Experience Study

A cartoon of a Digital Accessibility monster being hammered by the Experience Study hammer.

The goal of this article is to help bring down the “monster” image that has been created for many on Digital Accessibility (DA) compliance. In the past several years, the constant comments from my fellow UX-ers were that accessibility compliance is overwhelming. Even those who know the success criteria still have a difficulty with applying or maintaining DA compliance in all aspects of their work. I hope that this article will help ease the practice for everyone.

I chose the term “experience study” because:

  • The word “experience” suggests a deeper level of understanding and empathy which is generally achieved by ongoing actions and discoveries.
  • The word “study” also suggests an ongoing exploration, discovery, and review. Unlike a “test” that can be taken or conducted sporadically to establish or gage thresholds.


In January, I posted a blog about Total Experience Study, pointing out the fact that testing of a product for its total effectiveness, efficiency, and success must include both Usability as well as Accessibility Testing, otherwise the testing is NOT complete! I also promised a follow up blog with recommendations on how to meet these three important criteria. I have to admit that I held back on writing the follow up blog since I decided to present it at John Slatin AccessU 2022 conference, first. My apologies for anyone who gave up on me on the arrival of this article. It is here, at last!

Let’s begin with a quick recap of what I shared in the previous article. There are many factors, mostly the large number of people added to the growing pool of people with disabilities each year. So, compliance to digital accessibility is NOT an option any longer. Please see the World Population chart below:

A graphical presentation of the Demography of the World Population from 1950 to 2100.

Experience Study

The WCAG success criteria should be incorporated into the requirements of a product specifications. These requirements need to be tracked and reviewed at every step of the product development life cycle (PDLC).

Design and Development

The following are the steps that will help the Product Teams, especially the Design and Development, to understand, experience, and achieve DA compliance:

  1. Research methods listed below must include people with disabilities and of various age groups:
    • Contextual Inquiries
    • Interviews
    • Card Sorting
    • Design Thinking
  2. Low Fidelity Designs can be reviewed for critical success criteria such as:
    • Organization
    • Navigation
  3. Hi Fidelity Designs, additionally, should be reviewed for compliant:
    • Hierarchy
    • Consistency
    • Labels
    • Forms
    • Color Contrast
  4. Prototypes, additionally, should be reviewed for compliant:
    • Interactions
    • Flows
    • Language
    • Error Prevention
    • Messaging and Instructions
  5. Developers (Dev) must help assure the compliant implementation of the:
    • Semantics
    • Keyboard functions
    • Tables
    • Alt-text
    • Captions
  6. Quality Assurance (QA) should be trained and equipped to test the entire product/service for its:
    • Performance for seamless end-to-end compliant navigation and functionality
    • Proper messaging and guidance
    • Robustness, to work with different Assistive Technologies and on multiple platforms
    • Adaption to Zoomed views
    • Adaption to High Contrast or Dark Modes
A columnar view of the recommendations for the Design and Development, listed above.

Research Teams

My recommendations for the Researchers are that they should be given the opportunity to:

  1. Validate a product design and functionality at every step of the way, including a post release study to gage adaption and success.
  2. Expand their test subject questionnaire to find out if the subjects are:
    • Familiar with Screen Readers?
    • Adjust font sizes and styles on their devices?
    • Zoom in/out their views for ease of legibility?
    • In habit of adjusting color intensity?
  3. Based on the responses received to the questions above:
    • Remove the mouse and ask the test subject to navigate through the product using keyboard only
    • Adjust the lighting in the Lab environment and observe the reactions and responses
    • Zoom in the screen to a minimum of 200% and see how well the product performs
A columnar view of the recommendations for the Researchers, listed above.


When a Product Team practices these recommended steps, they learn to understand and empathize with the experiences they are designing and developing for all of their users. Thus: Experience Study!

Digital Accessibility compliance tests follow the success criteria defined by WCAG. They are measurable and they complement any Lab or Remote studies. Thus, they need to be conducted on a regular basis, with people with all types of abilities and disabilities and of different age groups. That’s when we learn and understand the Experience Study! We’ll see that there is no DA monster…just a pleasant and delightful product to enjoy!

Cartoonish image of a cute baby panda.

Total Experience Study

Usability Testing as commonly practiced for online products, such as applications and websites, is only one aspect of a Total Experience Study (TES). To accurately reflect the effectiveness, efficiency, and success levels of a product it needs to be tested with people with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, as well as with people from a wide range of ages. If a product is not tested for TES, then a minimum of 25% of the potential customers and users of the product are deliberately dismissed.

My Background

I have been a UX Designer for over 30 years. I became involved with Digital Accessibility over 15 years ago, and finally remained fully focused on it about 7 years ago.  During all these years, I learned about usability testing approaches, and their value for clarifying product requirements, and to validate design solutions. I have been a facilitator, creator, and observer of discovery tests, usability tests, and heuristic evaluations. I have also audited designs and applications for their level of compliance for digital accessibility.

Test Subjects

In the past, when I asked fellow researchers about the preferred age range of selected test subjects, I was often told that it is ages 35 to 55 years. Granted, my knowledge is not based on a scientific study, however this intrigued me to find out more about the general age distribution of people. Here are the facts according to the recent US Census:

  • The younger working-age population is ages 18 to 44, representing 112.8 million persons (36.5%).
  • The older working-age population is ages 45 to 64, making up 81.5 million persons (26.4%).
  • The 65 and over population is 40.3 million persons (13.0%).

Based on these records, people ages 35 to 55 make up only 30% of the population. Even if they were all working and had no physical constraints (not likely at all), this is still less than 50% of the total working population. Let’s not forget that we have an aging population that needs to work longer years. Also, we know that in US 1 out of 4 people have some form of disability.

Test Standards and Criteria

Now, let’s look at the POUR principles set by WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) for a product to be effective, efficient, and successful for all users:

  • Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  • Understandable – Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
  • Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Also, let’s remember a key standard set by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, which is: – use by people with the widest range of capabilities”.

In order to assess the health of a product with regards to its usability by people with a wide range of capabilities, it needs to be tested by people with different abilities. Here are some of the practices that should become a common practice in a product development process:

  • Designs are reviewed at their conception for their Total Experience
  • Interactions and prototypes are reviewed and tested for their Total Experience
  • Products are evaluated and audited for their Total Experience before they are declared “done”
  • Pre-release, products are tested by people with different abilities, and/or are audited for their Total Experience
  • Post release, products are also tested and studied with people with different abilities.


A product can’t possibly meet the general guidelines of Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Satisfaction for all people, without passing compliance to the measurable criteria of the POUR principles.

A Total Experience Study (TES) report, will include the outcome of the currently practiced “usability” as well as the results of its “accessibility” tests to generate an accurate picture of the experience of that product.

Watch for my follow up blog on the ways to review and test your designs and products.

Stress Experience Empathy

In my talks on Making the Extremes Mainstream I have pointed out the categories of Human Factors and Ergonomics studies where they identified how a situational context can create a temporary disability for people who are otherwise considered “enabled”. For example, excessive workload, or lack of trust – two categories of Cognitive Ergonomics – can create stress for many individuals. Let’s examine what stress itself can do to an individual! The very informative article 5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain, by Kendra Cherry posted on verywellmind, presents the following as outcomes of experiencing stress on a continuous basis:
  1. Chronic Stress Increases Mental Illness – reslting in anxiety disorder
  2. Stress Changes the Brain’s Structure – effecting decision making and problems solving abilities
  3. Stress Kills Brain Cells – effecting memory, amongst other things
  4. Stress Shrinks the Brain – effecting emotions, and memory
  5. Stress Hurts Your Memory – effecting short-term memory and memory retrieval
One case which clearly causes extra workload and continuous stress is caregiving. This was a situational context that is becoming more and more prevalent for many, due to the aging population. COVID-19 is also increasing the number of caregivers due to its complications and long-term effects on those who have experienced it. As I have written before, I was a caregiver for three years. I, too, experienced the effects of high levels of stress, first hand. To be honest, months later, I am still suffering from some of these effects. You may ask, why am I sharing all of this with you! I am bringing this point up to remind everyone that when we design and develop application that are accessible for people with cognitive constraints, we are helping ourselves – especially, those of us who are stressed, yet not clinically declared disabled! Yet, we suffer from cognitive constraints as well, temporarily or not! The following are some of the considerations asked from our designers and developers to meet digitial accessibility standards:
  • Maintain a coherent hierarchy of information for the users to follow.
  • Make it easy to navigate through the site, including returning to previous screens and steps.
  • Make simple calculations within the application/site – such as duration of a flight, the total charges, etc.
  • Make the language of the application easy to read and comprehend. The rule of thumb is making it easy for an 8th grader to do so.
  • Prevent errors, and present clear and helpful messaging to resolve them.
  • Present important form elements initially, and in meaningful groups. Present optional information on demand as much as possible, with easy interactions to disclose and access.
  • Present information in sensible chunks, rather than presenting an overwhelming amount of text and let the users struggle to read.
These don’t seem very difficult tasks to follow. Do they? Yet, we come across so many applications that don’t follow such simple considerations to make their products accessible, and they make it difficult for everyone to complete their tasks. Let’s have a little more empathy for our users…or ourselves…and create accessible products and services! Some Good Examples…
A trip details indicating duration time for the trip and the layovers.
Trip Details indicating duration times: Total trip / Layovers
A trip booking form with grouped form content.
A form with grouped content: One way / Round trip / Multi-destination
A form with required fields and the instructions for its indicator.
Error prevention instrustion: * Required
Example of an email form field with an error message for an invalid format
Helpful Error Messaging: Invalid email format