Accessible Tests and Why You Should Care
Many design improvements that could make COVID tests more accessible for people with disabilities will make them easier to use for all of us.
If you’ve taken many COVID tests at home, you’ve probably noticed that most of them work the same way (most are antigen tests, after all), but each test brand looks a little bit different. They might have a little test strip to handle, or they have a little plastic cartridge. You might have to squeeze a vial of liquid into a dropper, or the dropper might come pre-filled. For most test results, you look for some lines to appear, but a couple of tests have readers or apps that can tell you the results.
I have a favorite or two, and it occurs to me that those favorites are the ones I find easiest to use. They have fewer steps. All the pieces are labeled, and maybe there’s a nice little tray to organize them. And there’s a satisfying click when I snap the pieces together correctly. And these qualities that make products more user-friendly for me also make them more accessible to people with disabilities.
Getting to Universal Design
In the rush to get at-home COVID tests to store shelves a few years ago - in the worst days of the pandemic - most test makers didn’t think about universal design (which means designing a product so it can be used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability). And there aren’t industry standards out there to guide the design of accessible at-home tests (and a lot of other things). As a result, many people can’t use most of today’s home tests on their own. People who are blind or have some vision loss are especially affected, as well as people who have limited grip strength or other fine-motor impairments. Because these conditions are common among the elderly, the group who could struggle with these products is pretty big and probably growing.
But that may be changing. As I mentioned in a previous article, a number of companies are working to improve their product designs. Some of these companies are receiving direct support from the National Institutes of Health’s RADx Tech program, which brought together product designers and subject-matter experts who represent these disability communities to provide their recommendations. Test makers who aren’t part of this program can benefit from what we learned thanks to a resource published recently. You can find an overview of the Best Practices for the Design of Accessible COVID-19 Home Tests here. This work is still going on, but here are a few of the recommended changes that could make tests easier for everyone to use:
Color can be used to highlight important text, but low-contrast color combinations (when the brightness of the two colors is similar) can be difficult for all of us to read. It can be impossible if you’re color blind or have low vision.
It should be easy to find where to open a box or a pouch, and it shouldn’t take much strength to open it.
Those little caps can be easy to lose, so attaching it to the tube is a smart move. A cap is easier to grip if it’s textured or has a bigger finger-hold. If it pops into place, it shouldn’t take much force to close. It has a twist cap, it shouldn’t need a lot of twisting to fasten or unfasten.
Instead of having the test user pour or squeeze liquid into a tube, the tube should come already filled. Or if liquid still needs to be transferred, use all of it, instead of a certain number of drops, which some people can’t see well enough to count.
To read more about these recommendations and many others, take a look at the full Best Practices document.
It will be a little while before we see products with the improvements in stores. Test makers first need to make the design updates and then change their production lines or work with vendors that can help them make the changes. But keep an eye out. And now that test makers are learning how to design in ways that are more accessible, we can look forward to other types of home tests being produced with accessibility in mind from the start.
Do you have someone in your life who needs some of these feature changes? Which improvements are you most looking forward to? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).