Editor’s note: Mariann Lowery is product research lead, Stack Overflow for Teams. 

As a user experience researcher for Stack Overflow, a big part of my job is to uncover user behaviors, motivations and needs to make our product more usable and enjoyable. I do this by conducting surveys, focus groups, virtual interviews and usability tests. Some time ago, during a virtual research session focused on understanding how we may improve the user interface of our search feature, I spoke to a user who disclosed that she was autistic. She explained how her reactions to the mock-ups may be different from those of neurotypical individuals. 

This eye-opening research session provided insight into how neurodiverse individuals may process information – including designs shown and language used in mock-ups – differently from neurotypical people, and how we, researchers, need to pay attention to designing research with neurodiversity in mind.

Regardless of position or level of experience, we all can do something to make our products and processes more inclusive and accessible. Stack Overflow has several diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives that I support as much as I can. I have made it my passion project to research and establish best practices around conducting user research with neurodiverse users, with the goal of making user research at Stack Overflow more inclusive and accessible to neurodivergent users, focusing on addressing the needs of neurodiverse individuals in research sessions.

We all have different characteristics, abilities and limitations, and my version and experiences of normal differ from your version and experiences of normal. We all have biases based on what we consider “typical,” and sometimes these mismatches can create barriers to inclusion – the feeling of not belonging, that our contributions are restricted or that we have limited or different access to info...