ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

Does your product really serve all your users? Yes, it may be accessible, but you need to ensure you are accommodating other underrepresented populations.

Underserved populations face challenges that you may be overlooking in your UX research and design. Product teams need to consider their needs because making sure your product is accessible means more than just ensuring it functions well for users with physical and intellectual differences.

Those oversights are to the detriment of your users — and your business objectives.

Let’s be clear: Every user deserves accessible and inclusive products. But providing an inclusive experience also makes strategic sense. Buyers of your EdTech product want to know that your product works for all users, including underrepresented groups. 

As institutions face decreases in pandemic-era funding, they’re poised to make cuts to any product that doesn’t prove its usage and efficacy. Demonstrating that your product goes beyond accessibility requirements will cement it as indispensable to their budgets. It removes one more barrier to closing sales and securing that all-important renewal revenue.

Address the gaps in your EdTech product to solve the needs of underrepresented populations with these considerations.

The Demographics Your UX Might Exclude

As a general principle, you should never make assumptions about your user base that aren’t based on data. It’s the quickest way to thwart your products’ usage and efficacy. So as you include marginalized groups in your EdTech user experience, bear in mind that your users’ identities can’t be taken at face value. Often their needs and goals are informed by several variables, including:

  • Location
  • Language
  • Income
  • Generational wealth
  • Access to technology
  • Family constellation, or who is considered a part of the family unit

Certain variables may consistently intersect in underserved populations (e.g., lack of access to generational wealth and being a first-generation college student). Here are a few examples of groups with a number of intersecting variables that prevent them from using your EdTech effectively. 

Native American or Indigenous populations

This demographic is a prime example of a group where multiple factors may affect their ability to access your EdTech — starting with location. Due to centuries of colonization and historical oppression, indigenous people (Native Americans and indigenous groups outside of the US) often live in rural areas with high unemployment rates, limited generational wealth, and limited educational support. 

One major obstacle the community experiences is reduced access to high-speed internet. It may seem like a small detail. However, it plays a huge role in the community’s access to technology, higher education, and higher-paying employment opportunities. And perhaps unsurprisingly, access to higher education is the factor most likely to decrease unemployment rates in these areas, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

EdTech considerations for Native and Indigenous populations

Whether you design products that increase the quality of K-12 education, or products that increase high school or university graduation rates, you can position your solution as a vital tool in supporting indigenous communities in their efforts to achieve better educational outcomes. In order to do this, you must design with their specific challenges in mind. If you are  relying on 5-G internet to function, for instance, you may be barring this group’s access to your product. Make sure even users in remote areas can use your products. 

ESL students or Non-English speakers

Just like Native American or indigenous populations, ESL and non-English speakers’ identities can’t be taken at face value. It’s important to acknowledge and accommodate the variation of user needs that fall within that category. An ESL student’s country of origin, for instance, can affect their language and technological needs within a user experience. A user from a country with limited educational resources will not have the same needs as their ESL peers from an area in Japan where educational infrastructure supporting English fluency is far more common. 

Same goes for users from countries with and without advanced technology, they may need support with technical fluency as well as language fluency. 

EdTech considerations for ESL and Non-English Speakers

On a basic design level, you can accommodate the range of English speakers who use your product with translations for instructional materials, interfaces, or navigational elements. Clear and concise language also goes a long way. Avoid complex sentence structures, jargon, or idiomatic language, which may confuse or alienate users who are non-native or non-English speakers. Sometimes visual aids, diagrams, and interactive elements can fill in comprehension gaps in the user experience where written language can’t. 

As far as technical fluency is concerned, your product may offer onboarding support for students with limited experience using products for educational purposes. Your customer support team can also assist instructors who often guide their students through your product’s UX.

Single-parent or single-guardian households

There’s no such thing as a “typical” family unit. Your users may come from households with one or two parents. Alternatively, a relative, sibling, grandparent, or family friend may be their guardian. Some students live with multiple families in the home, while others live in single-family homes. As a UX designer, bear in mind that support for your student users outside of school will look different, depending on what their family unit looks like. 

EdTech considerations for single-parent or single-guardian households

Single parents or guardians who are juggling multiple responsibilities at a time (e.g., work, pursuing a degree, assisting their other children) are less likely to be able to assist their child with their schoolwork, or meet with UX researchers during a 9-5 workday to discuss their support needs. If your student users are expected to navigate their schoolwork without the help of an adult, that will affect how you design your products or user interface. It will also influence how you conduct research with single-parent families.

UX Research is Key to Knowing How to Meet All Your Users’ Needs

The best way to ensure you include underserved populations is to do your UX research and work directly with these users. You need practical experience.

Nothing can prepare your team better than direct real-world experience with underserved populations. At Openfield, we have conducted extensive workshops and co-creation sessions with many disadvantaged user groups including Black, Latino and Indigenous populations. Our expertise enables us to elevate the inclusive design efforts of a multitude of EdTech companies.

Adding a partner like Openfield to your UX research and design team gives you assurance that you’re meeting all your users’ needs, including those who aren’t typically included in EdTech product design. It’s the principled thing to do, as well as a business opportunity to expand your user base. 

Ready to make products that are accessible and inclusive? Reach out to our team.

  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As CXO at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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