Accessibility, as it relates to my disability access consulting work, refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities.
The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).
Accessibility can be viewed as the “ability to access” and benefit from some system or entity.
The concept focuses on enabling access for people with disabilities, or special needs, or enabling access through the use of assistive technology; however, research and development in accessibility brings benefits to everyone.
Accessibility is not to be confused with usability, which is the extent to which a product (such as a device, service, or environment) can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Accessibility is strongly related to universal design which is the process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations.
The disability rights movement advocates equal access to social, political, and economic life which includes not only physical access but access to the same tools, services, organizations and facilities for which everyone pays.
Examples of acts passed to protect the rights of the dabbled include:
- Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- The Americans With Disabilities Act
While “accessible” is often used to describe facilities or amenities to assist people with handicap impaired mobility through the provision of facilities like wheelchair ramps, the term can extend to include other types of disability.
Accessible facilities, therefore, extend to measures such as Braille signage, elevators, audio signals at pedestrian crossings, walkway contours, website design and reading accessibility.
Accessibility modifications may be required to enable persons with disabilities to gain access to:
Assistive technology and adaptive technology
Assistive technology is the creation of a new device that assists a person in completing a task that would otherwise be impossible.
Some examples include:
- screen readers
- hearing aids
- traffic lights with a standard color code that enables colorblind individuals to understand the correct signal
Adaptive technology is the modification, or adaptation, of existing devices, methods, or the creation of new uses for existing devices, to enable a person to complete a task.
- the use of remote controls for various devices
- the autocomplete feature in computer word processing programs and mobile devices
- adaptations to wheelchair tires, like widening the tires which enables users to move over otherwise-challenging surfaces (eg, snow or sand)
Assistive technology and adaptive technology have a key role in developing the means for people with disabilities to live more independently, and to more fully participate in mainstream society.
Disability & Employment
Accessibility of employment covers a wide range of issues, from:
- skills training
- occupational therapy
- finding employment
- retaining employment
Employment rates for workers with disabilities are lower than for the general workforce.
One of the biggest challenges for employers is in developing policies and practises to manage employees who develop disabilities during the course of employment. Even where these exist, they tend to focus on workplace injuries, overlooking job retention challenges faced by employees who acquire a non-occupation injury or illness.
Protecting employability is a factor that can help close the unemployment gap for persons with disabilities. If your business needs a disability access audit, contact me for consulting and advice.
Some considerations employers should make include:
- Wheelchair accessible transportation
- Reserved parking
- Barrier-free meeting rooms, restrooms, podiums, offices, etc.
- ADA-Compliant Ramp Access to businesses and public places
- Accessible lodging
- Advance copies of papers
- An assistive listening system
- Sign language interpreters
- Large print/braille copies of the program and papers
- A tech to help with assistive devices and screen readers
- Gloves to touch three dimensional work (where permissible)
Planning for accessibility
Accessibility-based planning is a spatial planning methodology that centralizes goals of people and businesses and defines accessibility policy as enhancing people and business opportunities.
Accessibility planning defines accessibility as the amount of services and jobs people can access within a certain travel time, considering one or more modes of transport such as walking, cycling, driving or public transport. Accessibility is also defined as “the potential for interaction”.