Introduction to Accessibility

Understanding Accessibility

To understand accessibility, you must first understand disability. Meriamm-Webster defines disability as, “a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.”  It is important to understand that disability results from a disconnect between individuals’ physical or cognitive characteristics and the environment. Individuals who are blind, deaf or use a wheelchair often come to mind when talking about disability but disconnects occur more frequently in these situations because we often design our content, businesses, policies, and world without taking these differences into account.

Consider these situations:

  • Someone who is 6 ft 5 has to use a shower designed for 5 ft people.
  • A shorter individual needs to reach objects located on high shelves with no stepping stool.
  • Someone who requires glasses tries to play a sport that requires glasses be removed.
  • An individual who is sensitive to chemicals has to use the restroom but all of them have scented air fresheners installed.
  • Someone with a high school education has to read a legal document.

While they do not fit our immediate perception of disabilities, in each of the situations the individual is unable to complete a task due to some physical attribute. The disconnects between the person’s capabilities and the task or environment have become barriers to success. Accessibility involves recognizing our differences and then removing physical, technical and social barriers so that as many people as possible can succeed.

The resource guide below presents links to high quality information to help you learn more about accessibility. If you would like to recommend additional resources, please email them to

Additional resource guides on specific areas are also available.

Overviews of Accessibility

Accessibility applies to the built environment, technology, and policies/practices.  Below are introductions and standards to each area.

Built Environment

2010 ADA Standards and ADA Checklist

The ADA standards sets requirements for the built environment in the United States.  The ADA checklist provides a checklist for use to self assess your status.


Principles from Gallaudet University on creating spaces that facilitate deaf communication.

IDEA Goals of Universal Design

The broader area of designing for performance and supporting as diverse a population as possible is referred to as Universal Design.  The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access provides an overview of this area as well as links to additional resources.

Also run by the IDEA center, provides news, information, and additional resources relating to Universal Design.


W3C Web Accessibility Initiative

The World Wide Web Consortium’s standards for web accessibility serve as the guidelines for most countries and are often adapted to apply to more technology than just web pages and applications. The WAI initiative page includes a number of resources for understanding how disability can effect the use of the web as well information on making web content accessible.

Section 508

While Section 508 only applies to the government and some who work with them, their resources and guidance are useful for everyone.


ADA: A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People With Disabilities

Accessibility of Remote Meetings (Draft)

Writing About Disability

This section provides references to help you speak with and speak or write about people with disabilities.

ADA National Network: Guidelines for Writing about People with Disabilities

This page provides guidance on “portraying individuals with disabilities in a respectful and balanced way by using language that is accurate, neutral and objective.”

While the content is intended for use writing government publications, this reference will help anyone who wants to write for a wide audience, including individuals with varied education levels or cognitive impairments.