Spanish-language User Testing for the Social Security Administration

Social Security Benefits Calculator

Objective. As the Social Security Administration (SSA) translated their website into Spanish, they contracted with my firm to conduct focus groups and usability testing with Spanish-speaking participants to assess the efficiency and user-friendliness of their Retirement Benefits Estimator.

Approach. I facilitated usability testing in Spanish in locations across the United States. We began by identifying a diverse target audience of Spanish speakers, focusing on those closer to retirement. Working with the client, we established clear success criteria for each task.

We created a testing script and observed as participants completed tasks that represented common user goals. I compiled the resulting data to determine the severity of usability issues and provided prioritized recommendations for the development team to improve the interface.

Results. One of the more interesting findings was that elderly Spanish-speaking users were extremely hesitant to enter any data incorrectly because they worried that it would negatively impact their benefits or the government would think they were attempting to commit fraud. This became especially apparent when users were asked to enter their "last name" (apellido in Spanish) into the system. Many Latinos in the U.S. actually have two last names, so this generated not just confusion, but fear, in users.

This illustrates how a word-for-word translation can miss the mark and demonstrates the need for culturally sensitive usability tests. These findings greatly helped the SSA improve their Spanish offerings and ensure that all users are comfortable using SSA systems.

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