Understanding Learner Personas and Accessibility

by Thembi Duncan

As an instructional designer committed to inclusivity and accessibility, my practice involves constant learning and adaptation. Read on to see my insights from refining my learner personas as a component of the Design Thinking framework.

Designing Learning Experiences Through the Lens of Disability

I found the Design Personas created by Stanford University’s Office of Digital Accessibility as a critical tool in my journey to understanding how to include Learner Personas in my learning interventions. 

By starting the process with exploring learning supports for potential disabilities and impairments, I was able to imagine and design more responsive, inclusive, and accessible learning experiences.

Below are two Learner Personas I created for an a digital course on Data Cleaning:

Man in white polo shirt
AI Generated Learner Persona: Isaiah
Learning Persona #1: Isaiah Williams

Age: 38 

Position: Data Analyst at the University at Buffalo (8 months) 

Tech Savvy: High 

Challenges: 1) Has trouble navigating complex spreadsheets due to color perception challenges. 2) Struggles to grasp relationships between data points on spreadsheets containing large amounts of data. 

Solution: Use the Microsoft Office Accessibility tools for tips on making Excel documents accessible. 

Perspective: “I understand the end game of gathering data in my department, but these overcomplicated spreadsheets that my boss sends me every week…well, to be honest, they just slow me down. Sometimes I feel like I’m just looking at a brick wall of information, and even though she provides me with explicit instructions, I’m still not sure I understand what she wants me to do with all that data. These challenges motivate me to find improvements, but after only 8 months in this position, I don’t feel comfortable asking for help. What if my boss thinks she made a mistake hiring me?” 

Attitude about improving his data management skills: “I’d prefer to figure this out on my own, if I can. There has to be a way to gather and break down this data so that I can do my job efficiently. I hope to find a self-guided process for improving my skills in data management.” 


Woman in glasses and shoulder length hair
AI Generated Learner Persona: Katie
Learning Persona #2: Katherine “Katie” Stalwart 

Age: 45 

Position: Data Analyst at the University at Buffalo (6 years) 

Tech Savvy: Medium 

Challenges: 1) With English as her second language, Katie has trouble understanding complex verbal and written instructions related to data management. 2) Despite feeling comfortable with her data management skills, Katie has received feedback suggesting that she is not reaching her goals. This represents a gap between her perceived performance and actual performance expectations from her supervisor. 

Solution: Provide hands-on, visual, and written learning resources along with coaching and interactive tools to enhance her understanding of data management processes. 

Perspective: “It’s frustrating to keep getting feedback that I’m missing my targets after feeling that I’ve got the hang of data management. I guess there’s a disconnect…and though I’m fluid in English, I wonder if some of the instructions I receive get lost in translation. I’m just not sure what’s going wrong.” 

Attitude about improving her data management skills: “I’m sure I could use some improvement in terms of how I collect and evaluate data, but I don’t know where to look or who to ask. Also, I’m very busy with a wide range of duties that I have to focus on. I’ve been here too long to have these challenges. I wish someone could help me understand what the problem is.” 

Inspired by Stanford’s approach, I included challenges, solutions, perspectives, and attitudes in my personas. 

Adding possible quotes from the learners’ points of view forced me to inhabit the minds and bodies of learners, imagining not only their interactions with the course materials, but envisioning their lifestyles, inner thoughts, and how they moved through space.

This exercise led me to the creation of a far more robust set of learner personas than I began with. 

Moving forward, I will continue to implement the principles of accessibility in my learning experience designs. 


Stanford University. (n.d.). Design Personas: Digital Accessibility Recommendations for Interactive Designs. Office of Digital Accessibility. https://uit.stanford.edu/accessibility/design-personas