The Dog License Test: Seattle.gov

This is a crosspost of dotgov.com. Author: Glenda Hyatt.

Many people with disabilities own dogs, either for the companionship of pets or for the assistance provided by guide and service dogs. Like fellow dog owners in Seattle, purchasing a dog license is a must. For dog owners with disabilities, having the option to purchase dog licenses online can save the hassle of getting to the Animal Shelter. However, this hassle is minimized only if the website is accessible to dog owners with a variety of disabilities. Trying to obtain a dog license on a city website therefore is the perfect litmus test on accessibility of Online City Services.

In this post, Glenda Watson Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy which limits her muscle coordination and hand function and who types with only her left thumb, reports on getting a dog license online:

I performed the Dog License Test on Seattle.gov to assess the accessibility from the user’s perspective. My initial impression was one of overwhelm – many boxes, images and chunks of text were competing for my attention and I was unsure where to first focus.

City of Seattle search optionsNot wanting to spend an excessive amount of time poking around on the site, I first checked the “Most Requested Services” section, located in the top left of the page, for a choice resembling dog licenses. Finding nothing close there, I typed “dog license” in the “Find a City Services” search box located immediately above. The location of these two search options saved looking through the rest of the crowded and cluttered homepage.

The search results for “dog license” was somewhat bewildering as to the first listed result was Seattle Animal Shelter. I didn’t think I wanted the animal shelter, but the subsequent results looked even less likely. I chose to click on the first result, which had the word “license” in the url, figuring it was worth a shot.

The first search result led me a page on Pet Licensing; from there I chose Online Payment Option. Thankfully I was having a good hand control day and was able to use my joystick (my mouse alternative) to click on the link. Otherwise I would have needed to hit the TAB button 41 times to get the link I wanted. Skip to content features not only benefit individuals using screen readers, but also individuals who can use only the keyboard. Needing to tab through lengthy navigation to select a link in the main content can be time-consuming and energy-draining.

Three pages later after landing on the Seattle.gov homepage, I reached the page to begin the purchasing process. Not too bad.

On first glance, this page was a relief after the cluttered homepage. The design was clean and simple – a list down the left side, which I discovered to be the steps in the purchasing process, and the main content area divided into half with one side for New Licenses and the other side for Renewals.

The one piece of information that was missing, in my mind, was any kind of welcome or instruction with an overview of the process. Also, the “Have you moved?” and “No longer own your pet” links were located at the bottom of the page. A pet owner using a screen reader wouldn’t know those options existed without listening to the entire page first; likewise, an owner using only the keyboard would need to tab through both forms before reaching the links.

Both forms were simple enough, yet required fields were not indicated, leaving me uncertain which pieces of information had to be entered. For the House Number field, an example was provided on the far right, which is fine for pet owners able to look to the far right. However, for those using screen readers, they must listen to the rest of the page to find the sample house number. The only clue they are somewhat close is when they hear “House Number Sample” – the alt attribute provided for the image indicating where to find a house number in one’s address. Although an alt is provided, it is useless, uninformative.

Proceeding with the “New License” option, I then had to enter my information. Once again, required fields were not indicated.

Another point that jumped out at me was the use of “Disabled Persons”. Surely, City of Seattle puts their citizens before disabilities and, hence, would use “Persons with Disabilities”.

Next, I entered information for Jo the British Bulldog and proceeded to “My Pets – Licensing Options”. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the “What is a Provisional License?” and was puzzled to get a blank pop-up window. Grabbing the url from address bar and pasting into a new Firefox tab, the information did appear after horizontally scrolling two screen widths to the far right.

Interestingly, when the url was pasted into Internet Explorer, no scrolling was needed to view the main content; likewise, the same occurred in Opera. This indicates a bug with Firefox or an error in the code. Either way I shouldn’t need to open multiple browsers to access the information. Testing the site in multiple browsers was obviously not done during the development phase.

For a pet owner with limited hand function, once-20/20-vision that is now aging and abundant patience, getting a dog license on Seattle.gov is not a very inspiring experience.

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Profile Photo Michael Riedyk

Only 1 day after our post, Bill Schrier, the Chief Tech Officer for City of Seattle, RT’d it on his Twitter account (@billschrier) and replied by e-mail:

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Wow, thanks for doing this testing and thanks for passing it along to me. I’m in touch with my web team and Animal Control folks to try and get this upgraded. I appreciate it!

-bill
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Then a few days later, we received this e-mail from Donald E. Jordan, Director
of the Seattle Animal Shelter:

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As the Director of the Seattle Animal Shelter, I am responsible for the business processes associated with pet licensing, which includes the City’s on-line pet license system.

First, let me thank you for publishing the post that was written by Glenda Watson Hyatt. It was very eye-opening and informative to read about her experience as she attempted to obtain a license for her dog. I have forwarded this article to Operations Manager Ms. Klunder, who is my staff member responsible for website improvements. Ms. Klunder informs me that as she is developing her workplan for this year as it relates to website improvements, that she will give careful consideration to the information contained in Ms. Hyatt’s post so that we can continue to improve our processes related to online pet licensing and improve our overall customer service in this regard.

Thanks again for bringing this matter to our attention.

Donald E. Jordan, Director
Seattle Animal Shelter
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Wow, impressive response. Seattle.gov seems to understand what Social Media means and how to benefit from it. Thumbs up for both Bill and Don!