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Accessibility and inclusion

In this article, Dr Lee Fallin discusses one of the forgotten aspects of ethics - accessibility and inclusion.
Five individuals have placed one of their hands on a table. A range of gender identities and ethnicities are represented.
© University of Hull

If your research is not inclusive – it could exclude some participants. This is particularly important when you are considering computer-mediated or online research. This is because it can be easy to forget the human when you are dealing with digital data and connections. There are many social cues that we rely on when meeting face-to-face and these can be completely missing when connecting online. Here are some things to consider.

Equality and inclusion

Many researchers make assumptions about their participant’s demographics – or restrict the measures offered. For example, there is a difference between asking about someone’s sex versus their gender identity. Sex is a biological measure linked to genitals, chromosomes and physiological characteristics. Gender identity is a person’s internal perception of themselves which can be ascribed using a wide variety of labels. As you can see, what may first seem like a simple demographic question can be quite complicated. If you are not careful in how you approach these questions, your research may be deemed to exclude some participants.

Digital skills and access to the internet

Online research can exclude certain people from getting involved. The extent to which this will impact you depends on your research. If you’re interviewing city-centre office workers, for example, they are more likely to have internet access than elderly people living in remote communities that don’t have access to wired broadband. The important thing here is that you cannot make assumptions about digital skills and internet access. If this is an issue for your respondents, you may exclude important voices from your research.

Differently abled and neurodiversity

In the same way, you may ask for accessibility requirements for a face-to-face interview, you need to consider accessibility requirements in the digital space. If participants are differently abeled (such as blind or deaf) they may require additional support to engage in your research. Similarly, you may find different requirements present themselves when research is taken online. A dyslexic participant may, for example, find it harder to read content on a screen where they are unable to use assistive technology or overlays. It’s always best not to make assumptions and ask if people need different formats or support. It’s even better to try and design barriers out of your research in the first place. The Designing for Diverse Learners Poster at the bottom of this article is designed to help with this.

© University of Hull
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