Usability of Biometric Authentication Methods for Citizens with Disabilities

Critical government services are moving online. Low authentication accessibility & usability hinder citizen site access. We researched biometric authentication usability for people with disabilities & propose new points for evaluating biometric usability.

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Currently, one out of five adults in the United States has a disability. As the population ages, the number of adults with disabilities will swell. As critical government services move online, the need for accessibility grows.

However, poor accessibility and usability in authentication methods can form a barrier to the use of important websites, such as tax and benefit services. Given current commercial trends, biometric authentication methods will be used more widely to ensure secure access to such services. There is currently a dearth of research into both accessibility and usability of authentication modalities, including biometric methods. Thus, we investigated the usability of biometric authentication schemes for users with and without disabilities (vision or hearing).

We comparatively evaluated three biometric authentication schemes (fingerprint, eye, and palm recognition) and one non-biometric authentication scheme (PIN) on effectiveness, efficiency, and perceived usability. Traditional and biometric schemes showed some usability differences. Biometric schemes’ usability often differed based on whether the interaction required dynamic device positioning (placing and holding the device in relation to specific points on the user’s frame). Biometrics that required dynamic device positioning (ex. palm) had lower usability for participants with limited or no vision. We therefore put forth dynamic device positioning as a new consideration for usability evaluations of biometrics.

This work was presented at the 9th Annual Internal Revenue Service-Tax Policy Center (IRS-TPC) Joint Research Conference on Tax Administration in June 2019. It is slated to be published in the 2019 IRS Research Bulletin.

Contributing to this research, HYPR provided resources supporting a prototype of several modes of biometric authentication on mobile devices. Learn more about HYPR.