Gestalt is a philosophical theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a very useful tool for thinking about objects and systems around you from the smallest interpersonal connection to the largest logistical system. It’s also a great way to view website accessibility testing. After all a website as a whole entity is much more than the sum of its code, hardware and software.
Prioritizing website accessibility
For a lot of you out there, website accessibility is still a very gray area. You know that you’re supposed to do it. You know that WCAG Level AA is the ‘way’ to do it. You may have even begun to grasp some of the concepts around it like making navigation work for people who cannot use a mouse or providing an easy way to get to the content for someone using a screen reader. But retrofitting an existing website to conform with website accessibility best practices is another thing altogether.
The first step is usually getting a list of where you have failed so far. There are a number of companies and tools out there that can generate that list and be reasonably sure they caught most instances. They can even recommend how to fix the issues. But this fails to deliver a working site on two very fundamental levels:
- Accessibility has always cared more about functionality than making sure every single ALT is descriptive. The point is usability, not crossing every ‘error’ off a list.
- This does nothing to make sure your site actually works for a person with disabilities! It may pass an automated test that a lawyer ran, but it doesn’t address the original reason for the test.
Fixing website accessibility issues
Having a list of website accessibility failures is a great jumping off point, but just handing a list to a website owner and saying ‘fix these’ won’t get you compliant any more than all the parts of a car gets you something you can drive. They have to be put together in a meaningful way. This is gestalt. The whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. So how do we ensure that?
- Create test user interaction cases: Create Test cases that target the most common and valuable features on your site. Are you a financial institution? Have test cases for Logging in, searching for ‘Student Checking’ and finding a location, to name a few. If you are a shoe store, test the product search feature and try purchasing multiple items. Create the cases that reflect the most common and critical uses.
- Test using the right tools: Using the tools the way they were intended. Now that you have those use cases, can you complete them all using only a keyboard? Great. How about only a screen reader? Or how about when you’ve increased the text size to 200%?
The whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. And that is where physical testing of the use cases comes in. Because if you can turn off your monitor and use only the keyboard and a screen-reader to successfully log in, or search for terms, contact the company and reach content quickly, you know you’ve built something usable to users with disabilities. It’s the safest way to know you’ve built it correctly.