Make People with Disabilities Part of your Accessibility Testing Program

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
5 min readApr 20, 2019

Do you have an optimal accessibility testing program abilities mix?

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

If your testers do not have any disabilities, what they are doing is simulating disabilities. At the end of the work day, those non-disabled testers get to go back home to their abled lives. They do not experience the day-in, day-out 24x7 frustration of someone with a disability slamming head first into either digital or physical barriers every single day. A layout quirk or an extra swipe that a non-disabled tester might not think twice about might be infuriating to someone with a disability who runs into…

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.