Designing with Users: USDS at SBA

The U.S. Digital Service is telling the stories of how our teams are working on projects that help the American people.

The United States Digital Services (USDS) has staff spread across a variety of Federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration (SBA). Our members have been working with the agency to modernize small business certifications programs, including the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone), which helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities.

In March 2017, two USDSers — Jeff Barnes and Tyler Bolchoz — traveled to the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to conduct a usability study for the upcoming launch of the new HUBZone Map service. The team was able to work with three blind participants who are teachers at the school.

During the study, the team asked the participants to complete the three tasks the Map service was built for: finding business addresses, finding employees’ home addresses, and creating a report to send this information to SBA. The participants used their own laptops and cell phones, along with assistive technology they use every day, to browse the internet to access the new HUBZone Map. The study found several minor usability issues with the Map tool, which the USDS team subsequently fixed.

User research with blind participants supplemented the other accessibility checks already completed on the HUBZone Map. Prior to running the usability study, the team built the Map service using the U.S. Web Design Standards created with our sister agency, 18F, and USDS ran automated testing using Also, during development, the HUBZone team (members below) ran two other usability studies on prototypes with sighted users.

This work is just another example of how usability research builds on other accessibility checks to help catch difficult to find issues. If left untested, these issues impact the accessibility and the usability of web-based government services. Through the study, we were not looking to simply satisfy 508 compliance standards, but to ensure an equivalent user experience for everyone.

The HubZone team at SBA includes Andrés Colón (USDS at SBA Team Lead), Alberto Colón Viera (Product Owner), Jeffrey Barnes, Rick Lee, Mollie Bates, Jared Cunha, Meg Peters, Ryan Hillard, Mariana Pardo, Aditi Dussault, Mary O’toole, Francine Morris, Ambuj Neupane, Jorge Laboy-Bruno, and Amber Seira. This list does not include numerous fearless contractors.