Inclusive and Accessible Research: what we learnt from evaluating Unlimited

An empty room with 14 chairs and a television showing a photograph of Liz Carr
Southbank's Unlimited Festival 2016. Photo by Rachel Cherry

After evaluating Unlimited in 2015, two independent researchers turned the lens on themselves. Here they share what they learnt from evaluating the accessibility of their work. 

In 2015, we – Morwenna Collett and Tandi Williams – were commissioned by Shape and Artsadmin to answer the question: ‘Is Unlimited changing the way in which disability and creativity are viewed within the cultural sector, and if so, how can it do it better?’ – see more here.

We learnt much about the programme, but we also learnt an enormous amount about how to conduct inclusive and accessible research and evaluation. We want to share what we learnt as broadly as possible, to ensure other researchers, evaluators and consultants can work towards equal access to participate in their work. Here are some of the things to consider:

Design

Involve disabled people from the outset: it was critical to have direct experience of disability in our team, and actively seek out as wide a range of people as possible to participate in our work, including people with different backgrounds and experiences, and disabled people who traditionally have faced a higher rate of exclusion from activities.

We asked absolutely everyone if they had any access requirements (even if we knew them) and made sure we set aside the resources to meet those requirements. Beyond technical aspects of accessibility, it was also important for us to be open and welcoming, and encourage people to give us feedback, so we could adjust our approach as required.

Fieldwork

An extended exploratory period was key to ensure we fully understood the issues, and a mixed-methods approach helped us widen accessibility so more people could participate.

Throughout our fieldwork, we offered accessible formats of all materials and resources so people could participate in whichever way suited them. During our qualitative phase, some preferred to be interviewed face-to-face, while others opted for Skype, instant chat or email. We learnt that everything – from the time of day, to duration, to location – matters.

For our quantitative research, we opted for an accessible programme, Surveymonkey, and tested it with a visually impaired person using a screen reader – again, offering alternative formats was valuable. To ensure learning-disabled stakeholders could participate, we asked their mentor to assist them to complete a questionnaire together.

More often than not, we managed to find inexpensive ways to meet access requirements, such as using accessible cultural venues as interview venues. The financial costs of access were lower than we expected; most of the time, true accessibility just required a bit of extra time and effort, such as extending interviews to avoid rushing a conversation.

Analysis and reporting

One of the simplest tools for accessibility is using the right font. We recommend that report content text be no smaller then 12 point font, preferably sans serif style. Any text should strongly contrast with the background colour and it’s best to avoid featuring text over the top of any images.

We produced a Word version as well as a PDF version of each of our reports, to ensure they were accessible to screenreader users. Any infographics or images had alt-text descriptions, so that visually-impaired people didn’t miss out on content.

We didn’t create any web content – but we learnt that when publishing material online, websites must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and any video content should be text captioned (to be accessible for deaf people) and audio described (for visually impaired people).

Conclusion

We learnt so much from working with Unlimited and have carried those lessons into our other projects and workplaces.

One of the tasks we undertook at the start of our project was to develop an Access Statement, which we used to set the intention for the project and plan what we would do to maximise access at every stage of the research (not just the outputs!). This got us thinking: could something like this be useful for other researchers and consultants? Could it help others embed an attitude of inclusion upfront, and design research that was more accessible? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so take a look and help us spread the word.

Our vision is for every researcher, every consultant, every author, every speaker, and every project to have an inclusive mind-set and the philosophy of being open, proactive and responsive to ensuring that everyone can participate and be included in everyone’s work.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, please contact us at info@weareunlimited.org.uk

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