Why we need to test our content with marginalised users: a short case study

Last year, I worked on a service designed to help children and young people find support for their mental health.

To find relevant support options, the service asked users what kind of support they’re looking for. One of the original options we gave was “I want some ongoing help to get better”.

The wording seems fairly innocuous, but when we tested it with a Transgender teen, they spotted a problem.

Having already answered that they were struggling with issues around their gender identity, they hesitated at the question.

They told us that the phrase “get better” made it sound like the service was suggesting conversion therapy.

“This isn’t something I need to get better from, this is who I am” - they told us.

While saying “get better” might make sense for someone who’s struggling with disordered eating or anxiety, it’s not appropriate for people struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.

We’d done our best to use inclusive language throughout the service, but as a team of cisgender people, this didn’t occur to us.

Thanks to this feedback, we updated the wording of the option to “I’d like to understand my feelings and learn ways of coping”.

If we hadn’t done this research and updated our content, we could have dissuaded a whole contingent of people from getting the support they desperately needed.

The connotations of our language can change depending on the person who’s reading it, and the context in which they’re seeing it.

That’s why it’s so important to test content with marginalised people, and with those at most at risk of harm from exclusion.