Why Talk About Inclusive & Accessible Research?

As you probably already know, The Difference Engine conducts qualitative research, and we’ve spent some time over the past few months discussing industry trends & patterns and analyzing our own methods for running research. In a recent conversation, we concluded that there is not much information out there about how to run inclusive and accessible research.

I was born with a severe hearing loss in both ears and rely on assistive hearing devices and lip reading. Growing up in a world that is not built or designed for me means that I have naturally and automatically adapted without really thinking about how and where things could be more accessible and/or inclusive for me. For instance, sitting at the front of the classroom or in a circle set up allows for optimal lip reading access. I often place myself in the dark seat of the bar, so the person I’m talking with is in the light where I can better read their body language which helps fill in the gaps for the words I’ve missed. But most generally, because my hearing is restricted, I’m always tapping into my other 4 senses a bit harder when I’m engaging with others so as to not come across as dumb or incompetent. In current society where looking someone in the eyes has become less of the norm, I’m looking at you directly because that’s how I can properly react to what you’re saying, not because I’m creepy or old-fashioned ;).

The opportunity to dive into my own thinking and assumptions of the world around me in addition to learning about spaces where others struggle with accessibility has been eye opening (literally and metaphorically) and rewarding.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve uncovered based on personal experience, talking with others, reading and researching what little has already been published and shared on this topic (in all candor, most publications are from the UK).

But first, let’s start with some facts and numbers for some initial perspective.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act is celebrating 31 years since the landmark legislation passed making the US more accessible.
  • Globally there are 1 billion people with disabilities.
  • In employment recruiting practices, only 45% of participants ask all candidates during the interview scheduling process if they need a reasonable accommodation.
  • 3% of articles in 2020 on D&I included disabilities [1]

The last few years have seen an increase in trends and movements around diversity and inclusion at work and in our everyday lives. In the summer of 2020, we saw an uptick in sales of anti-racism books [2]. More and more women are taking the stage in a predominantly male sports world [3]. And Harvard Business Review conducted a survey that showed that 90% of prestigious firms “reported that increasing gender and racial diversity was a factor they considered positively in their hiring” [4].

While we have been exposed to information about disability and accessibility issues (i.e. complex PTSD, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, etc.), it has not been widely adopted by our industry as something we should care about. A large majority of US companies have spent a lot of time and money on accessible design but not on the proper research that preludes the design. Many product design & brand/communications teams are not directly interacting with those who need accessible and inclusive design, and instead are often relying on assumptions or asking the incorrect questions. I mean why is the handicapped wheelchair icon still the universal symbol for anything and everything disability related?! This is where a shift in how we do research can help.

This gap can easily be bridged if we put together some universal best practices for conducting inclusive and accessible research. And we must step out of our traditional recruiting practices to engage and collaborate with a community who benefit from these types of resources. The best part? There are ways to do this that are lightweight and not time consuming — something many think is impossible.

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 not be afraid to ask people questions. Many with disabilities or what we presently identify as fitting the ‘diverse’ category 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.

A willingness to learn about accessibility and inclusion is better than not talking about it at all. We must give people the space to feel comfortable asking for accommodations without sighing in exasperation when a request comes through. Better yet, let’s have those accommodations already available. It’s worth noting and remembering that additional accessibilities benefit not just those with disabilities. For example, providing closed captions on all videos for those who may want to watch videos at work with the sound off so as to not disturb others around them; or building and creating spaces that allow for pushing carts or strollers, not just the token wheelchair or scooter; or screenreaders and larger fonts for people experiencing age related eyesight loss; or allowing people to be interviewed one on one and/or virtually if they experience social anxiety or have severe allergies or (temporary and ongoing) illnesses that prevent them from being around others.

It’s about going beyond the checkbox and the whole ‘meeting a quota’ trope. It’s about normalizing rather than accessorizing.

Jen Shadowens [5], a mixed-methods specialist working in the innovation space says, “the playbook is a simple one: stay nimble, stay open, stay humble.”

And with that, stay tuned for upcoming posts where we’ll share more on how to set up remote interviews, focus groups, and digital diaries that are accessible and inclusive, how to design accessible and inclusive focus group facilities, and tips for recruiting!

Claps for this gallery!


[1] Only 3% of articles discussing diversity reference disability: https://diversityq.com/only-3-of-articles-discussing-diversity-reference-disability-1510991/

[2] Soaring sales of anti-racism books: https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/6/11/21288021/anti-racism-books-reading-list-sales-figures

[3] Women hired for jobs in male dominant sports world: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVN8CX1LJ66/?utm_medium=share_sheet

[4] Companies are committed to diverse hiring practices: https://hbr.org/2021/02/research-how-companies-committed-to-diverse-hiring-still-fail

[5] Dscout on building a more inclusive and equitable research practice: https://dscout.com/people-nerds/dei-research-zeus-jones