Why use this guide?
Providing access doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. With the help of this guide you’ll learn about the key considerations and things you can do to ensure everyone can participate in your research project.
What is included in this guide?
This guide includes seven sections:
- About accessible research
- Anti-discrimination and exclusion
- When to consider accessibility
- Design an accessible project
- Conduct accessible fieldwork
- Ask for feedback
- Other resources.
About accessible research
If you’re new to accessible research, it may seem like there’s a lot to learn. Accessibility is about having an attitude of inclusion and committing to reach out and hear voices that are too often excluded. You need to think about accessibility both online and in physical spaces. The biggest thing to learn, however, is that accessibility is more than all of these things put together. Accessible research is a journey, but if you have an attitude of inclusion you’re already on your way.
Anti-discrimination and exclusion
Unlawful discrimination is treating someone with specific protected attributes in a different manner from other people. There are a number of protected attributes:
- Sex, lawful sexual activity, sexual orientation or gender identity
- Race, religious belief or activity
- Marital status, parental status or status as a carer
- Political belief or activity
- Industrial or union activity
- Physical features
- Personal association (relative or otherwise) with a person who is identified by reference to any of the above attributes.
There are two types of discrimination:
- Direct — treating someone with a protected attribute less favourably than you would have treated someone without that attribute, in the same or similar circumstances. An example of this is not approaching a person of a certain age during your on-site intercept survey.
- Indirect — unreasonably requiring a person in a protected category to comply with a condition, requirement or practice which the person cannot comply with because of the protected attribute. An example of this is inviting a person with disability to a focus group at a venue that is not accessible.
There is anti-discrimination state legislation in place. You can read about how to find Victoria’s anti-discrimination legislation.
Research may require the selection of certain participants. For example, you might wish to run a focus group with people who attended your children’s school holiday workshop. In this case, define who you want to speak to as ‘parents or grandparents or children of certain ages’.
Legislation would not usually apply where the protected attribute means the person cannot reasonably meet the requirements of the research being undertaken. For example, if you’re doing research into family ticketing, you would not be expected to include people without children in your research group.
To avoid claims being made against you on grounds of unlawful discrimination you need to be mindful of your obligations under anti-discrimination legislation when choosing your research sampling or recruiting participants.
When to consider accessibility
It is important to ask participants if they have access requirements in all examples identified below:
- If you plan on hearing from people with disability, people who are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or people who identify as LGBTQI.
- If you plan on reaching out to a large group of people, you may not be sure of everyone’s ability, identity or culture and language.
- Even if you plan on hearing from people you’ve heard from before, you may never have asked about their access requirements.
It is also important to think about how to adopt the learnings from this guide as ‘business as usual’ in your research practice.
Design an accessible project
Consider how to involve people with disability when first designing your project.
It is best practice to have direct experience of disability in your team, or a disability adviser or officer to guide you. Do you have a reference group, a friend or colleague who could help? Also consider reaching out to organisations, such as Arts Access. This process will help you choose the most accessible methods and think about things such as language and identity.
Develop an access statement
An access statement is a document that outlines your intent for your project and what you’ll do to maximise access at every stage of your research – not just your report.
A quick web search will give you plenty of examples of access statements to check out.
When designing your project – particularly your methods (i.e. survey or interviews) – think about how you’ll actively seek out a wide range of people to participate. It’s best to include people with different backgrounds and experiences as well as people with disability, who have typically faced a higher rate of exclusion from activities.
For CALD members of your community, ask yourself three questions:
- Do opportunities and/or needs exist in one or more CALD groups that your organisation can meet?
- Which groups should be consulted?
- What is the best method to approach these groups?
Always ask about access
Make sure you ask absolutely everyone if they have any access requirements (even if you know them) and be sure to set aside the resources to meet their requirements.
Conduct accessible fieldwork
Consider a mixed-methods approach (more than one way to participate) to help widen accessibility. This way more people can participate.
Offer accessible formats of all materials and resources, so people can participate in whichever way best suits them.
Interviews and group discussions
Always offer alternate ways to participate in qualitative fieldwork, such as interviews and focus groups.
Some people will prefer to be interviewed face-to-face while others will prefer Skype, instant chat or email.
Everything matters – the time of day, duration, location and background noise.
Most of the time, true accessibility requires a bit of extra time and effort, such as extending interviews to avoid rushing a conversation or sending interview questions to a participant well in advance of your interview.
When collecting quantitative research using an online survey platform, choose a platform that is accessible.
Consider testing your survey with a visually impaired person using a screen reader. Consider offering alternative formats, and always have a communication channel available if your participants have any questions or need assistance completing your survey. This may include an ‘Easy English’ version, a translator or an Auslan interpreter. For learning-disabled participants, there may be someone they work with who can assist them to complete the questionnaire.
Your survey platform is likely to have articles, accessibility checkers and other resources to help you.
There are some good general rules to follow:
- Use plain English where possible. Where it’s not possible, consider defining the word in adjacent text or in a definition list
- Provide text alternatives for any non-text content, such as images, audio or video
- Use appropriate terminology – a quick web search of Victorian government best practices can assist you with this
- Include non-binary options (read below for more detail).
You’ll often want to know the gender of your attendees. Sex and gender-restrictive forms and databases with only 'male' and 'female' options will exclude trans, intersex and gender diverse people from participating.
Identify ways to change systems so they are more inclusive of non-binary people such as asking about attendees’ gender using the following question:
What is your gender? Please select one.
- Other, please specify ……………
- Prefer not to say
Some question types don’t work well with screen readers. Avoid the following things (a quick web search will give you plenty of examples of the below questions types):
- Likert scale
- Hidden questions
- Make sure a strong contrast is set between your text and the background: black text on a white background is best.
- Use a large font, and avoid serif fonts
- Don’t include content that is known to cause seizures, such as page content flashes more than three times per second.
- Don’t set a time limit, so respondents have time to complete each section
- Make sure respondents can answer your survey from a keyboard
- Help respondents correct mistakes by allowing answers to be changed, or by having a ‘back’ button.
There are many online options to check the accessibility of your project before going live. A quick web search will help you find the right tool for you.
When intercepting people in your venue, think about how you could share information about what you’re doing, including verbal and written formats. Consider offering alternate ways for participants to respond, such as verbally, written on paper, written on a screen, or typed with a keyboard.
If additional time is required, offer a link to your survey or a paper copy that can be completed at a later time and returned.
You also may like to consider an ‘Easy English’ version of your survey, a translator or an Auslan interpreter.
Use appropriate terminology and avoid heteronormativity/heterosexism and misgendering. If you’re unsure, ask someone what their preferred pronoun is in a respectful manner. Where possible, ask such questions privately to reduce discomfort.
It is better to use the word 'partner' than 'wife/husband' where the gender, sexual orientation or relationship status of a person is unknown.
If you do make a mistake, apologise promptly and move on, as it will likely make the person feel more uncomfortable if you dwell on the mistake. Try to avoid making the same mistake again. You can read more about this by doing a quick web search for ‘Victorian Government Inclusive Language Guide’.
Even if your building or venue isn’t accessible, or you don’t have a venue, you can find inexpensive ways to meet access requirements. For interviews or focus groups, reach out to your community for use of a free or affordable space that is accessible.
Analysis and reporting
Make sure your report is available in Word as well as PDF, so that it’s accessible to screen reader users.
Consider writing an Easy English executive summary.
Give any infographics or images alt-text descriptions, so that people who are visually impaired didn’t miss out on content.
Also consider how CALD readers look at graphics. Westerners read from left to right; however, there are members of the community who read right to left, for example speakers of Arabic and Hebrew, plus some older Chinese and Japanese members of the community.
When publishing material online, think about what you need to do to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
On the web, video content should be text captioned (to be accessible to people who are deaf) and audio described (for people who are visually impaired).
Ask for feedback
Beyond technical aspects of accessibility, it is also important to be open and welcoming. Encourage people to give you feedback, so you can learn and, if needed, adjust your approach.
There is plenty of information for you to read online if you would like to learn more about providing universal access in your research projects.
Free online tools also exist to help you check some aspects of your work, including colour contrasts and website accessibility. A quick web search will give you plenty of options to choose from.