Identifying User Personas in Accessibility — Why It’s Important

Technology | Rob Smith & Wendee Fiorillo| June 23, 2020

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As accessibility and the user experience evolves, EBSCO Senior Product Manager Rob Smith shares EBSCO’s tactics in developing user personas, and how user research impacts product development.

This post is the first in a two-part series which will cover examples of how we use accessibility personas in product development.

A persona is a profile of a fictional character that represents a significant group of people or users who use a product. Personas provide a narrative of a user in a specific context and shares specific information about the person’s distinct needs, challenges they may encounter, their motivation and level of education, experience with technology and other behavioral characteristics. Personas are created from user research and interviews with real people, data gathered through research, and in collaboration with subject matter experts. 

Benefits of using personas

Personas help product owners, designers and developers understand who users are and their processes. Personas help build empathy and gain a different perspective to recognize user needs and expectations. Personas create a shared understanding between the different teams in the product development process and help stakeholders agree on important issues and establish priorities. 

Why accessibility personas?

Creating personas for people with disabilities can be invaluable for creating inclusive and accessible products. Accessibility personas help identify the barriers, frustrations and common issues that people with disabilities face when using inaccessible products, and often result in benefits for all users.   

Accessibility is an area that is challenging to get right and must be kept in mind at all stages of the product development lifecycle. If accessibility is left to the end, it will result in high development costs and an inconsistent user experience. 

EBSCO’s accessibility user personas 

For our first pass at creating personas for accessibility use cases, we settled on a list of four personas that cover a good range of use cases that come up in the everyday development of our products.  

  • Student researcher who is blind: relies on the keyboard and a screen reader to complete tasks 
  • Student researcher with low vision: may rely on the zoom feature and needs good color contrast 
  • Student researcher with dyslexia: may need visual aids, simplified text and may rely on text-to-speech tools 
  • Student researcher with impaired motor skills: relies on the keyboard to complete tasks 

Each persona starts with a “student researcher” to reflect that these users generally have the same goals and motivations of other student researchers. They also happen to have disabilities that present them with unique challenges in meeting their goals.  

Now that we have the personas defined, we’re starting to dig deeper into other important use cases related to accessibility, including users who are deaf, users who became blind later in life and a broad spectrum of other cognitive disabilities such as autism and ADHD.  

Example User Persona – Jeanette, a Blind Student Researcher 

“I know it will take me longer to complete my assignment than I want it to, especially if I have to use my library’s website.” 

Jeanette is completely blind and has been blind since birth. Compared to a user who became blind later in life, Jeanette may approach things differently and is more likely to be comfortable using a screen reader.  

For research, Jeanette primarily uses JAWS on her Windows laptop. For many other things, sometimes including research, she uses VoiceOver on her iPhone. Jeanette has her screen reader set to read at a fast-speaking rate and often uses her phone with the screen off for privacy. She knows braille and may take notes using a braille input device. She may use a bluetooth keyboard with her iPhone to facilitate easier typing and may also use Siri for Voice Input. 

Jeanette’s top goals are effectively the same as any other researcher:

  • Familiarize herself with the research topic and select a specific topic for a project/assignment
  • Find relevant sources to meet project requirements 
  • Write paper with proper citations 

Top challenges faced: 

  • Library websites and resources have features that do not work well with screen readers
  • Some academic content cannot be read with a screen reader and professors have specific content requirements 
  • Complex websites can be a challenge to understand and navigate 
  • It takes more time to complete tasks, especially with inaccessible sites or content 
  • May have to seek help from disability services office 

What success looks like: 

  • Websites work seamlessly with a screen reader 
  • Able to easily navigate and understand websites and content documents 
  • Ability to do research independently, without asking for help 

Comparison of User Personas and Tasks 

The table below shows various user tasks or features by their importance to each persona, ranging from “highest importance” to “potentially beneficial.” There is also a column for “all users” which shows how many of the tasks and features have a benefit beyond accessibility-specific use cases. 

Task or Feature Product Team Role Blind Low Vision Cognitive Motor All Users
Simple, consistent page design Design, Product
Responsive design Design, Developer -
Large touch target size Design, Dev -
Visible keyboard focus styles Design, Dev -
Good color contrast Design, Dev -
Use of color and iconography to supplement text Design, Content Author -
Shorter Line Length for Text Design, Content Author -
Blocks of text organized using headings, bullets, etc. Design, Content Author
Text alternatives for meaningful images Design, Content Author
Page coded to web standards with semantic tagging Developer
Keyboard operability Design, Developer -
Ability to skip redundant blocks of content Design, Developer - -
Screen reader compatibility Developer, Product - -
Text to Speech compatibility Developer, Product
Ample time to complete task Design, Developer, Product
Spell check Developer, Product, Content Author
































Accessibility personas have greatly helped us to understand how we can meet the needs of our users as we continue to improve and enhance our products. 

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Rob Smith & Wendee Fiorillo

Rob is an IAAP-certified Web Accessibility Specialist. Accessibility and user experience have been Rob’s focus for seven years. Rob recently rejoined EBSCO as the Accessibility domain lead. Prior to this, he worked on the accessibility team at JPMorgan Chase and previously worked in product management for EBSCO eBooks and Credo Reference.

Wendee Fiorillo is a lead user experience engineer on EBSCO Information Services’ User Experience and Design team and a subject matter expert on accessibility. Wendee is passionate about user experience and is an advocate for accessibility throughout design and development process.

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