Most knowledge of accessibility stems from the ADA. I have written before about the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was pivotal legislation in 1990, but is not a complete solution. ADA primarily (I am not a lawyer) focuses on architectural access for public buildings and rights for accommodations for employment. In my opinion, it is the minimum and is focused more on barriers for those with physical disabilities instead of universal design features that also benefit people with intellectual disabilities. Bathrooms that can be used by someone in a wheelchair and close parking access are important, but these just scratch the surface of accessibility.
I read an article recently about accessible campuses in Ontario, Canada. While it was specific to campuses, it did define other elements of barriers to accessibility that provided, for me, some clarity in better defining accessibility by itemizing barriers. These were:
- Architectural or physical barriers
These are the obvious regarding elevators, ramps, and sidewalks. I would encourage us to also add to this list, adjustable lighting to help those with low vision or sensory sensitivities. Doorknobs, hard to reach equipment, switches that are too high or too low, heavy doors, and narrow hallways are all physical barriers.
- Information or communications barriers
Any communication you provide to employees, guests, customers, potential customers, really anyone, may be a barrier. Individuals are increasingly using screen readers. Not all fonts can be read easily. Pictures, charts, and spreadsheets need to be described and/or summarized. Print that is too small in a brochure or handout is not accessible to “those of a certain age.” Using high contrast, larger, simple fonts, and basic vocabulary (think fifth grade reading level) will be accessible to more. Videos can be beneficial but don’t forget the captioning.
- Technological barriers
Websites weren’t as abundant in 1990 as they are now. These front doors to your organization also have standards that must be met. If all communication happens only online, you are not accessible. Phone calls and even in-person (especially as it impacts employment applications) must also be options. Basic smartphones and computers can meet many needs, but expensive assistive devices are not available to everyone.
- Attitudinal barriers
How do we tackle the barrier that is rooted in a lack of understanding, knowledge, or a true misconception? There is no easy assessment for these attitudinal barriers, but they are easily spotted. The person who ignores the individual in the wheelchair or the person with an intellectual disability and instead addresses the person accompanying them. Those who speak louder and slower to a disabled person, assuming they will not understand them. I have witnessed those who make no attempts at accommodations, assuming that the disabled are inferior. When I see these, I try not to judge but instead model the desired behavior. Attitudes, when met with additional information and suggestions, can change.
- Organizational or systemic barriers
These, while somewhat similar to attitudinal, can be pervasive within an organization. These may imply that disability is an afterthought and not represented in their image. Policies are written in a fashion assuming all have access to email, in-person meetings, and face-face communication. Long standing policies and procedures may not have been reviewed for years to be modified to consider barriers to accessibility.
AWS Foundation is your partner in assisting you with evaluating accessibility. Please read Joni Schmalzried’s article in this newsletter and consider completing an accessibility self-assessment of your organization.
If you want an ADA accessibility assessment, they are provided by:
The League 260-441-0551