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Identify User Needs

Defined in the Revised 508 Standards Section E203.2 User Needs, federal agencies are required to identify the needs of users with disabilities when procuring, developing, maintaining, or using information and communication technology (ICT), to determine:

  • How users will perform functions supported by ICT; and
  • How ICT will be developed, installed, configured, and maintained to support users with disabilities.

There are several ways agencies can assess user needs, including development, testing, and policy compliance.

Be Compliant From the Start

Integrate accessibility from the beginning, rather than as an afterthought.

  • Build accessibility compliance into your agency’s IT lifecycle management (LCM) framework;
  • Train IT governance personnel at both the enterprise and project level on how to incorporate accessibility into LCM;
  • Revise all LCM artifacts (i.e., templates) to include users with disabilities, when addressing user and stakeholder needs;
  • Provide development teams with examples of user personas for people with disabilities;
  • Recruit developers who want to develop expertise in accessibility, and emphasize the value of accessibility skills for career advancement;
  • Use a standardized accessibility testing methodology;
  • Provide guidance on when to bring an accessibility subject matter expert (SME) into the development process.
  • Practice Universal Design throughout the design and development process.

What is Universal Design?

Universal design is a concept in which products and environments are designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design.

Assess how potential solutions would be used by someone who:

  • Cannot see - Convey visual information or navigation options through alternative means. Design systems to support access through keyboard or voice commands. Use voice feedback to read content out loud. Use touch (haptic) controls that provide adequate physical feedback to understand their function.
  • Can see but has limited vision - Support the ability to magnify visual content, and adjust inadequate color contrast, and poor environmental lighting. Design systems to work with magnification technology.
  • Can see but has some form of color blindness - Don't use color as the sole means of conveying meaning.
  • Cannot hear or has limited hearing - Don't convey information only through audio or voice. Caption videos and provide sign interpreters for live conversations and presentations; provide the ability to adjust audio volume, and eliminate environmental issues that make it hard to hear audio content. Both environment and technology should support alternative communication formats.
  • Cannot speak - For user interfaces that require voice interaction (e.g., Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa technology), provide visual- or touch-based communication alternatives.
  • Cannot physically manipulate or reach - Consider environments or controls that are difficult to reach from a sitting position (wheelchair users), or require physical manipulation as the sole means of interacting with the technology. This can creates a barrier for individuals with fine or gross motor limitations, including the ability to grasp, move, or otherwise physically manipulate controls.
  • Cannot easily understand - Consider issues that users with limited language, cognitive, or learning abilities might face when dealing with complicated designs, or extensive demands on memory recall. Design interactions that are simple and easy to understand, and use plain language when providing information and instructions.

Improve Accessibility Testing

To identify and design for the user needs of people with disabilities, designers and developers need to understand how disabled users interact with technology. Contact your agency’s Section 508 Program Office to learn more.

  • Schedule ongoing demonstrations for IT staff, showing how a user with a disability may use a specific type of assistive technology;
  • Conduct user testing on systems or apps that the organization/agency already uses, to show IT staff how users interact with those systems;
  • Ask your agency’s Employees with Disabilities Resource Group for ideas on how to demonstrate IT user needs of employees with disabilities, and involve them in user testing;
  • Help IT developers, designers, and User Experience (UX) staff become familiar with accessibility testing. Here are some ideas:
    • Invite them to view user testing of a familiar app or system;
    • Provide instruction on how to address common accessibility issues;
    • Ensure developers have access to accessibility development and testing tools;
    • Establish a loan program for licenses of accessibility tools; or
    • Share accessibility testing training resources with developers.

Update Policies

Update your agency policies to assign appropriate responsibilities to stakeholders, including system owners, project managers, and design, development, or change control boards. Responsibilities should include:

  • Identify the needs of individuals with disabilities and incorporate them into all designs, acquisition plans, and development and modification activities.
  • If using an agile methodology:
    • Build functionality requirements into individual development sprints;
    • Monitor continuously; and
    • Actively manage sprint backlogs of requirements to ensure user needs of people with disabilities are not forgotten or neglected.

This guidance was developed by the U.S. Federal Government Revised 508 Standards Transition Workgroup. Members include the U.S. Federal CIO Council Accessibility Community of Practice, the U.S. Access Board, and the General Services Administration.


Reviewed/Updated: March 2019