Making online questionnaires inclusive and accessible

Have you ever wondered how a blind person reads their post? How someone with reduced mobility in their hands uses a computer? How many deaf people use sign language?

Have you ever wondered what a sentence like this looks like to a dyslexic person?

I am the Product Manager for eQ, the online questionnaire tool, for business, social and census surveys. My vision is a product that is easy to use, designed for users’ needs and is accessible to all. This is no easy feat to ensure that an online product is inclusive and accessible, while still meeting everyone’s needs.

Recently I went out with a user researcher to meet people in their homes to see how they would get on completing the household census. It was one of the most humbling experiences, which made me realise how technology has truly transformed people’s lives.

The first user was completely dependent on their carer for every aspect of their life, except accessing the internet. They do this by using a gaming joystick between their knees, where they use one knee to move the joystick and the other knee to hit a button. They had a virtual keyboard on the screen, which enabled them to type into fields.

I watched this person with absolute amazement and admiration. He had no problem getting through the questions and was very complimentary on how we had a very simple page structure. When they were faced with a question with a text area, the look of anxiety was apparent, as typing using the virtual keyboard took a lot of effort and was difficult to get right first time. We relied on the person’s carer to translate for us, as this person’s speech was so affected we would have been unable to take on board their feedback.

The second user was a blind person, living alone, using screen-reading technology to enable them to use the internet. The speed at which someone listens to a screen-reader is mind-boggling, if you listen to the clip below, you may struggle to pick out any words. What you can hear is the screen-reader, reading out the census questions and answer options on the page, and the person answering and continuing.

The thing that I found quite upsetting about this situation was that they were perfectly able to complete the census; there were a few issues we need to address but they could not read the unique code on the letter to be able to access the census survey.

Although once they were in, they could complete unassisted and with relative ease, they would not have even been able to start. I felt like we had taken away that person’s independence and created a barrier. You might assume blind people would be able to read braille but actually only 1 in 10 can, due to smartphones there just isn’t the need. We are now looking into the option of a QR code on the letter, which would make it an easier entry point for many users.

We are continuing to work with charities across the country to user test with people from all walks of life and with a range of accessibility needs, both physical and mental. This includes all age groups, ethnic groups, language skills, and digital abilities, as we need to ensure that everyone in the UK is able to complete the census. For many of us technology makes our lives more convenient but to others technology gives them freedom and independence.