Designing For All People: Inclusive UX at ADP
Amber Abreu, Senior Manager of User Experience (UX) research at ADP, has devoted her career to working in the field of inclusive and accessible UX design. She speaks with us about the essentials of inclusive design, educating with empathy, and the future of UX innovation at ADP.
What are you working on these days?
I just started a new role as Senior Manager of UX Research for the Growth team. ADP’s Global Product & Technology organization has three UX teams working under an “OneUX” umbrella: Our Generative team focuses on foundational understanding of our customers and internal associates, the Emerge team handles next-generation products, and the Growth team, my team, does boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day research for various product teams. OneUX is a huge effort with a focus on inclusive and accessible design. It’s a new initiative, and we’re all sort of holding hands as we move through this process together.
As a team leader, I’m excited to support people who are making a positive impact. The work we do on this team really does help people in their lives. I like having a sense of purpose that gets me out of bed every morning, and I want to share that feeling with the rest of my team.
Someone I used to work with at ADP remembered me, told me they had an opening and asked if I was interested. I liked the people and thought it was a good fit. It was that simple. But I also saw it as a place where I could make a difference. In the 15 years since I’d previously worked at ADP, I’d worked on UX teams at companies like Delta and AT&T, where I’d been able to educate so many people about accessible design.
I think lots of organizations don’t fully understand what inclusive design actually means, even if they think they do. They might have UX teams, but sometimes they’re just checking a box—though I see this less and less as more people become aware of what smart user experience design can achieve. I was happy to come back to ADP because their commitment to inclusive UX matches my own.
Your passion for inclusive design is evident. How did you follow that career path?
In art school, we had only one semester on inclusive design, touching only a small facet in the much larger field of research and design. Inclusive UX is very technical, but the way you implement and deliver technical requirements can be so innovative. I’ve always been drawn to the intersection between problem-solving and really technical aspects of design. Think of some of the technologies we take for granted, like Alexa or Siri. Those ideas came out of inclusive UX design trying to help people with different capabilities and needs. Now everybody uses them, not just people with disabilities. Also, consider people who, for whatever reason, can’t use a mouse. What’s their user experience going to be?
My personal story is one of the reasons I’m passionate about inclusive design. I was paralyzed due to one of my pregnancies and lost the use of one side of my face. I couldn’t drink from a cup anymore. I couldn’t close my eye. I had to relearn how to do all sorts of things. My experience isn’t the same as someone who is permanently disabled or missing a limb or blind, but I think going through that and being willing to share the experience helps us talk about how UX can affect people and how it can help.
Probably the most significant technological innovation in modern history has been computerized technology and the internet. Technology was supposed to make our lives easier—but an entire segment of the population wasn’t considered and was left behind, which is antithetical to the whole purpose. If anything, computerized technology should create more equity instead of causing a great divide. I’ve been working my entire career to close the gap.
What’s your approach to inclusive design?
I try to educate and create empathy. At previous companies I’ve worked for, I’ve tried to bring people from the community to help inform designers of their particular experiences. I’ve also taken designers to an exhibition called Dialogue in the Dark that simulates total blindness. When you go in, you’re in utter darkness. You can’t see the hand in front of your face, and you confront the challenges blind people face every day. People who aren’t blind know it must be challenging, but being exposed to their daily experience helps us understand what that means.
It’s important to ask a lot of questions, seek knowledge, and share that knowledge. I tell this to people all the time: You’re not the first person to have this problem; someone has solved it. We just need to talk to each other.
How do you see your work shaping the future of ADP?
We’re still in the early days of evolving our UX teams. One area we are focusing on is the employee experience—if you’re an employee and you have to go out and check your payroll statement or your W-2, you’ll see changes there. We’re also updating our all-in-one platform for payroll and HR software targeted at mid-market clients. We’re working to make all of our visual design and interactive components accessible from a shared library. Once we get further, those changes will be visible across other products in our portfolio.
In the next six months to a year, I would like to put in place a solid foundation for an inclusive research program. It would include recruiting partnerships to bring people into research who have different disabilities and language capabilities and people from communities outside of ADP offices. Long term, I’d like to stand up a dedicated research program focused on informing future-thinking designs so we can operate on an international scale in countries with stricter accessibility requirements like Australia, UK, and Canada.
What excites you about what’s next?
There’s this misconception that the accessibility guidelines are only for people with disabilities, which is not true. They are for people whose first language is not in the system language. They’re for people who are older or less educated. There are different tiers of accessibility. And the core fundamental principles are that this work should lift up everyone.
There’s a lot here to be excited about, and because we’re all working together, we’re going to be stronger in the long run. Our team is growing, and we want people who care, who are willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn.” Every person who works on the project will say that they directly impacted someone with a disability in a positive way.
Interested in a career as a UX Designer or Researcher?