After much research, we found various interesting statistics about what may be the target audience for the free and reduced meal application, which helped us mold our design decisions.
The Census Bureau estimates that households below the poverty level had the following electronic appliances:
cell phone: 80.9%
This means that not only does our application have to work on desktops (as per the submission requires), but it should also be operational on mobile devices that have internet access.
About 36.1% of foreign born people living in the US fall below the poverty line, while only 14.2% of native born Americans fall below the poverty line. Additionally, 28% of Hispanic/Latinos under 18 and over 40% of African Americans under 18 in the US fall below the poverty line. In 2015, approximately 13% of the US population (roughly 41 million) are native Spanish speakers. These very distinct statistics mean that our application is very likely to see greater use from foreign born US residents, many of whom may likely primarily speak a language other than English. Bridging this gap is very important for usability and will highly determine our application's success.
As participation in the National School Lunch Program steadily increases over the years (estimated to be at 18 million children in 2013, up from 15 million in 2008), it is of utmost importance that the process to apply for this program be facilitated (data source: U.S. Department of Agriculture).
Improving Usability & Reducing Errors
This is a redesign of the USDA free and reduced price school meal paper application. In addition to the required questions posed in the traditional paper application, this electronic application includes various features to improve usability and reduce errors.
First, the application has friendly graphics that both capture the user's attention and present the form in a fun and non-overwhelming manner. It also provides informative graphics along the way to describe and explain difficult questions - such as what an public assistance program is, or who qualifies as a child or adult. A generated dropdown is also shown to help users select their city and state from a valid list. Using these visual clues throughout the application help users to enter accurate data that could potentially qualify their children for free/reduced meals without having to provide as much data (such as being able to properly identify their participation in a public assistance program).
The application begins by explaining exactly what the purpose of the application is and ensuring the user that they only have to go through this process one time for all the children in their household. It also provides a progress bar showing exactly what steps in the application still need to be completed, to assure the users that the form isn't a tedious and daunting task.
In order to accommodate as many users as possible, our application has been thoroughly tested with a screen reader for the visually impaired. Google Translate has also been integrated with our application, to allow users to translate every part of it into the language of their choice. This is reflective of our research of foreign born and Spanish speakers under the poverty line and will increase usability for those users while also decreasing potential errors caused by any misunderstanding of English instructions. Additionally, the application is mobile friendly to account for the statistic we found from the Census Bureau that reported cell phone ownership (80.9%) vs. computer ownership (58.2%).
When a user needs to navigate back to another part of the application, the data they previously entered is still filled into the appropriate fields. This allows for users to navigate away from and back to the application without losing any data.
Because income reporting was stated as being the most common area for errors in the paper application, we took extra measures to ensure that these fields are properly filled out. For each child and adult listed as a household member, the user must explicitly state that the person either earns income or does not earn income. If the user tries to proceed with the form without having selected one of the two options, they will be directed back to those fields and instructed to choose an option. Additionally, when the user hovers over either option as they are about to make their selection, a tooltip appears explaining exactly what qualifies as "income". This tooltip does not go away until the user has moved their cursor away from that field. If the user does select that a particular person earns an income, fields for various valid types of incomes appear. These fields automatically format the input into dollar amounts, prefixed with the dollar sign and with commas separating higher amounts and periods separating cents. The frequency selection is clearly defined as a dropdown with any arrow and has the default instruction of "select frequency" inside. The user must select a frequency from this dropdown before submitting the form (even for an income input of $0) and will be prompted to enter a numerical value into all income fields and select frequencies for each income before being able to submit. This will reduce the number of errors in the income section as the user must explicitly enter information in each field.