Challenges in Online Data Collection with PWDs

Bonnita Nyamwire June 3, 2020

Some of the challenges that may be encountered/faced during online data collection techniques in a research study with Persons with disabilities (PWDs) and how to overcome them.


Research and data collection have for a long time been conducted physically/face to face with the study participants. However in this period of the Coronavirus pandemic with ongoing lockdowns it is difficult to travel to data collection sites to conduct face to face interviews. Thus online data collection is gaining popularity during this period which reflects ongoing changes in the research process.

Despite the benefits of online data collection, the challenges encountered while using this mode of data collection with vulnerable groups like PWDs need to be acknowledged. In this blog post, we explore some of the challenges that may be encountered/faced during online data collection techniques in a research study with Persons with disabilities (PWDs) and how to overcome them. 

Accessibility issues in Online Data Collection

Inaccessibility of surveys, interviews may lead to inability of some people with disabilities to participate despite that they may be potential survey participants.  Intermittent power outages, poor internet connectivity may have an effect on the battery life connectivity of devices that the participants may want to use during interviews.  Coupled with this is the different accessibility issues set by different kinds of impairments. For example telephone interviews may be inaccessible for people with hearing and speech impairments. Online surveys may be inaccessible for people with visual impairments and those with motor impairments. To mitigate this, it is important that the researcher during recruitment of study participants establishes what communication devices they have, what they are familiar with that can be used for the interviews.  Also encourage study participants to have their devices fully charged so as to avoid any interruptions during the interviews. Some people with disabilities may need assistance from close relatives or household members they live with to support them provide responses for the interview/survey. But where such help is not available and there are no other options available for such a person, they may be left out of the study sample. 

Ethical considerations

In research it is an obligation that the researcher ensures ethical procedures such as obtaining consent, maintaining confidentiality among others are followed. Similarly for online interviews obtaining informed consent, maintaining confidentiality and anonymity of information being shared by the participant are of paramount importance.  The researcher during this time has no control over the location where the participant is and whom they are with during the interview. However, the researcher should follow the offline procedures of obtaining consent, use pseudonyms and strong passwords for online sites hosting study information. Also on confidentiality, do not include names of respondents on audio recordings, and transcripts or any survey instruments. Such measures may be also communicated to the participant during the process of obtaining informed consent online. Karen Rodham and Jeff Gavin (PDF) The Ethics of Using the Internet to Collect Qualitative Research Data provide a more intriguing discussion on the ethical procedures while collecting data using online methods. 

Locating and recruiting study participants

The researcher may encounter challenges in locating and recruiting potential participants for the research. For example in this lockdown, most  people are now home based, their participation in the community is relatively restricted, and in most  settings there are no clear home addresses thus difficult to locate them. Penetration in such a target group may be successful where the researcher works with local community based organizations that work with PWDs to establish collaborative networks that will help to obtain information like telephone contacts and other online contacts so as to  access  participants  to schedule, and secure interviews with them. Putting in effort to build a network will help to communicate about the upcoming survey and increase trust.  And once some participants are identified, through snowballing others potential participants can be identified. This method of recruitment is helpful when recruits know others in their population and can pass on information about the ongoing survey. 

Duration of the interview

Online data collection with people with disabilities can be impacted by how long a participant will be engaged in the process of providing information/the interview. Long interviews may make the respondent fatigued; stressed and burnt out. To this end, pretest the interview/survey before actual data collection so as to know how long it will take, but also debrief with the respondent before the interview to ensure they are aware beforehand of the duration of the interview. Pretesting the interview/survey will provide checkpoints that may be used to revise the survey tool so as to shorten the length of the interview and to come up with encouraging comments such as” Your answers are very important for this study” for interviewers to use to provide encouragement, allay fears of respondents as well as put them at ease when necessary during the interview.