I love running focus groups, both from a research and human perspective, but traditionally this method has been far from universally accessible. For example, traditional focus groups present important challenges for people with communication disabilities and disorders, which currently are over 10% of the U.S. adult population.
As someone who cares deeply about the inclusion of traditionally under-represented voices in research, I think there’s a lot that we can do to re-think methodologies to make them more accessible. In an article I published in the journal Qualitative Research earlier this year, I drew on my experience organizing, moderating, and analyzing focus groups to discuss low-cost, relatively straightforward, and flexible solutions to ensure that people with communication disabilities and disorders are equally as empowered as any other participant to contribute their perspectives, opinions, and experiences to these studies. While this article can only begin to scratch the surface of this issue, I hope it will help us start a conversation about how to adapt and innovate qualitative research in all fields to make it simultaneously more inclusive and more valid.
You can find the full article here (get in touch directly for a pre-print version, if you like):
Participating in focus groups can be challenging for people with communication disabilities. Given that more than 1 in 10 adults has a communication disability, focus groups that overlook their needs exclude a large part of the population. This research note makes a unique contribution toward creating more inclusive focus groups by discussing a variety of strategies employed in a recent study of political participation among Americans with disabilities that included a high proportion of participants with communication disorders. Universal design principles can support the “mainstreaming” of communication disabilities in focus group research, contributing to more inclusive and representative social science scholarship.
My latest article “Using the Internet to Mobilize Marginalized Groups: People with Disabilities and Digital Campaign Strategies in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” was recently published in the International Journal of Communication. This article discusses how the 2016 campaigns – particularly Hillary Clinton’s – tried to engage with the disability community online and draws key lessons about the inclusion of people with disabilities and other minority groups in digital election strategy planning. The full paper can be accessed freely here.
Here’s the abstract:
It is important to understand the implications of online election campaigning for groups that have been marginalized in politics. To this end, this article discusses a focus group study on digital campaigning in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with voters with a wide range of physical, mental, and communication disabilities. Digital campaigns can deepen or curtail opportunities for people with disabilities to be active citizens. Participants in this study had high expectations to learn about the candidates through new media platforms, particularly Google and YouTube. However, the 2016 campaigns seemed to struggle to understand Americans with disabilities as an emerging online constituency. This mismatch between demand and supply in online election communication is discussed with a view to illuminating the sociotechnical foundations of digital campaigning and its effect on political participation among citizens with disabilities. There are important opportunities for digital mobilization and inclusion here, but their realization is dependent on a cultural shift that values people with disabilities as full citizens.
This research, which was supported by The Nippon Foundation, is the first study to comprehensively map barriers to accessibility at United Nations meetings, conferences, and events, as well as other important international forums. In addition, the report also offers examples and recommendations based on recent international conferences that pioneered the use of accessible Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs, including both web-conferencing software and telepresence robots) to facilitate effective remote participation for people with disabilities.