Grace Brown is one of our Senior Researchers. And Jack Garfinkel is a Senior Content Designer at Scope. They spoke to us about how content design makes information accessible. And how research and testing help them to understand the barriers disabled people experience.


Can you both explain who you are and what you do at Scope?

Jack: We both work in the content design team.

Grace: Our job is to find out what questions disabled people are asking. And help content designers answer those questions.

This involves listening to disabled people tell us about their experiences. This covers everything from services, systems and events. We also do a lot of keyword research to find out what people are searching for online.

This helps us understand the problems disabled people face. And what content could help them solve those problems.

We test all the content that our team writes. And get feedback from people with relevant lived experience. We look at whether people are finding and engaging with Scope’s information and advice. And we do this using different analytics and search engine optimisation tools.

Jack: We work with subject experts to make sure our content solves our audience’s problems. And we work hard to make our content as accessible as possible. We do this for:

  • structure: ordering, how we split it up
  • language: we try to make things clear and reflect the words that people use
  • formatting: we’re careful to format headings and links in a consistent way. So that they can be accessed by people in different ways.

How does content design help make Scope’s information more accessible to disabled people?

Jack: Our research helps us to meet the needs of our audience. We use search data to help people find what they’re looking for. And testing tells us if it’s worked or not!

Using data to make design decisions means we can build our understanding as a team. It means we’re able to say:

“We know that…” or “Because of this bit of research, we think we know…”

We don’t have to rely on opinions to make decisions. If we start hearing “I think that…” in feedback workshops or planning meetings it shows us we don’t know enough yet. And that we need to do more research.

How does research and testing help the team understand the barriers disabled people experience?

Grace: To help our team understand the barriers people are experiencing we gather evidence. We focus on:

  • Triggers: What has caused this problem to occur? For example, a change in their condition, or a hike in fuel prices.
  • People: What is stopping this person from solving the problem on their own? For example, they are not able to advocate for themselves due to anxiety.
  • Task: What tasks they need to do to get to their end goal. For example, answering questions on a benefits application form.
  • Context: What is going on in their lives that is making this task hard? These could be personal or societal factors, it’s usually a combination of both.
  • Questions: What are people commonly asking when they are in this situation?

When you are doing user research and content testing, what are the main things you’re looking for?

Grace: I am listening for questions, frustration, confusion, “misunderstanding” and disagreement. Because my job is to define the problem that needs to be solved. And understand if our content is helping people solve it. If I hear any of those “failure indicators” (as Jack calls them!) I know we need to change something to improve it.

I need to find out how our content makes people feel, if it reflects their experience and if it is accessible.

We also ask what was good about positive experiences, and try to include this in our content.

What have you learned from testing participants? And how has that feedback improved the accessibility of your content?

Jack: You must meet people’s needs and give them what they want. Be:

  • fast
  • clear
  • kind

Give people the thing they are searching for as soon as possible. Even if a subject expert says something like “before they do that, they need to read about this other thing”. That might be a good approach if you’re working with a client. But if someone’s searching online, they need to fix a stressful problem.

We’re often writing about systems and parts of society which aren’t very kind. So writing something that does not seem cold can be hard.

Are there any myths that need to be debunked about research and testing with disabled people?

Grace: The biggest assumption that needs to change is that you don’t need to test with disabled participants.

You do, regardless of who your audience is. The improvements you make as a result will benefit everyone.

There is some nervousness about doing research and testing with disabled people. And that’s OK. It is better to admit that you may be missing some skills or prep needed to make a research session accessible. In this way, you can learn and adjust.

Spend time finding out what your participant needs to be able to take part. Make sure any tools, venues and methods you are using will be accessible.

The best way to find out is to run your procedures and methods past participants as part of the consent process. Ask them if there is anything you can change to make it easier.

You could also speak to someone with more experience. Especially if you don’t want to put too much on your participants to help you make things accessible.

Amy Kavanagh and Incllewsion provide accessibility training and consultancy.

In my experience working with disabled people means being flexible. It’s making sure your participant is comfortable and informed.

How does content design help your team with inclusive language?

Jack: People are different, but we get a good overview of what people think because we test everything we make.

We get feedback from people to tell us if language is offensive. Sometimes that is about language. For example, “impairment” has tested badly for us. Even though it’s social model language and was in our style guide.

This has changed over time and will again. My colleague Alex has a great blog post on disability and inclusive language (Content Design London).

We’ve also learned you can use the ‘right’ language but still:

  • ‘other’ disabled people when we’re writing about how to overcome the barriers that society creates
  • exclude disabled people when you’re designing services

Disability, language and service design (Medium)

So, what can we learn from the points raised by Grace and Jack?

When it comes to the accessibility of your content, listen to disabled people. Finding out the problems they face online will help you provide solutions. Keep testing and get feedback from the relevant people. Your content will improve.

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