3 tips for designing user research for neurodivergent testers

Imagine conducting user testing that accidentally excludes 1 in 7 people - and what's worse, you don't even know you've done it.

Sadly this scenario is all too common, especially when it comes to neurodivergent individuals. In the pursuit of inclusivity, it's not just about finding and involving diverse participants in your research process, you also need to make sure your research methods cater to their unique needs.

As one of AbilityNet's user research experts, I delivered a talk at TechShare Pro 2023 about designing user research for neurodivergent users.

This is a quick summary of my top three tips - you can get a lot more insight by watching the full session below.

1. Likert Scales: More Than Just Numbersa questionnaire with several options from disagree to agree and a check box to indicate agreement with the question

Likert scales, commonly used in research surveys, often pose challenges for neurodivergent individuals.

Ambiguity surrounds the meaning behind each number, making it difficult for participants to provide accurate responses. To address this, consider labelling the Likert scale with clear descriptors for each number.

It's also a good idea to include an open-box option for further comments, allowing participants to express their experiences beyond the limitations of predefined choices.

2. Clear, Unambiguous, and Specific Language

The language used in research questions might seem clear to researchers, but it can be overly broad and ambiguous for participants.

The 'Double Empathy Problem' emphasises the miscommunications that arise when neurodivergent individuals interact with non-neurodivergent individuals. To overcome this, ensure questions are framed with clarity, avoiding vague prompts like "Tell me about yourself?" Instead, use precise language to prevent information overload or overwhelming responses.

3. Tools for Expression: Going Beyond Words

The condition of alexithymia, prevalent among neurodivergent individuals, makes it challenging to articulate emotions through language.Graphic of a person using a computer with a webpage displaying an 'x', tick and question mark

Traditional questions like "How are you feeling?" may not yield accurate responses.

You can overcome this by providing alternative mediums for communication, such as art or descriptions of mental images and physical sensations. Avoid limiting emotional expression to a predefined set of options - and make sure you allow participants the time they need to respond authentically.

Inclusive user testing for neurodivergent users

Inclusive user research isn't just about ticking boxes; it's about redefining your approach to gathering data.

By acknowledging the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals, you can create research practices that truly represent the diversity of experiences.

As you embark on your next research project, remember to provide context for Likert scales, use clear language, and offer diverse tools for expression. Only then can your research be genuinely inclusive, beneficial, and ultimately, better for your business.

If you're interested in putting disabled individuals at the heart of your project through User Research, explore AbilityNet’s User Research service. 

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Watch the full recording from TechShare Pro below.