a dot voting exercise, etc.)
  • For people with hearing impairments, provide the following options:
  • Closed captions for videos presented during research
  • Transcripts

Selecting a Facility / Location (the general building/office/floor plan/restrooms)

  • Selecting facilities:
  • Understand there are issues between legacy and new facilities
  • Consider the impact of ‘new’ furnishings such as sit-stand desks, mother pods, lactation rooms
  • Include Gender Neutral facilities
  • What to Look for in a Research Location or Facility:
  • Is it handicapped accessible?
  • Is there optimal lighting in the room and on screen (when necessary) so those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions can see what they need to see?
  • Is it possible to set up the room in a circle shape to allow people to see each other’s faces rather than the back of their heads?
  • Will the facility or location allow you to post (or does it provide) inclusion posters [4] in your environment so all feel welcome?

On the topic of space, of course, we must always be aware of the ADA and ADA standards for accessible design [5]. Unfortunately, there are a handful of accessibility requirements that are frequently forgotten. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Bathroom doors on accessible stalls that swing in rather than out
  • Doors that exceed the required less than 5 pounds of pressure to open
  • Thresholds transitions from one space to the next that are too high
  • Carpets that do not meet the low & tight pile and firmly installed standards
  • Locking mechanisms on accessible bathroom stalls that do not have an easily used on and off function
  • Lighting installed that is not maintained or of a type that can trigger seizures or migraines
  • Floors that do not meet the firm and non-slip surface requirement

Additionally, there are quite a few accessibility features to think about NOT specifically covered by ADAAG. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Doors that swing in only one direction
  • Automatic door buttons that are located at a reasonable distance from the door but do not ensure sufficient time for someone with a mobility disability to pass through the door

And here are some things that we love to see:

  • Automatic door buttons are easy to press with minimal strength and can be pressed by those who do not have use of their fingers
  • Doors eliminated wherever possible but account for management of noise for people with sensitivity to noise
  • Relief areas for service animals located in smoke-free areas that have a roof, trash cans, a bag dispenser and a surface that does not retain excessive heat
  • Door handles selected in contrasting colors and textures for individuals with low vision
  • Accessibility features on touch screens for destination elevators designed so they are integrated with standard controls and not placed in a separate location
  • Key cards are marked with the direction and side that needs to be inserted
  • Key slot location marked
  • Movement sensitive lighting that senses movement by individuals who are less than average height and signal when they go off to alert individuals who are blind

Setting Up the Room (what do we need in the room with us?)

Now that you’ve got your facility picked out and your activity guide / discussion guide / stimulus sorted, how you set up the room is crucial, of course applying all the principles already discussed. Some top of mind things to consider are:

  • A circular chair/desk/table setting, so those who rely on facial expressions and lip reading can see all persons involved
  • Avoid strobe lights or any lighting that may have the potential to set off epileptic seizures or some similar reaction (or at the very least provide warning if there are heavy stimulus effects)
  • Provide space at a table or in a group of chairs for someone to use a wheelchair/walker/scooter/etc (to keep from outcasting that participant in group activities)
  • Make sure tablets with stimulus and screen readers are provided
  • If any stimulus is shown on a big screen, make sure the screen is visible and accessible to all. Allow participants to move if needed.
  • Make sure you position yourself so everyone in the room can see you when you speak

Now, you’re ready to facilitate the meeting…

  • Remember to offer reminders of accessibility options and other best practices at the start of your meetings.
  • Identify yourself each time you speak.
  • Avoid acronyms or use complete words the first time. Not all participants may understand abbreviations due to hearing/audio issues, language/accents, differences in background.
  • Avoid or limit use of idioms that may be culture-specific, as participants from other backgrounds or non-native English speakers may not understand.
  • Share information in more than one way to allow for technical, situational or sensory challenges.
  • For example if you are presenting a visual, describe it verbally or have an audio recording available; and if you have an audio clip, make sure you have a transcript ready.
  • If you plan to present anything on screen, make sure to share any relevant files with attendees who may use screen readers. This will help ensure that any document’s full content is made accessible to screen reader users. Take it a step further by providing tablets that have the stimulus on them already set to the appropriate setting, so the participant does not have to prepare it themselves.

Making Additional Reasonable Accommodations (e.g. translators, offering 1:1s, etc.)

Some participants may want or need assistance from a human being that isn’t you. You might be worried about the role these people might play in the way people interpret, interact with and respond to the questions and stimuli you are presenting. You don’t need to worry - these people are completely normal parts of your participants’ everyday lives, so offering these options will bring you closer to how your customer will really interact with your messages or products in the real world. This might include:

  • ASL interpreters
  • Translators
  • (Allow) any carers (to attend sessions)

Additionally, some other small accommodations that can make a world of difference to your participants include:

  • The option for participants to be interviewed 1:1
  • More time to complete a task

And don’t forget to collaborate with your participants to create a great experience for all. We’d love to think that these are just ‘how we should always do things’, but we know that these suggestions require more up front planning, more space in the schedule, and more willingness to conduct research in more customized ways. Nevertheless, we think they’re incredibly important - and simply make good qualitative practice, regardless of the status or identities of your participants.


We’re hoping you now have some guidance into how to set up accessible and inclusive in person interviews, focus groups, and ethnography. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for guidance. Consult with or hire an accessibility or DEI professional.

Our processes will continue to evolve as experts continue to educate us and as accessibility/inclusion/disability softwares develop.

Next time, we’ll share some tips for recruiting, keeping accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront.


[1] Accessible Events, Climbing Toddlers and Barking Dogs:

[2] Spark Inclusion in Your Workplace:

[3] 7 Steps to Make Your Presentations Accessible:

[4] Disability Inclusion Posters:

[5] ADA Standards for Accessible Design:

[6] Assistive Technology Google Chrome:

[7] Assistive Technology Ava:

[8] Assistive Technology Krisp: