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Nuanced Perspectives Toward Disability Simulations from Digital Designers, Blind, Low Vision, and Color Blind People


Abstract and Figures

Designers of digital content have access to various resources that they use to help them meet disabled people's accessibility needs. Disability simulations are one resource, but often criticized for failing to guide digital designers appropriately, and it is unclear if digital designers are aware of the issues surrounding disability simulations. I surveyed 92 digital designers to understand their perspectives toward disability simulations (both perceived advantages and disadvantages). I then shared work process challenges faced by digital designers and their reasons for using disability simulations with 17 people with vision impairments to facilitate a discussion on this topic. The interviewees discussed ideas that suggest many paths can be explored to connect digital designers and disabled people, in general, to reduce reliance on simulations, and a change is needed within workplace processes, culture, and staffing to further support positive change. There are research opportunities to investigate establishing avenues for connecting digital designers and disabled people in a way that is beneficial to both groups.
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Nuanced Perspectives Toward Disability Simulations from
Digital Designers, Blind, Low Vision, and Color Blind People
Garreth W. Tigwell
School of Information
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, NY, USA
Designers of digital content have access to various resources that
they use to help them meet disabled people’s accessibility needs.
Disability simulations are one resource, but often criticized for
failing to guide digital designers appropriately, and it is unclear
if digital designers are aware of the issues surrounding disability
simulations. I surveyed 92 digital designers to understand their per-
spectives toward disability simulations (both perceived advantages
and disadvantages). I then shared work process challenges faced by
digital designers and their reasons for using disability simulations
with 17 people with vision impairments to facilitate a discussion
on this topic. The interviewees discussed ideas that suggest many
paths can be explored to connect digital designers and disabled
people, in general, to reduce reliance on simulations, and a change
is needed within workplace processes, culture, and stang to fur-
ther support positive change. There are research opportunities to
investigate establishing avenues for connecting digital designers
and disabled people in a way that is benecial to both groups.
Human-centered computing Accessibility.
Accessibility, digital design, disability simulations.
ACM Reference Format:
Garreth W. Tigwell. 2021. Nuanced Perspectives Toward Disability Sim-
ulations from Digital Designers, Blind, Low Vision, and Color Blind Peo-
ple. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21),
May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 15 pages.
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Accessibility methods and tools, including disability simulations,
are developed to support designers in creating accessible digital
spaces. For example, a digital designer may blindfold themselves to
simulate a blind user interacting with an interface to identify inter-
action challenges within the design. However, simulations result in
the designer distancing themselves from disabled people
the designer’s own abilities are part of the simulated experience [
Using simulations misses the potential value of co-design with dis-
abled people, who are going to know their own needs better than
what can be discovered through the use of disability simulations.
The urgency of digital content accessibility is underscored by
the prevalence of disabilities worldwide [
] and people spending
a signicant part of their lives in digital spaces both online and
oine to communicate [
], learn [
], play [
], socialize [
and work [
]. Therefore, we must strive for accessibility to be the
standard in all digital systems and services, but we also have to be
cognizant of how to achieve this in an appropriate way.
Disability simulations like the blindfolding example are prob-
lematic because they cannot simulate the holistic experience. Yet,
digital designers face challenges in making their designs accessible,
such as access to disabled people for user testing. Digital designers
may use simulations as an easy to access and low-cost solution.
However, this dissonance between the concerns of disabled people
and the needs of digital designers still leaves unanswered questions.
This project seeks to: 1) better understand the needs of digital
designers in the context of disability simulations and 2) share this
information with disabled people to identify a way forward.
First, I surveyed 92 digital designers to understand their content
design approach, the challenges in implementing accessibility, and
perceived advantages and disadvantages of using disability simu-
lations. The survey ndings highlighted that a signicant number
of the simulations discussed by digital designers were focused on
vision impairments and few digital designers realize the problematic
nature of using disability simulations.
Next, I interviewed 17 blind, low vision, and color blind partici-
pants to collect perspectives on ways for digital designers to reduce
reliance on disability simulations, in a way that is supportive of
work constraints. The interview ndings indicate that many paths
can connect designers and disabled people in place of simulations and
change is needed within workplace processes, culture, and stang.
Paper Contributions:
This paper makes three contributions.
Findings from an online survey with 92 digital designers reporting
on their approach for creating accessible digital spaces, the chal-
lenges in implementing accessibility, and perceived advantages and
disadvantage of using disability simulations.
A thematic analysis
of 17 interviews with blind, low vision, and color blind participants
to identify appropriate ways to address the challenges designers
A discussion on where future research eorts should focus
to address the wider issues that lead to accessibility constraints
where a digital designer might turn to using disability simulations.
1I will be writing with identify-rst language in this paper [6].
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan G. W. Tigwell
2.1 Accessibility in a Digital Age
Laws for digital accessibility are an ongoing process. In the US,
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed to require
that federal agencies and associates oer accessible digital com-
munications [
]. Some argue that Title III of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) should apply to websites and mobile apps
oering a service to the public [
]. Even though the ADA does
not ocially cover website accessibility, there were 2285 ADA web
accessibility-related lawsuits in 2018, which was a 2.8 times increase
from the previous year [
]. Similar laws that require Web and mo-
bile accessibility also exist in other countries including Canada [
the UK [2], those within the EU [3], and Australia [1]2.
For the last 20 years, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
or WCAG [38] is the gold standard for ensuring Web accessibility,
although, unfortunately, not always clearly implemented within
law and policy [
]. WCAG is also used in mobile app design (An-
droid [28], iOS [7], and Universal Windows Platform [47]).
2.2 Designer Attitudes Toward Accessibility
Accessibility in digital content design is important because design
is so closely linked with the way in which we interact with technol-
ogy. However, there continues to be evidence of Web and mobile
inaccessibility [40, 52, 57, 68] due to a spectrum of factors [56].
Making digital interfaces accessible avoids putting a burden
on disabled people having to identify strategies to overcome the
barrier, install third-party solutions, seek out help, or abandon the
task entirely. Accessibility should be the designers’ responsibility,
however, challenges exist which restrict digital designers’ ability
to make accessible content, such as insucient knowledge, limited
time and money, a requirement to follow company branding rules,
and inadequate tools and guidelines [23, 51, 64–66].
WCAG is one of the most comprehensive lists of recommenda-
tions for building accessible Web and mobile content, but designers
are critical toward its verboseness, terminology, and not tting
well within their digital content design process, thus making it
a resource designers are less willing to use [
]. Novice design-
ers may benet from more active engagement with accessibility
rather than just guidelines [
]. However, there can be resource
restrictions that make it dicult for designers to access and engage
with disabled users [
], even if that is the preferred outcome. One
approach used to address these challenges is disability simulations.
2.3 Disability Simulations
A disability simulation is typically an activity or procedure carried
out by an individual to experience what it may be like to have a
particular impairment. For example, a person without the need for
a wheelchair may use one for a day to develop an understanding of
what it is like to move around a busy oce space [
]. Disability
simulations are used to educate, raise awareness about access needs,
and guide the development of accessible spaces [8, 27].
There is a history of using disability simulations with nondis-
abled people to reduce prejudices and develop an understanding of
Although the DDA came into eect in 1992 it is regarded as relevant to cover Web
accessibility as evidenced by the case: Maguire v. SOCOG No. H 99/115
what it is like to have a particular disability, however, many ethical
concerns have been raised about their appropriateness, and stud-
ies often indicate their ineectiveness [
]. For example, disability
simulations can erase everyday, systemic experiences, that have a
socio-historical context and participants of disability simulations
may develop misconceptions about the feelings held by disabled
people and their identication with their disability [
]. In fact,
questions on the fallibility of disability simulation have been raised
as early as the 1970s [
], whereas more recent work has suggested
that reframing the approach by emphasizing the social model of dis-
ability could improve the outcomes of using a disability simulation
for educating nondisabled people [8].
Disability simulations also come in many forms both physi-
cal (e.g., wearing a blindfold) and digital (e.g., adjusting the visual
output of a display). There is a long history in HCI of exploring
disability simulations, covering a range of individual impairments
from motor, hearing, and vision (e.g., [
]), multiple im-
pairments (e.g., [
]), and modeling user behaviors (e.g., [
Simulations have also been used with the disabled person in control
to teach others and mitigate common misunderstandings about im-
pairments [
]. Similarly, there was interest among parents of
d/Deaf and hard of hearing children for digital personalized simula-
tions of their child’s hearing [
], further demonstrating a human
desire to try to understand better how another person perceives the
world. It is this variability among disability simulations that can be
appealing to digital designers when making content accessible.
2.4 Disability Simulations Within Design
Within the eld of design, disability simulations persist, yet no
study has explicitly collected data from digital designers to identify
all the reasons they are used and if limitations are acknowledged.
Simulations are often described as oering a low cost and quick
alternative to recruiting disabled people for accessibility testing
and generating the feelings of a shared understanding or empathy
in designers who do not have a disability [
]. For example, a young
designer wearing a suit that restricts movement to simulate old
age. Simulations could also alleviate pressure on disabled people
by removing the need for them to travel for user testing [50].
The various physical and digital simulation tools that exist (e.g.,
movement restricting gloves to simulate a motor impairment [
oer digital designers a more engaging way to address accessibily
since WCAG is dicult to engage with [
] and participant recruit-
ment is challenging [
]. Disability simulations can also be built
within design and development tools. For example, the Chrome
browser DevTools [
] simulates blurred vision and color blindness
to support evaluating website accessibility, and a color blind lter
was the top feature requested by designers to be included in a color
palette tool that supports creating accessible color schemes [65].
However, the popularity of simulations as part of the digital
content design process highlights a current disconnect between
designers and disabled people. Disability simulation are problem-
atic [
], in part, because the designer’s own abilities are
factored within the experience, and it is known that disabled people
will interact with systems dierently, even in ways we do not ex-
pect [
]. Furthermore, simulations suggest disabled people cannot
themselves be designers [
] and are less capable in their ability
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
to do things [
]. Simulations should not be replacing user testing
and designers should be prioritizing working with disabled people
rather than trying to experience their impairments [
], yet
challenges faced by designers make this dicult. Another crucial
point to consider is that impairments can vary between people. For
example, the visual perception of two individuals with the same
type of color blindness can still dier even people without color
blindness dier in their perception of color [
]. Yet, many simula-
tion tools used by designers do not reect this. Photoshop’s color
blindness lters only use one color prole for each type of color
blindness and ignores variations that occur between individuals.
2.5 Research Questions
Although disability simulations have been widely explored in the
literature there are no empirical data on digital designers’ awareness
of disability simulation limitations. This raises the question
Are designers aware of the issues surrounding simulations?
Similarly, although there is criticism in the literature toward
disability simulations, it is not clear what awareness disabled peo-
ple have of the barriers digital designers face. A conversation with
disabled people that contextualizes some of the challenges design-
ers are facing would be helpful to identify dierent solutions that
disabled people may feel are acceptable based on the dierent situa-
tions designers nd themselves in. This raises an additional research
What do disabled people feel are appropriate ways to
move away from reliance on disability simulations, while meeting
the needs of designers?
I ran two IRB approved studies to investigate these questions.
I ran an online questionnaire to understand whether designers are
aware of the issues surrounding disability simulations (RQ1).
3.1 Materials
My online questionnaire included 16 questions (eight open-ended)
covering three areas: demographics, accessibility, and simulations.
I collected demographic information with eight questions focus-
ing on age, gender
, design training, design career, number of years
designing, content being designed, tools used, and if the designers
consider accessibility when working. For designers who indicated
they consider accessibility when designing, I asked what methods,
guidelines, or tools the designers used, what challenges the design-
ers encountered when implementing accessibility, and whether the
designers had ever used tools or methods to simulate a disability.
The nal section of the questionnaire focused on disability simu-
lations. An explanation was provided: There are tools and methods
people use that simulate disability to support the evaluation of a
design’s accessibility. These can be real-world or digital simulations.
Here are a couple of examples”. The examples included both real-
world and digital simulations such as mobility restricting gloves and
screen lters. For the designers who considered accessibility and
indicated “Yes” to using tools or methods to simulate a disability for
testing purposes, I asked those designers to provide details about
the tools and/or methods used, followed by questions to understand
I formulated this question using current “HCI Guidelines for Gender Equity and
Inclusivity” [58].
Table 1: A summary of the dierent types of digital content
the designers work on. Multiple responses were allowed.
Type of Digital Content No. of Participants
Desktop websites 83
Mobile websites 67
Android apps 49
iOS apps 43
Desktop games 21
Universal Windows Platform apps 10
Mobile games 9
Other(s) not indicated 9
what advantages and disadvantages designers had experienced by
using simulations. For designers that had never considered accessi-
bility or who had not used tools or methods to simulate a disability
for testing purposes, I provided the previous real-world and digital
example and asked for a list of advantage and disadvantages they
thought there would be when using disability simulations.
3.2 Procedure
My 10 minute questionnaire was posted online during a three week
period to collect responses from a wide participant pool. I utilized
university mailing lists and social media (e.g., Facebook groups,
Twitter, and design-focused subreddits) to share the questionnaire,
with the intention of snowball-sampling to increase reach beyond
where I was advertising. After accessing information about the
study, the participants could proceed. All 16 questions were optional
and there was no reimbursement oered for completing the study.
3.3 Participants
In total, 102 designers completed my questionnaire. I removed 10
designers from the analysis due to a signicant number of unan-
swered questions. The remaining 92 designers (Male = 62, Female
= 25, Non-binary = 2, prefer not to disclose = 3) were aged between
18-64 years old (42 designers were 18-24, 35 were 25-34, nine were
35-44, ve were 45-54, and one was 55-64). Eighty-nine designers
indicated they had between 0 and 33 years of design experience
(Mean = 6.73, Median = 4).
The digital designers’ experience included various types of dig-
ital content design (see Table 1), the nine designers who selected
‘Other’ stated: content for smart watches, logos and graphics, Power-
Point slides, mobile web (tablet), VR/AR, IoT platform integration, PC
games, and virtual reality (VR) games. The digital designers had var-
ied backgrounds in design training (see Table 2), the three designers
who selected ‘Other’ stated: through software engineering, studying
in a pre-digital age and having to learn later, and learning from other
professional designers. Design career experience also varied (see
Table 3), the eight digital designers who selected ‘Other’ stated:
layout designer for mobile apps and web control panels, software En-
gineer, college work, working toward a degree, design through school
projects, student, design as part of my PhD studies, and developer who
sometimes designs. One digital designer gave no response.
The designers used a wide range of dierent physical and digital
tools in their work (see Table 4); the 15 designers who selected
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
Table 2: A summary of the types of design training acquired
by the designers. Multiple responses were allowed.
Design Training No. of Participants
Self-taught 54
University (Undergraduate) 42
University (Graduate or Postgraduate) 20
High school or equivalent 17
Community college or preparatory school 9
Apprenticeship 4
Associate’s degree 3
Professional degree 2
Other(s) not indicated 3
Table 3: A summary of the dierent types of design careers
and experience. Multiple responses were allowed.
Design Career and Experience No. of Participants
Hobby or pastime activities 55
Working within a company/organization 43
Self-employed designer 16
Other(s) not indicated 8
Table 4: A summary of the dierent tools designers use
when working. Multiple responses were allowed.
Type of Tool Used No. of Participants
Graphic editors (e.g., Adobe Photoshop,
Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW ) 69
Physical tools (e.g., pen and paper, white-
boards) 68
Prototyping software (e.g., Axure RP, InVi-
sion, Figma) 56
Supported collaboration software (e.g., Lu-
cid Chart, Zeplin) 29
Visual eects software (e.g., Adobe After Ef-
fects) 28
Feedback and guidance tools (e.g., Pendo)
Other(s) not indicated 8
‘Other’ stated: Sketch”, sometimes used PowerPoints drawing tools
for low delity prototyping”, Maya”, Unreal engine, Sketch”, 3D
software”, ppt”, IntelliJ, Notepad++, InDesign, I feel like I spend
most of my time in PowerPoint/Keynote lol gotta present each stage
to the client”, Framer / p5.js / Marvel / Other prototyping apps”,
Brackets HTML editor”, Notepad”, Blender”, Bootstrap 4”.
Very few digital designers always ensured that their designs are
accessible for disabled people (see Figure 1).
3.4 Analysis
I analyzed the open-ended responses using an open coding ap-
proach [
]. It was important to rst become familiar with the data
set by reading through the responses. I then assigned initial codes
G. W. Tigwell
Figure 1: Frequency that digital designers make designs ac-
cessible for disabled people
to responses from the open-ended questions. I collated the codes
in an iterative process to create high-level categories that provide
a summary understanding of the data. Survey participants will be
given the ID letter D e.g., D1, D2, and so on.
4.1 Designers Implementing Accessibility
In total, 59/78 designers who implemented some level of accessi-
bility responded to Q9. The designers discussed using a variety
of accessibility methods, guidelines, and tools. Methods included
gathering participant requirements, conducting user testing, and
careful consideration of visual design choices. Guidelines used by
the designers varied from established and well known (e.g., WCAG,
Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines) to less known or private guide-
lines (e.g., GDS Service Manual, Facebook Design Teams guidelines)
and general guiding principles (e.g., heuristics). Tools included spe-
cic mentions of plugins for design software (e.g., Stark contrast
checker) and standalone programs (e.g., WAVE), as well as unnamed
tools with a clear purpose (e.g., color contrast checkers).
Finally, some less specic responses by designers that provide
further insights into their work, such as resources continually being
updated and digital content design software falling in and out of
popularity. D2 indicated they would use anything new and shiny”.
In contrast, D45 discussed issues with support saying I think we
lack online guidelines on the web to really make our design system-
atically accessible... I could do much more if I had more resources.
Similar to this D25 felt they did not have enough experience in this
to comment”, but provide challenges discussed in the next section.
4.2 Challenges Designers Face with
Implementing Accessibility
Similar to section 4.1, I asked about challenges when implementing
accessibility to identify if the sample were representative of de-
signers recruited in prior research. The digital designers mentioned
many challenging factors that support prior research [
66]. I will provide a high-level summary for brevity.
In total, 58 digital designers responded to Q10 out of the 78 who
implement some level of accessibility.
Unfavorable viewpoint of others. Twelve digital designers men-
tioned others making it dicult for accessible design, such as con-
vincing the client it is needed and only having partial involvement in
the larger project where poor decisions are made. D35 said: Places
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
I’ve worked don’t care about accessibility because the UIs I work on
are internal and very few disabled people are in my eld... raising
an important issue with regards to diversity in the workforce.
Alterations to design. Eleven digital designers mentioned that
addressing accessibility resulted in alterations to design. Digital
designers may be working to a particular client request or need to
follow brand guidelines where the aesthetic is inaccessible.
Insucient knowledge and understanding. Eleven digital designers
indicated that challenges were sometimes a result of insucient
knowledge and understanding. Perhaps most interesting were the
comments of two designers (D16, D33) who recognized that not
having a disability meant not encountering accessibility barriers
and therefore not knowing of them or having to guess what is going
to be dicult for users. This ties back to D35’s observation about
lack of diversity in the workforce.
Lack of guidance and testing tools. Nine digital designers men-
tioned lack of guidance and testing tools because testing tools did
not oer enough support to evaluate for dierent impairments.
Lack of access to user groups. Seven digital designers felt that
there were challenges with access to user groups. The majority of
the focus was on the lack of support in testing with real users and
bringing them in for testing. For example, I would also say limited
access to a wide pool of users with dierent abilities for user testing is
a barrier to better design. (D56). One designer was also concerned
about oending disabled people during communication (D36).
Limited time. Six digital designers found that their eorts would
not go to accessibility and/or evaluating accessibility due to time.
Cost of accessibility. Four digital designers also found cost to
factor into whether or not they can implement accessibility.
Lack of trust in support. One designer highlighted the need for
trusting accessibility tools: I feel like I have to TRUST the plugins I
use, without knowing the theory behind it. (D45). This is an inter-
esting point that likely relates to previously identied issues where
education and training is often lacking in focus on accessibility and
disability [
]. D45 talks about not having a clear understanding of
what accessibility tools are doing and as a result the designer can
no longer rely on their expertise. Without knowing how those tools
work or were developed, then designers will either likely avoid
using them due to uncertainty or there may be cases where they
incorrectly trust a tool, which is actually unsuitable for the task.
4.3 Designer Perspectives Toward Simulations
Within the accessibility section of the questionnaire, 44/78 digital
designers indicated using tools and methods to simulate a disability.
I asked those 44 designers which tools and methods they had used,
as well as the advantages and disadvantages identied when using
simulations. The remaining 34 who indicated either ‘No’ (31) or did
not respond (3), as well as the 14 digital designers who never made
their designs accessible, were asked what they thought might be
advantages and disadvantages for using disability simulations.
4.3.1 Designers with experience using disability simulations. I re-
ceived responses from 29 digital designers who used simulations.
The digital designers described a mixture of methods and tools to
work with when simulating a disability. Some examples of methods
included: blindfolding, restricting movement (e.g., using rubber
bands, oils, non-dominant hand), not using a mouse, turning o
the screen and speakers. Many of the tools and plugins focused
on a vision impairment simulation. Generic responses were: color
blind lters (14 designers), using screen readers (5), browser plugins
(3), lter glasses (1), and developed own tools (1). More specic
responses were: Funkify (4 designers), Stark (2), Photoshop tools (2),
Figma tools (1), SEE Chrome extension (1), and ACE (1). D93 listed
a paid contrast checking tool (Contast by that on
product description alone does not appear to run a simulation.
The advantages listed by the digital designers for using simula-
tions were categorized into education, reducing demands on resources,
reliability, and improving the design.
The educational advantage related to understanding the perspec-
tive of others (e.g., D27: Understanding the perspective limitations
of an end user without having the ability to physically ask them about
your design.”). For reducing demands on resources, there were men-
tions of simulations being free, saving time, and addressing the
challenge of recruiting people (e.g., D61: I get more feedback as
I can’t get a group of people with disabilities to test the website.”).
Some designers found simulations to be reliable in the sense that
they were easy to use and avoid guessing necessary digital content
design changes (e.g., D28: They’re often free, easy to use, and get the
job done.”). Finally, the sense of simulations resulting in an improved
digital content design was due to identifying and addressed accessi-
bility issues (e.g., D38: Could check eect and problem directly. And
could share the importance through the whole team.”).
The disadvantages listed by the designers for using simulations
were categorized into increase resource demand, poorly designed
tools, makes designs unappealing, and not a replication of real people.
The issue of increasing the demand on resources related to both
increasing the digital content design time frame and increasing cost
(e.g. D59: A lot more work to put in!”). Poorly designed simulation
tools did not t within a designer’s workow, integrate well with
other tools, or oer ways to improve the digital content design (e.g.,
D93: Additional time investment [and] not tightly integrated into
design tools.”). Two designers raised the concern that by following
simulations their creative freedom was being limited (e.g., D77: It
can be costly and time consuming and often times the "original" design
ends up being compromised and not looking very good for the sake
of being readable for accessibility. It denitely hinders the graphic
design process.”). Finally, it was reassuring to nd 11 designers that
recognized simulations were inferior to working with real people
since their accuracy is questionable and user input is valuable
(e.g., D68: I’ve put elements into my design based o of simulations
that don’t really add any benet and [are] remove[d] down the line.
Where possible it’s best to question the targeted audience and people
who live with these issues”). However, less than half expressed that
simulations were inferior to working with real people. Furthermore,
three designers expressed not perceiving any disadvantages.
4.3.2 Designers speculating on disability simulations. This survey
provided an opportunity to uncover designers’ perspectives to-
wards disability simulations based on descriptions of real-world
and digital simulation examples, and to compare opinions to the
other designers who had experience using simulations. In total, 28
digital designers provided responses to these questions.
In summary, the advantages overlapped with an additional cate-
gory present. Designers felt that simulations would be educational,
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan G. W. Tigwell
reduce demands on resources, be reliable, improve design, and benet
all. Benet all was both for disabled people due to equality and for
businesses through increasing market share.
The disadvantages also had overlap with some additional
changes. The similarities were that designers felt simulations would
increase demand on resources and not be able to replicate real people.
The designers did not comment on their designs becoming less
appealing, but this is unsurprising since they had not used simula-
tions. D86 made a great point that: Not all accessibility issues are
the same. Will never be a one design suits all.”. Often simulations
are static in their function meaning they do not have a lot of vari-
ability to highlight digital content design issues for dierence in
impairments. Designers using specic simulations will likely not
meet the needs of other people. It also raises the larger discussion
of supporting users to tailor the designs for their needs through
custom settings.
Similar to designers who had used simulations, three designers
could not identify any disadvantages although D96 did include
some skepticism about whether simulations are intelligent enough
to analyze our prototypes however they are or would it require the
prototype to be built in a certain manner and thereby force us to spend
long hours building the prototype? D96’s concern was his work and
not the implications of simulation for disabled people.
4.4 Summary
Overall, digital designers rely on disability simulations to better
understand the needs of disabled people, to overcome limited re-
sources (e.g., diculty in recruiting people for feedback), and to
improve their designs. Most concerning is that few designers realize
the problematic nature of using disability simulations.
I drew on both prior work and the survey results to facilitate a
detailed interview discussion to investigate
What do disabled
people feel are appropriate ways to move away from reliance on
disability simulations, while meeting the needs of designers? This
broad research question was dened prior to the decision to focus
on people with vision impairments (see section 5.1.1).
5.1 Materials and Procedure
5.1.1 Recruitment. I used an online questionnaire to identify peo-
ple with a vision impairment interested in taking part in an in-
terview on their experience of using inaccessible digital services.
I specically narrowed the focus to blind, low vision, and color
blind individuals because a signicant number of the simulations
discussed by digital designers were focused on vision impairments.
The advertisement was worded to avoid any bias in only recruit-
ing interviewees with specic knowledge in digital content design
work, tech development, and simulations. The questionnaire in-
quired about the interviewees’ age, gender, details on their vision
impairment, the assistive tech they may use, average hours using
apps and websites, frequency of encountering partially or fully
inaccessible apps or websites, and contact details. I sent follow-up
emails to respondents who represented a range of dierent demo-
graphics and vision impairments.
5.1.2 Interview. I used Skype and Zoom due to COVID-19, but
online interviews did remove location and nancial factors that
could restrict some interviewees from taking part [32, 34, 43].
The interviews were semi-structured and supported by a four-
part interview guide. I used the guide to support the discussion, but
since these were semi-structured interviews, I allowed the intervie-
wees exibility sharing their thoughts and I would use follow up
questions when interesting points were being made.
Part 1: I aimed to make interviewees comfortable through in-
troductions and by asking simple questions related to information
submitted through the recruitment questionnaire (e.g., can you tell
me about your experience using VoiceOver?). Part 2: I directed the
conversation toward asking interviewees to reect on their expe-
rience with inaccessible apps and websites, and what they know
about how designers are addressing accessibility. Part 3: After I had
their unbiased thoughts on digital content design and accessibility, I
shared more details about some challenges that designers have said
aects their ability to address accessibility. We discussed external
barriers such as company attitude toward accessibility and brand-
ing guidelines, as well as challenges accessing disabled people for
evaluations and what could be done to address these issues. Part 4:
I asked the interviewees about their awareness of digital designers
using disability simulations and their feelings towards designers
using simulations before mentioning issues surrounding simula-
tions. Finally, we discussed why designers are using simulations
and what alternatives could be explored in place of simulations.
It should be noted that the interviews were an opportunity to
acknowledge that there are very valid concerns from disabled peo-
ple about the appropriateness of simulations, and I wanted to dive
deeper into those specic issues, to take the opportunity to explore
with my interviewees, the alternative ways that designers could
seek support during their design process, which can address the
work challenges they face and reduce the need to rely on disability
simulations as a solution. Acknowledging that some disabled peo-
ple may accept the use of simulations, it is important to stress that
I treated the interviews as an open discussion and I made sure to
allow the interviewees to express their opinions before I provided
further information about other perspectives, which I introduced
to provide a balanced view of current discussions on this topic.
The interviews were scheduled for 1 hour. The mean recording
time from the interviews was 54 minutes (min = 40, max = 69). The
interviewees were reimbursed with $15 for their time.
5.2 Interviewees
I recruited a diverse group of 17 blind, low vision, and color blind
people (Female = 8, Male = 7, Non-binary = 2) aged between 19-75
years old (Mean = 32.88, Median = 25). Table 5 oers a further
breakdown on specic demographic details.
The interviewees had a mixture of experience with spending
time using digital services and dierent assistive technologies, as
well as encountering inaccessibility. I asked how many hours the
interviewees spent accessing apps and websites in an average day.
Four interviewees indicated between two to ve hours and 13 in-
terviewees indicated more than ve hours per day. Encountering
inaccessibility varied, with two interviewees indicating ‘Rare’ (less
than 20% of all apps and websites), three ‘Occasionally’ (20-40%),
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
Table 5: Interviewee demographics covering age, gender, disability identity, and details on their vision.
ID Age Gender Disability Identity Details on Vision Impairment
V1 27 Man Blind I was born blind with ROP [retinopathy of prematurity].
V2 23 Woman Low vision
I was diagnosed with accommodative esotropia and low vision at age 3 (though may have
been born with it) which has gotten progressively worse over time. At age 14, I began
experiencing symptoms from Chiari Malformation and was told I also had vision loss as a
result of that. The two conditions combine to form a third condition called decompensated
strabismus. I also have times where I am fully blind with no light perception due to
allergies every year, which started at age 21.
V3 22 Man Legally blind I was born legally blind. My left eye is weaker than my right.
V4 48 Woman Visually impaired
I have been legally blind for six years due to a genetic condition that aects my central
V5 25 Woman Color blind Protan colorblindness.
V6 23 Woman Visually impaired I was born with Leber congenital amaurosis and nystagmus. I am also colorblind.
V7 23 Woman Blind Legally blind from birth. Totally blind from retinal detachment 4 years ago.
V8 38 Woman Blind Totally blind all my life, Lebers [Leber congenital amaurosis].
V9 75 Man Legally blind I am legally blind in both eyes due to glaucoma.
V10 35 Man
Red-green colour
Colour blindness (red-green moderate to severe), glasses wearer and strabismus.
V11 22 Woman Blind
I’ve been visually impaired since I was born due to a genetic mitochondrial disorder that
causes my optic nerves to be underdeveloped.
V12 31 Non-binary Blind
I have been blind since birth and have light perception in both eyes due to congenital
optic nerve underdevelopment.
V13 22 Woman Blind I have Leber congenital amaurosis, and have had it since birth. I can’t see anything.
V14 45 Man Blind
I was considered Visually Impaired in my younger years. Had some surgeries when I was
12 and 13 to try and correct it. From about age 13 to 14 is when I lost the remainder of
my vision.
V15 57 Man Light perception
Totally blind in one eye and legally blind in the other left since birth. Down to light
perception in one eye.
V16 19 Non-binary
Low vision with
I have near no peripheral vision and color blind (dullness) & static vision with standard
low vision blur for many years, near all my life.
static vision, and no
side vision
V17 24 Man Totally blind
Glaucoma resulting from a rare genetic disease inherited from mother. At birth vision
was poor but shapes, lights, and colors could be recognized. Eyesight degenerated to total
blindness by approximately age 4 and has been stable ever since.
seven ‘About half’ (40-60%), two ‘Often’ (60-80%), and two ‘Almost
always’ (greater than 80%). V9 did not provide a response but did dis-
cuss issues during the interview. During the interviews it was clear
that some interviewees had more rst-hand experience with the
design and development of digital service (e.g., V2, V14) or within
the area of accessibility and tech (e.g., V8, V13), which helped to
provide dierent perspectives on the topics discussed.
5.3 Analysis
I analyzed the data using Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis
approach [
]. First, I accurately transcribed the interviews by
using the recordings. Familiarization with the data is important and
reviewing the transcripts facilitated this. Next I generated initial
codes from the data related to the research question. I reviewed the
codes and collated codes as necessary while searching for themes.
I reviewed the themes against the data and further rened them
to produce a thematic map that has a broad outlook on addressing
inaccessibility in digital content design (see Figure 2). Braun and
Clarke promote acknowledgment of the active role a researcher
has in the analysis process and that inter-rater reliability is not
part of their checklist of criteria for good thematic analysis [
Interviewees will be assigned the ID letter V e.g., V1, V2, and so on.
Before discussing the results of the thematic analysis (see sec-
tions 6.2 and 6.3), it is important to contextualize the interviewees’
attitudes toward disability simulations.
6.1 Attitudes Toward Disability Simulations
During the interviews, I found that only ve interviewees were
aware of designers using disability simulation as part of their work.
Six interviewees had initially positive reactions toward designers
using simulations. However, after discussing their initial reactions
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan G. W. Tigwell
Explore Local and National
Level Support
Many Paths Can Connect Designers and
Disabled People in Place of Simulations
Change is Needed Within Workplace
Processes, Culture, and Staffing
Be Considerate of Safe
Seek Disabled People Online Adjust the Design Process to
Promote Accessibility
Identify the Issues Within
Workplace Culture
Provide Career Opportunities
to Disabled People
Figure 2: The nal thematic map highlighting the two themes: 1) many paths can connect designers and disabled people in place
of simulations and 2) change is needed within workplace processes, culture, and stang.
I shared more information about the issues surrounding simula-
tions to ensure the interviewees were fully informed about current
criticisms of simulations. Overall, one interviewee remained partic-
ularly positive toward simulations, 13 interviewees gave positive
comments but usually with a caveat about relying on simulations,
and three interviewees disliked the concept entirely.
V5 was most positive about simulations:
V5: I give a lot of kudos to designers now because I mean they’re
at least very much so trying in some denitely shows that
they’re not trying to exclude people and [designers] might not always
succeed, but there is a genuine eort to make it accessible to everyone.
The sense that designers were being proactive about addressing
inaccessibility in a way that overcame current barriers in the digital
content design process for accessibility was appreciated, but this
is in contrast to three interviewees who disliked the concept en-
tirely because simulations are far removed from a disabled person’s
experiences and it falls short of putting in adequate eort:
V6: Um, I would say it’s fairly annoying because, it’s like, putting on
a blindfold for half an hour can’t adequately, can’t give you the full
experience of living with a visual impairment for 20, 30, 40 years...I
feel like that’s kind of them going, hey, we tried, we put in this eort,
aren’t we great? So now you get o our back for not trying.
The majority of interviewees gave a more nuanced outlook in
their openness to simulations, oering insights into the specic
contexts that would and would not be acceptable. For example,
simulations are a starting point in working toward accessibility but
not the nal step:
V14: I would say I’m okay with it because they kind of get to
know...But I guess they won’t really know completely, but that, that’s
a good way, I would say, to get some idea, you know?
V15: Well, I don’t think the simulation would mean anything if you
haven’t had some contact with the community...If I could see and I
did a long ight simulation, I still would need– I can’t just say I’m
going to do a simulation its cheaper than going [to] airplane school
or whatever. So I don’t think you can use that in isolation.
V16: I’d say it’s a good start, but it’s not great. And that’s because,
especially the blind thing, there’s so much variation, why it isn’t just
a yes or no. There’s many dierent types.
Contact with disabled people is still very much an important and
necessary step, especially when considering that simulations are
unlikely to capture the range of experiences dierent people have:
V9: No, no. I think it’s a good idea. But how much do they know
about blind people? They better [ask] blind people...I live [with only]
bright light. Yes, so if they want to mimic what our life is, they better
ask blind people not their imagination seeing everyone in the dark.
V10: I think I can understand why they want to do that because they
could very quickly see that [it’s] dicult to read this chart and so
on. But...whereas people who have normal vision rely a lot more on
colour, people who are color blind also look at things like lights and
textures and shapes and things like that a lot more.
V10 not only discussed how he has strategies that would not
be captured by a simulation, but a potential early use for simula-
tions could be to support addressing easily identiable accessibility
barriers before running extensive evaluations. This could help to
reduce situations that V13 discussed in the context of accessibility
evaluations where a lot of times when you’re doing testing, if people
don’t know how to use the technology, a lot of it can be user error and
that can be mistaken for this isn’t working. It’s not inaccessibility.
Four interviewees also discussed simulations as part of a guided
experience. Before our discussion on simulations, V12 actually pos-
itively discussed working in an assistive tech research lab that used
simulations for training, but later was cringing at that idea de-
signers are using the simulation instead of reaching out [to disabled
people]”. V12 did pose that [simulations] should give [designers]
more targeted goals for what they’re looking for from the commu-
nity”. The other interviewees discussed these guided experiences
in the context of being lead by a disabled person. V2 has shared
simulations of her own vision with others, but ultimately without
guidance, designers will come away with harmful attitudes:
V8: You have to come alongside them and teach them because they’re
used to being sighted and it’s a dierent way of doing things. If I
invested the many hours required to do that. You would come out
of it at the very least knowing that if you did become blind, you
could do stu...But that’s not what these sleep shades– these disability
simulations do. They just grab people at random and be like, oh, here’s
a pair of sleep shades, now you’re blind, what’s it like? You know?
And then they come away with the idea that being blind sucks. No it
Acknowledging that disability simulations only allows you to
understand one perspective (V2) and can be a slippery slope (V11)
I wanted my analysis for solutions to focus on highlighting the
interviewees’ ideas for alternatives to simulations to address RQ2,
but also in the wider context of accessibility challenges that we
discussed during the interview.
6.2 Many Paths Can Connect Designers and
Disabled People in Place of Simulations
The discussions around simulations and inaccessibility highlighted
the importance of involvement with disabled people. Prior work
has emphasized the need to promote “being with” disabled people
rather then “being like” [
]. Here I discuss ideas from blind, low
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
vision, and color blind people that suggest how designers can con-
nect with disabled people, not only for improving accessibility but
in a way that is sensitive to the needs of disabled people. Although
some interviewees were uncertain about suggesting how designers
can overcome barriers they face, there were many ideas shared.
V13 even had rst-hand experience of recruitment challenges when
working in a UX role. Importantly, designers need to accept that
connecting with disabled people will take work, but it will be re-
warding and there are many ways in which designers could do
this based on their needs. The three subthemes oer more details
around the main theme.
6.2.1 Explore Local and National Level Support. Increasing contact
between designers and disabled people can be explored through
local and national level support:
V2: Reaching out to the community. For example, there’s a lot of
major cities that have a high blindness and low vision population.
V16: Yeah. It would be best to connect with the local community, for
sure. Another way to do that is contacting Lighthouses [Lighthouse
Disability] because those are school kids, they need money. Give them
20 bucks, they’ll do it.
In particular, there may be charity and other disabled organiza-
tions (e.g., V4: blind organizations”) willing to help digital designers
connect with disabled people. Schools could also be another avenue
to explore, especially if a designer needs feedback from a younger
demographic (V16). There would also be the benet of giving back
to locals through creating work opportunities.
However, some digital designers may be remote or located some-
where with a lower representation of a particular disability group.
The next section discusses ideas from the interviewees that would
break down barriers caused by location.
6.2.2 Seek Disabled People Online. There is an opportunity to es-
tablish a dedicated website that seeks to connect disabled people
with designers, similar to academic research websites (e.g., call- or therapy directories (V7). However, people
would need to be aware of the website for this to be successful, it
would have to be an industry wide kind of tool (V5).
The interviewees were positive about using social media and
forums to nd disabled people to take part in digital content design
V4: I think that [online] would really be the only way because it’s
a real, it’s a small, smaller population. I mean, and... Unless you’re
talking very elderly, most people are online and on social media.
V11: And also there is social media. It is denitely a good way to nd
people that have a disability if you don’t know anyone.
V13: If people are going to nd[...]their target audience, they need to
use social media, they need to do like a sponsored ad, which is, you
know, one that I worked on a few weeks ago. It’s a survey from an ad
I saw and it was legit, but, you know, to reach that target audience,
you need to gure out okay, what kind of groups are out there? Okay,
what kind of groups can I post in? And can I make this ad?
Surveys and snowballing approaches could also help. These tech-
niques are familiar to academics and so plenty of guidance is avail-
able to digital designers unsure about using these procedures.
A nal approach that could be used by established businesses is
to use their own products to connect with potential testers through
notications or banner adverts:
V5: I feel like if you know a company were saying, oh, we’re going
to redesign the website, have like a message on their homepage or
something. Hey, we’re redesigning the website. We would like, you
know, input from the visually impaired to make sure that you can
still access this, you know, shoot us an email if you would like to help
us with this project and then create, you know, that kind of rapport.
If the company has information about their customers they could
also reach out. However, the challenge with these two approaches is
if the digital content is not already accessible then disabled people
are likely not using it to receive testing opportunities, and some
customers may be concerned for their privacy.
6.2.3 Be Considerate of Safe Spaces. Although digital designers
need contact with disabled people to better facilitate the creation of
accessible services, there are necessary considerations so that a line
is not crossed. Often disabled people have their own safe spaces
(both online and oine):
V17: [Blind] organizations do not want to let in the storm of people
asking for oftentimes unpaid research[...]they worry that blind people
will stop seeing their email list as relevant for other things.
However, V17 did go on to say blind organizations should make
outreach programs because the current model is outdated”. Saying
that, designers need to identify what kind of groups they can post
in (V13) and be respectful of invading a space because disabled
people already [get] enough of those [requests] (V7). For exam-
ple, if there is a Facebook group or a subreddit for blind people,
the designer should check any public rules about what is allowed.
The designer should contact a moderator when possible to dis-
cuss whether posting an advert is appropriate and if the moderator
should post on their behalf.
Finally, some disabled people may not want to help and that is
entirely their right it depends on the individual (V9). Digital
designers must be respectful about this. Design companies, teams,
or individuals may benet from similar guidance that academics
have from their IRB with regards to conducting ethical work.
6.3 Change is Needed Within Workplace
Processes, Culture, and Stang
In addition to the immediate suggestions for alternatives to simu-
lations, there was an overarching discussion about inaccessibility
and barriers designers face, which can result in them seeking out
options like disability simulations. It is clear that current work-
place attitudes, practice and organization structure need to evolve
if widespread digital accessibility is to improve. The importance of
this theme is that strategies discussed here could result in a change
that further reduces the need for designers to use simulations.
6.3.1 Adjust the Design Process to Promote Accessibility. The in-
terviewees provided ideas on adjusting the digital content design
process to make accessibility seem less like an afterthought. Those
ideas covered the beginning, middle, and end of the design process.
The early design stage is a crucial part of the job and when big
decisions can be made with regard to what the overall process looks
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan G. W. Tigwell
like. More active involvement with disabled people would be better
than using simulations, as indicated by the interviewees in the
previous section (see sections 6.1). Eleven interviewees specically
indicated interest in exploring more co-design opportunities but
there was some hesitation. For example, whether co-design is al-
ways needed: Yeah, I think. I don’t think there’s anything inherently
wrong with that, but I’m also hesitant to say that every single product
needs that, right?”(V3) and designers should interact with multiple
people to cover a spectrum of disability (V2, V7). For example:
V7: Get disabled people from dierent disabilities because I’m just a
screen reader user, but there are people who need contrast, who need
magnication, you know? Dierent disabled people to test it out to
see how it works. And then, you know, maybe keep them in on the
loop as the development process continues.
V6 felt collaborative opportunities could address the issue of
high unemployment rate among blind people and V10 felt disabled
expertise would greatly help improve design, but the challenge
would be getting companies interested:
V10: I think that’d be, obviously that’d be quite useful from both
sides of it, knowing that there’s somebody involved in the process who
understood what it was to be colorblind from the start rather than
just the end, and from the other side of it obviously is quite useful to
get the input when they start designing it rather than at the end when
maybe they have to start making any changes. I suppose the problem
is just the kind of physical aspects involved of how do you get people
involved in design if they’re colorblind? How do you get companies
actually interested in that enough to think yes that’s worth it?
V11 believed hiring people within the company would benet
accessibility. V7 reiterated that monetary compensation and work-
ing with a basic functioning product is necessary, but also more
technical savvy disabled users would be helpful (V12).
It is important that budgeting for sucient time and money
toward accessibility goals is established early. When asked about
how to give designers an alternative to using disability simulations,
V4 said I think it’d have to be something that was done ahead of
time, you know, you’d have to reach out [on] social media and have
people sign up [and then], you know, you can have a list of people you
could easily reach out to. Furthermore, if possible, disabled people
should be involved at the beginning [then you’d] be more willing to
change [the design]. (V11).
Planning the digital content to cover many customization options
would help to maintain brand identity for those without access
needs and oer necessary accessibility for those who need it (e.g.,
dierent font styles):
V13: So I’ve seen websites that have this awesome feature where they
have like all these, they have a menu, it’s an accessibility menu, you
can click that and you can change the website. So your website can
stay the same until you click that accessibility menu.
It may be necessary to create a case study that compares the
accessibility of a design created by support from a simulation vs
iterations with disabled people to emphasize that simulations are
not a suitable substitute. For example:
V12: Do a simulation within a simulation, you know, like, give them
the simulator and then like a test page of if you were to design this
page just based on that simulation how would you design it? And
then, you know, make them practice it with somebody who is a part
of that community and see what happens because I feel like the best
lessons are practical lessons, people aren’t going to get it unless you
give them an example of, you know, this is what happens.
V13: While I understand from a designer’s point, there are too many
factors [that] can be missed and my personal opinion for them to do
this, you know, we’re not simulations, we’re real people who do real
people things. We’re human, we make errors. And I don’t know that
those would all be accounted for.
However, educating designers about the issue with simulations
needs to be approached carefully, since even when presented with
contradicting evidence, people hold onto their beliefs [
]. Some-
times digital services are designed in a way that does not cooperate
with system accessibility settings enabled by the user:
V2: And sometimes [my larger system font setting is] not recognized.
So I’m sitting there like, cool, I can’t see this. I can’t do the pinch to
zoom. I’m using a screen reader, I guess.
An alternative suggestion made by V3 and V17 was to take advan-
tage of any OS accessibility features, which likely helps designers
in a self-employed role who do not have the resources for extensive
testing with real people. This idea was taken further and compared
to the exibility of browsers with plugins (V17). However, one draw
back of this is that responsibility of creating an accessible service
shifts away from the designer.
Seeking help is important and designers could talk to an ex-
perienced accessibility consultant, but, for larger organizations
with more resources, it would likely be less eective than focus-
ing on adjusting the digital content design team (see section 6.3.3).
On the other hand, testing is still an important part of the design
process and testing with people outside of the team is important.
Designers need to recognize the limits of automatic testing tools
vs human testers [
]. Testing could be done virtually or over
the phone[...]whichever way [disabled people] can take advantage of
[connecting] (V14) and this could address both geographical and
monetary issues for disabled people and designers, but it will be
important to have a screening process (V8) prior to the evaluation
because on the Internet anyone can pretend to be blind (V2). Some
designers are unlikely to have evaluated their digital content de-
sign with disabled people before and so it is important that this
process is comfortable, professional, and understandable. For ex-
ample, recruitment and testing tools should be accessible (e.g., V1
suggests avoiding PDFs), as well as the design having some level of
accessibility guaranteed before the evaluation:
V3: I’m not saying that your product has to be accessible, you know,
[to] start o with, but if a screen reader can’t even interact with it. I
mean, we got an issue here.
However, V3 did go on to say that it’s kind of like a chicken
and the egg kind of thing where designers unaware of how to take
the rst step to make the design accessible will not have anything
accessible to get feedback on. A diverse team should help address
this by being more conscious of the importance of accessibility.
Designers have to acknowledge that they will need to put in the
eort to get feedback from many disabled people. Unfortunately, it
is not something that can happen quickly but it could be facilitated
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
(see section 6.2). There is a spectrum of disability to consider and
so digital designers must make contact with many people:
V9: Very, very dicult. If you ask a second individual, he may give
you totally dierent opinions. So, so I only speak for myself. I think
just they have to put more resources in seeing and nding more blind
people to be their advisor. And not everyone is hundred percent blind,
I have some vision still. So I’m dierent from the total blind people
and how we grow up, and how we live in this world.
It is also important to acknowledge that there will be variations
in prociency using technology and assistive technology among
disabled people. Digital designers need to actively seek diversity and
not recruit based on any misunderstandings of impairments (i.e.,
not all people classed as legally blind have the same experience):
V2: I think it’s also important to look at– not having a rigid expecta-
tion of what you think blindness or low vision is.
By educating themselves (see section 6.3.2), designers will have
a better idea on how to approach testing with disabled people, but
also the interactions they have during the evaluation with disabled
people will also provide an educational experience:
V6: I feel like if they talked to a person with a disability, they would
realize that [simulation] strategy is inadequate, so I feel like they’re
trying to serve– they’re doing a poor job at trying to serve a population
they haven’t really met.
6.3.2 Identify the Issues within Workplace Culture. Design compa-
nies, teams, or even individual designers need to reect on their
education and training, and be more open about disability and ac-
cessibility. This could take several forms, such as: mandatory ADA
training (V16); exposing themselves to blogs, podcasts, and videos
created by disabled people (e.g., V7: watch the channels of blind
YouTubers”); and ensuring that they have access to an accessibility
documentation resource to consult when working. It is also impor-
tant that any training material has a bit of oomf behind it (V1) so
that it is exciting for designers to engage with.
Accessibility teams are important but only if they are embraced
by the organization. V17 felt accessibility teams [are] not being
taken very seriously by most companies, they’re basically working
on a shoestring budget most of the time”. Unfortunately, feedback
about inaccessibility is also sometimes ignored and this promotes a
message that accessibility is not of interest. For example:
V8: When you have an accessibility problem and you report it, you’re,
you know, it’s like screaming into a void.
V15: I have books on Amazon. I couldn’t order copies of my own
book...I do have my publisher and all that can help me [but] I want
to be able to do as much as I can by my, myself. I emailed [Amazon]
but nothing happened. So I actually, the only way I actually got that
accessible is by doing a petition, which I think worked
because it is accessible now. But that took like three months.
However, it might be possible to adjust attitudes to addressing
accessibility through statistics on current or potential clientele to
emphasize the potential market share gains (V5, V17).
Branding is often a valued part of a business and designers are
restricted by guidelines (e.g., colors to use). Although the inter-
viewees understood the importance of branding, inaccessibility is
likely to persist unless adjustments are considered.
V5: I mean it’s kind of a sad thing to, you know, realize that companies
are actually saying we hear your concerns about accessibility, but we
have to t these guidelines.
A big adjustment may not even be necessary, but some will-
ingness to take advice on board: [designers] need to stop being so
terried of talking to people and having people criticize their work in
a constructive manner because I’ve noticed that with a lot of them
(V16). The organization can take this as an opportunity to become
leaders in accessibility and get all the good press out of it (V10)
and reach a lot more customers (V15).
A nal consideration needed is whether the workplace is diverse
V6: ...if you’re afraid to hire people with disabilities then that doesn’t
really bode well for opening your products [to] people with disabilities
and signicantly engaging with people with disabilities through your
In the survey, D35 identied a lack of disabled people working
in her eld. Disability should be embraced in the workplace and
one of the best ways to do this would be to hire disabled people.
6.3.3 Provide Career Opportunities to Disabled People. Designers
have discussed using simulations to understand disability and to
address recruitment challenges, but this could be avoided by open-
ing up positions in the workforce to increase interactions with
disabled people. Companies that hire disabled people for testing
exist and interviewees indicated these range from short-term to
more permanent positions, and there was the impression that the
larger tech companies are doing better with accessibility (e.g., Mi-
crosoft, Apple), but this is perhaps unsurprising with the resources
those large companies have available. V13 worked at a company
that included a team of blind and visually impaired people and V11
discussed a startup recruiting her to support accessibility but it was
outside of her eld of interest. Yet, although hiring disabled people
as part of the team would be the ideal situation, there are current
challenges disabled people face with employment:
V1: And if I was to go to these people and say, look, I have all these
skills, I know how to work, all these queries and stu, I’m the man
for the job. Hire me. I can guarantee you I’d be turned away. I cannot
prove that hundred percent, but I think I’d be turned away, which
honestly, sucks, because I know all the things there is to know...
The interviewees discussed some important considerations digi-
tal content design rms need to be aware of.
Disabled people should be employed as a valued part of the
team, which is likely to reduce reliance on simulations. The role
created should not be a token position, but one that involves proper
integration with the team. For example:
V10: If you’ve already got somebody who’s working in the organiza-
tion who was involved in the design side of things, but who was also
colorblind, then there is no additional cost because they’re already
working there. It’s not just they are there because they’re color blind
either but they’re there because they’re a good designer.
V11: It goes back to that we have more worth than just like testing
a product and just like coming and just like seeing how the product
works. It’s more like having them be on the team that build it.
Organizations need to recognize the capabilities and willingness
among disabled people to work on these teams (e.g., as testers or
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan G. W. Tigwell
designers), but they must be paid as well because disabled people
are more likely to have less meaningful employment or unemployment
in general and a lot of them look to using accessibility testing as a
way to supplement their income (V2).
Some of the interviewees had technical expertise and experience
working in the tech industry. It may be necessary for disabled
people to have some technical expertise to t within the team, but
this is possible, and disabled people are their own experts when it
comes to using assistive technology and accessibility:
V6: So I think that denitely there’s potential for that [co-design]
position, those types of positions to be made. Because the fact of the
matter is that, for example, 70% of blind people in this country are
unemployed and whether that be to lack of education opportunities,
what have you. I mean, there’s plenty of people with disabilities who
have college degrees and like who would be qualied for those kinds
of position.
V7: It does make me feel a little hopeful for the future of web de-
velopment because– listen, I gure, yeah, putting on a blindfold as I
described earlier, is not the same as actually being blind. When I go
to a website. I’ve got my own methods of nding stu that you know
I look for headings, if there’s none, I go to landmarks, if there’s none I
got links, if there’s none, well, I usually leave. But that’s besides the
point. The point is that a sighted person is not going to have the same
experience. I’ve even seen some websites that talk about how blind
people use a mouse when using a screen reader. I can tell you from
rsthand, I don’t use a fucking mouse[...]But anyway, you know, these
sighted developers, they don’t have the same experience that someone
who has been working around these issues for years has.
V7’s comment touches upon a similar remark made by V2. De-
signers will learn more and can avoid issues if they understand the
behaviors and strategies of disabled people.
Designers have discussed the challenges they face with limited
nancial budgets, which can result in them using simulations, and
those challenges are likely a bigger issue of small companies and
self-employed designers. The interviewees highlighted that dis-
abled volunteers and disabled interns would be easy to nd, but
stressed that making use of volunteers is acceptable under excep-
tional circumstances.
V8: You know, it looks good on your resume[...]While that is true, I
don’t want this to be misinterpreted. We seek to advance our careers
just like our sighted peers do. The fact that we are willing to volunteer
for the cause should not be interpreted by designers to mean that our
work is less valuable.
Therefore, digital designers and companies with design teams
should opt to reimburse or hire disabled people rather than tapping
into a volunteer pool in the rst instance.
The contribution of this work is up to date information, building on
prior work, to show the degree to which attitudes and perceptions
around disability simulations vary within and between dierent
stakeholder groups, specically: digital designers, blind, low vision,
and color blind people.
My survey ndings indicate that designers are using various
types of simulations a majority related to vision impairments to
better understand the needs of disabled people, overcome work con-
straints due to limited resources, and improve designs, but the valid
concerns surrounding the appropriateness of disability simulations
is not widely recognized by digital designers (RQ1).
My interviews with blind, low vision and color blind people
illustrated opinions vary as to how appropriate it is for digital de-
signers to use disability simulations. Often there were caveats, such
as it being a little more acceptable if the simulation is not used in
isolation, e.g., by allowing a disabled person to guide the experience
to provide context or by only utilizing simulations early in develop-
ment to address some of the potential accessibility issues but still
running the necessary user evaluations. However, the majority of
the interviewees still felt there was a better way and they identied
many possibilities for designers to work around their constraints. A
thematic analysis resulted in two themes: 1) many paths can connect
designers and disabled people in place of simulations and 2) change
is needed within workplace processes, culture, and stang (RQ2).
7.1 Reecting on How to Support Digital
Designers in Overcoming Constraints
The interviewees called for more expert input from disabled people
and discussed how that input could further progress in breaking
down digital content design barriers to accessibility. They identied
that active engagement with disabled people as experts is not only
desirable but needed. This is crucial due to the signicant risk that
disability simulations perpetuate misunderstandings and stereo-
types [
]. The demographic details captured in Table 5,
demonstrate a lot of diversity among the blind, low vision and color
blind interviewees, which is unlikely to be captured by current sim-
ulations, and therefore their expert input would be more valuable.
However, for some digital designers, connecting with people can
be dicult and some disabled people may want a more active role
than only serving as an accessibility tester.
7.1.1 Workplace Diversity. Cost and access to people were two rea-
sons designers gave for pursuing the use of simulations. Although
designers/developers are learning more about the importance of
accessibility [
], there are many factors pushing against
accessibility [
]. Hiring disabled people to work within the com-
pany was discussed as a solution by the interviewees, so long as
the role is created to be an integral part of the company workforce
rather than as a token position. Disabled people’s expertise can help
to guide digital content development so that accessibility becomes a
natural part of the process and companies could minimize time and
external costs. For companies apprehensive about the costs of in-
creasing their workforce, retrotting accessibility is costly [
] and
the companies should recognize that more accessible digital content
not only shows decency toward human rights, but it could increase
revenue [
]. However, one potential issue related to the broader
factors that can contribute to inaccessibility is education [
]. Open-
ings might be slow to ll if companies require specic qualications
for work beyond general user testing because some interviewees
discussed experiencing a lack of support within education that can
make it more challenging to obtain specic qualications, which is
in line with current research [61].
Nuanced Perspectives Toward the Use of Disability Simulations CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
7.1.2 Collaboration through organizations. The blind, low vision,
and color blind interviewees also made suggestions on the ways
in which organization and current practices should be changed
and where designers could seek out support in local, national, and
online spaces, but this should be approached in a sensitive way. V17
suggested blind organizations should explore outreach programs,
but there were concerns about taking focus away from the main
purpose of those organizations. An alternative approach could
follow previous user pool models that were established to address
the challenges academics face with recruiting disabled and older
people for research studies [
]. An industry support user pool
could work but it will require eort to establish and is not likely to
be eective for designers in more rural locations.
7.1.3 Online support. The internet provides many opportunities
to connect with disabled people, which would really benet self-
employed and rural digital designers with fewer resources and
access to a diverse population compared to designers in city-located,
larger companies. Yet, doing this without proper procedures in
place could unfairly burden disabled people for reasons previously
reported like losing safe spaces (see section 6.2.3).
Industry is conducting more research and user testing, and must
be proactive in establishing their own ethical guidelines [
]. For
design companies or individual designers who are uncertain about
how to begin approaching this, there is a wealth of information
from academia (e.g., IRB guidance) that can be leveraged, but may
need to be tailored for specic needs [31].
An online portal to facilitate the connection between design-
ers and disabled people for in-person and remote studies presents
an interesting academic opportunity that would likely draw on
HCI, CSCW, accessibility, and disability studies. Some research
has investigated remote usability studies. Prior work has looked
at supporting remote evaluations and feedback with disabled peo-
ple [
]. However, remote studies are often not as ef-
fective as in-person lab evaluations, but they do overcome spatial
and temporal challenges that may otherwise mean no evaluation
is conducted [
]. There is also evidence of websites oering
the services of disabled people for evaluations (e.g.,
However, it is not clear what success these services have. This is
an opportunity for academia and industry to collaborate. Through
rigorous research we can determine a working model for how these
services should be established, by understanding those that succeed
and the challenges they face. We could also identify any adjustments
needed to account for cultural dierences with a global workforce.
7.2 Limitations and Future Work
The distribution of a questionnaire, rather than interviewing de-
signers, may be viewed as a limitation. However, prior work has
extensively investigated the design process and why inaccessibil-
ity persists [
]. For this research, I mainly needed to
collect insights about digital content designer’s attitudes toward
simulations since this was unknown. A survey approach allowed
for collecting data from a larger sample of designers and this would
not have been possible through scheduled interviews. Although
interviews with designers would have been interesting, my rst
step within this larger project was to spend sucient time with
often marginalized groups to understand their perspectives on sim-
ulations and ideas for alternative approaches, since it is something
that ultimately has a direct impact on their lives.
The interviews oered a platform to capture a rich set of data,
yet those discussions took place on an individual level. I wanted
to allow each disabled interviewee to freely voice their thoughts
and concerns without worry of others dismissing or taking over
the conversation. Now that a thematic analysis of the data provides
a clearer understanding of the ways to move forward, the results of
this research can be used to design structured focus group sessions
that bring together various stakeholders and in doing