I need to perform user studies on a group of blind and visually impaired users. They need to evaluate an interactive system. I wanted to share with you some of my concerns, and ask you of any advice if you have similar experiences.

My first concern is about ethics and social norm. I will ask them basic questions before performing the test, like their age, ethnicity etc, as well as their degree of blindness. How should I ask this question in a non-offensive and non-derogatory way: "What is your degree of blindness?", "Are you legally blind?...".

Next, I want to ask about their experience with digital media, and ask them if they have any idea how different their experience is comparing to a normal user. But this might imply that they are not considered normal, which I guess is not a good think. Should I address other users as sighted, or people without blindness, etc?

Moreover, how is the better way to document their answers? Should I email them an spreadsheet before the study, and ask them to fill it in (they are pretty good computer users), or should I ask the questions orally and fill the forms myself.

Finally, if anyone have any particular experience with blind (or other type of disabled) users please share their thoughts here.

PS: I think this is the SE site to ask such question, otherwise I will appreciate a link to a more proper site.

2 Answers 2


As the related question may come up, be aware of what your local government's laws are related to disabled persons. For example, the American's with Disabilities Act is:

The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.

Your laws may vary, but the ADA does not apply to user testing for accessibility in many respects. Yes, it is just as important to know what doesn't apply as what does apply. There are some aspects (such as providing a safe environment for the disabled individual) that would still apply to you case, but you'd want that anyway!

This leads into your question about...

How should I ask this question in a non-offensive and non-derogatory way: "What is your degree of blindness?", "Are you legally blind?...".

... because it is illegal for a business owner to ask these sorts of questions to someone. In your case the person who stands before you is a volunteer (or mildly paid subject) who is well aware of the reasons they are there.

"Are you legally blind?" - perfectly valid, straight forward, and mature question that can be answered easily. You are recruiting legally blind people, so to ask the question is not insensitive.

"What is your degree of blindness?" - eh... that's relative. Always ask in legally or medically valid terms when referring to the disability. This (1) protects who from being a "jerk" (or worse), (2) is a language the participant will understand, and (3) does not leave the question open to interpretation or exaggeration.

Next, I want to ask about their experience with digital media, and ask them if they have any idea how different their experience is comparing to a normal user.

As you point out, use words like "normal" very carefully! This would also not be the best question because it is open to such a wide range of interpretation.

What if this person only knows other blind people, or sighted people who are just really bad at using computers? What if this person lives in a neighborhood full of computer scientists?

You should ideally test both groups yourself - legally and non-legally blind individuals. Then make that comparison yourself... through the power of statistics!

Here are a few sites with additional information that also hit on a few of your other questions:

Accessibility in User-Centered Design: Conducting Usability Testing

Regarding setting up the testing room, they suggest:

  • Don't move anything without asking first when at the participant's site.
  • Record screen reader audio output.
  • Watch the keyboard.

Regarding getting feedback, it suggests:

Provide documents in the participant's preferred format, as requested during participant recruiting. Some people read braille very quickly, and some read it very slowly. To help manage time, you may want to ask participants if you can read the documents aloud and provide the braille version for reference. Be prepared for some people to want to use the braille themselves and not have you read it.

The short version to all these, is be prepared to offer alternatives. Don't assume.

The American Foundation for the Blind has an article hitting on exactly your situation: Conducting Usability Research With Computer Users Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The paper should be read in full, so I will simply quote the abstract:

There are three main points to this paper:

  1. To illustrate the frustrations of accessible web sites. That is, even technically compliant sites can be inaccessible to the user, because they are so difficult to use. Compliance with accessibility laws and guidelines, in other words, is necessary but not sufficient for users to access what they need. I hope that illustrating this highlights the importance of usability studies as integral to web design.

  2. To give some background and information about how to conduct usability and user experience studies. I am particularly interested in how they can be adapted for and what may be unique about computer users who are blind or visually impaired. I will include a discussion of the added value that the web offers to this community.

  3. To present generalizable findings, the results of research conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), which we hope can be applied more broadly.


I found this site to have excellent pointers: http://www.uiaccess.com/accessucd/ut_conduct.html

Also, some of this can be answered in this thread: How to test a website for visually impaired users?

My own thoughts / things to consider:

  1. Everyone experiences the world differently, no matter if they can see, are blind, deaf, colour-blind. You can do your best to design for all but there will always be edge cases when it comes to accessibility.
  2. Some consideration can be made for users who were born blind. This is a unique case where they have already developed their own language to navigate the world. You can ask them about how they orient themselves or what their current experience with the internet has been.
  3. Following this, you cannot ask about their experience in comparison to 'normal' users. You'd have to define normal and everyone has a different visual prescription. If they've never seen anything since birth, this can be exceptionally challenging. Things like colour and pictures may elude them.
  4. I know friends who are classified as "Legally-blind" but they can still see, albeit with coke-bottle glasses. Not sure about using this term. I'm pretty certain that they have a number rating for this kind of thing. (20/200 (6/60) or less in the better eye. source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindness) You can ask what their vision rating is and what they are doing to enhance their experience with the world such as glasses or learning braille.
  5. Conduct a live test. Asking all the questions makes it easier for you to also observe their emotional state in relation to some frustrations they've had with the internet. You questions could also lead to other questions that you may want to know.

Good luck!

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