Make People with Disabilities Part of your Accessibility Testing Program

Do you have an optimal accessibility testing program abilities mix?

Image for post
Image for post
Child’s hands holding toy stethoscope surrounded by toy medical equipment and a stuffed bear

Let’s say you need surgery. You go to a surgeon in your insurance network. “Sure I can do this surgery,” the surgeon says. “How many times have you done this procedure?” you ask. “Dozens of simulations,” says the surgeon.

And you run (or in my case, roll) as fast as you can away for that surgeon and start looking for a new one.

You find another surgeon. You check out their repuation on Healthgrades, make sure they don’t have any complaints against them with the state. You talk to real patients of theirs on Facebook. This surgeon is a little bit more expensive, because they aren’t in your network. They aren’t on public transportation so you have to drive (or Uber) 100+ miles round trip to see them for all your appointments plus pay for parking. It takes eight weeks to get an appointment and another three months to get a surgery date. But that surgeon has done the exact surgery you need hundreds of times on real (and largely happy) patients, not cadavers or video game simulations.

The experienced surgeon is worth all of the inconvenience because for something this important, you want someone who has “been there, done that” on real patients. Valid experience is vastly more important than mere simulations. Accessibility testing really isn’t so different than surgery in this regard. You want a team chock full of people who are “native users of assistive technology” (which is the nice way of saying “disabled”), and not people simulating disabilities. Here’s why.

Running an accessibility testing program without people with disabilities is disrespectful

One blind tester that I worked with called people who could see “photon dependent.” While I laughed the first time he said this, the more I thought about it, the more I realized he isn’t wrong. Once you’ve seen a design or a page, you can’t unsee it. And that creates bias in a sighted tester, no matter how quickly they turn the “screen curtain” on or how good they are otherwise at using assistive technology.

Running an accessibility testing program without people with disabilities is inadequate

Running an accessibility testing program without people with disabilities is neither inclusive nor diverse

  • You will have to do a targeted recruiting campaign (though LinkedIn now allows people to self-identify as having a disability, making it possibly easier to recruit)
  • You have to navigate your company’s reasonable accommodation program
  • You may have to request facilities modifications
  • You will have to repeatedly deal with inaccessible internal tools such as purchasing systems, expense reporting, booking travel, etc. etc.

However, not considering or using people with disabilities in your accessibility testing program is deliberate and discriminatory exclusion, the opposite of being diverse and inclusive. And companies with more diverse teams perform better. So this decision will not only hurt the accessibility team, it may impact the corporate bottom line and shareholders.

If you run a largely overseas testing program, chances are few if any of your testers will have disabilities

Unless you are working with a consultancy like AccessibilityOz or BarrierBreak who specialize in employing and training people with disabilities for accessibility testing work, chances are that you will struggle to find people with disabilities overseas adequately trained to fill those roles.

If you are working with a large global consultancy, make sure your statement of work describes exactly what types of disabilities the testers need to have and how much work must be performed by them. Otherwise you have no control over the participants.

If you run an accessibility testing program with 100 % abled individuals, chances are your company is #Diversish

Accessibility testing is the “low-hanging fruit” of corporate departmental locations for including people with disabilities. The people managing and working with that group are more comfortable and more familiar with people with disabilities. There is no stigma attached that makes managers with less familiarity more reluctant to hire. If you have a low number, or no, people with visible disabilities in your accessibility testing department, more likely than not, you don’t have a high rate of those types of individuals elsewhere.


Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store