Personas can be a useful design decision-making tool when creating a product or service.
It keeps the whole design process focused and ensures a common language between team members and stakeholders. The approach to creating personas can vary depending on context and project requirements.
Inclusive requirements are often ignored
There has been a low uptake in accessibility or inclusive requirements when it comes to scoping a persona project. One of the popular reasons is because people with disabilities are not the intended primary audience and some would argue that having accessibility or inclusive requirements could limit their creativity or would take a huge commitment.
Although some teams are keen to include people with disabilities, they are often restricted by the budget and find it hard to get buy-in from stakeholders. This is why many products and services fail accessibility audits and testing before they are launched; they are not designed with accessibility in mind.
Disabilities are real and around us
Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in their 2011 World Disability Report found that there are one billion people in the world currently living with a disability. Given the current world population of 7 billion, this means one in seven people have a disability.
You may argue that the probability does not reflect your experience. But, the fact is, disability is not always visible; dyslexia and colour blindness for example. In fact there are more than one billion people that will benefit from inclusively designed products and services, your “primary audience” may at some point in their lifetime experience a temporary disability through injury, have limited control of their senses due to specific environment or context, they may acquire a disability through illness or their senses may deteriorate as a result of ageing.
Challenges with inclusive personas
There are a few disabled personas available online from organisations such as AEGIS and RCA and it can be tempting to re-use the personas for one of your projects. But, recycling personas between projects can be dangerous. Personas are context specific and they should be based on solid research, data specific to the context of your product or service.
To be fair, not all projects have the luxury of generous budget to include people from all ranges of disabilities. So, it is important to identify the disability groups that are most likely to have a relationship with your product or service. Start your research with these groups alongside able users. When budget allows, you could include more disability groups iteratively.
If you really have no budget to include disabled users in persona research you may consider including known inclusive requirements as a starting point. You may already have these requirements from previous user research, customer service logs or personal experiences from staff. These hypotheses, like ‘pop-up’ personas, should be treated with care and further validated when budget permits.
Make your personas inclusive
A successful persona is believable. You will know that you have the right personas when you hear people saying “hey, I know this guy”. Therefore, it is crucial to communicate the requirements while maintaining the believability. I’m sure there will be overlapping and contradicting requirements when the inclusive and standard findings are merged together. Communicate them subtly within the existing personas in different ways such as past experiences, stories of family and friends, future needs, context specific needs, personal preference, making them older, making them come from a different culture and secondary personas.
Bringing it to another level
The next challenge is that not all persona users will know what the characteristics and limitations of different disabilities are. There needs to be further documentation alongside the personas to further illustrate the disability conditions in more detail in the form of statistics and checklists to provide more details around the use of personas.
Author: Caleb Tang.