Making USDA's food safety app accessible to everyone

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Perkins Access helps users with disabilities access the popular FoodKeeper app

The USDA’s FoodKeeper app took off like a rocket when it launched last spring, helping consumers avoid wasting food through storage advice and reminders. With 50,000 downloads in the first five weeks, Director of the Food Safety and Inspection Service Christopher Bernstein said, “We met our goal months early.”

So when the team from Perkins Access, the digital accessibility service from Perkins Solutions, offered to review FoodKeeper for accessibility, Bernstein was excited to make the smartphone app even better.

Bernstein trusted the Perkins team to do a thorough evaluation and make the app easier to use for people who struggle to understand proper food storage timelines. Recognizing the value of FoodKeeper for people with visual impairments, Perkins Solutions offered its services.

The USDA team had reviewed the app for basic compliance. But no real users with disabilities had offered input, Bernstein said.

“In the government, it’s not always possible to have a visually impaired person be our tester,” he said. “Testing things in the real world is important for us.”

Perkins Solutions began testing FoodKeeper soon after it launched in April 2015.

The team tested the app’s voice functionality with basic tasks, asking questions like “Can you find the expiration date for milk?” They also used screen readers to determine how easy it was to move between screens and functions.

By May of 2015, Perkins’ review – delivered via its unique Access Report – was complete.

The report detailed a half-dozen required fixes, along with 10 suggested improvements. Identified issues included page inconsistency, navigation difficulties and color contrast issues. Required fixes were identified and mapped to applicable Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are standards for making digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

Perkins’ report also included recommendations for optional improvements to enhance the user experience.

All the recommendations were useful, Bernstein said. Some fixes were incorporated into the app’s September 2015 update, with more planned for subsequent releases.

Bernstein said the entire process made FoodKeeper more user-friendly. “It helped us create a stronger, more user-friendly app for the consumer, and ultimately, that’s our goal.”