accessibility feature image showing a computer keyboard

Accessibility: Definition, Meaning, Examples and Types of Barriers

Accessibility, perhaps, is the most frequently used word in debates and discussions related to disability. We too have used the word ‘accessibility’ repeatedly in lots of our write-ups on WeCapable. You also must have come across this word hundreds and thousands of times. But, do you holistically understand the meaning of accessibility? In this article, we will explain every aspect of what is accessibility.

Meaning of Accessibility

Let us start with the very basic – the dictionary meaning of the word ‘accessibility’.

A quick dictionaries check tells us that the accessibility is

  • the quality of being able to be reached or entered
  • the quality of being easy to obtain or use, and
  • the quality of being easily understood or appreciated

By closely looking at these meanings or definitions, we observe that ‘ease’ is the key component of accessibility.

  • Place that can be ‘easily’ entered or reached is considered to be ‘accessible’
  • Thing that can be ‘easily’ obtained is ‘accessible’
  • Thing that can be ‘easily’ used is deemed ‘accessible’
  • Concept that can be ‘easily’ understood is also ‘accessible’

Meaning of Accessibility in the Context of Disability Rights

No talk of disability rights can complete without ‘accessibility’. We can understand accessibility in the context of disability by observing the literal meaning of the word too.

  • A place that can be easily entered or reached by persons with disabilities despite their disability, is accessible. For example, a universally designed building.
  • A thing that can be easily obtained by persons with disabilities despite their disability is accessible. For example, accessible shopping systems for the blind.
  • A thing that can be easily used by persons with disabilities is accessible. For example, an accessible website.

The above explanation was just to make things easier for you to understand. Let us now see what is the widely used and accepted definition of accessibility in the context of disability rights.

Accessibility means persons with disabilities are provided with equal opportunity to acquire the same information, visit the same places, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as persons without such disabilities.

Why is Accessibility Such an Important Issue?

Accessibility is a prerequisite for inclusion and full realization of human rights for persons with disabilities. Without accessibility there is no inclusion; and exclusion in itself is a violation of human rights. If we go by the theories of the social model of disability, inaccessibility is the cause of a person’s disability, not their impairment.

Accessibility ensures that persons with disabilities get their well-deserved right to have full access and to fully participate in social, cultural, economic, political, and civil life, on an equal level with persons without a disability.

Accessibility (or Lack Thereof) in the Real World

Unlike what many people think, accessibility is not limited to making a building wheelchair accessible or accommodating visually impaired person’s needs on a website or a video song that deaf may also understand. It is a very narrow approach to see accessibility. In its true sense, accessibility includes both the physical and virtual environment of a person as well as rules, practices, and attitude of people affecting their life. An accessible website is as important as an accessible public building. An accessible e-commerce site is equally important as an accessible physical store. A non-discriminatory work environment is as important as the accessible entrance to the workspace.

accessibility feature image showing a computer keyboard

Before we understand accessibility in a broader sense, we need to understand various categories of barriers that put hindrances in a disabled person’s life. Removing these hindrances is the first step in creating accessibility.

  1. Institutional Barriers – Laws, legislation, policies, practices, or processes that either prohibits a person with a disability or fail to accommodate them. This may include laws that prohibit a person with a disability get a job or lack of law to prohibit discrimination in employing a person with a disability.
  2. Physical Barriers – Barriers in the physical environment of a person that hinders their independent access to a place. This may include inaccessible buildings, roads, transportation, etc.
  3. Informational Barriers – Sharing of information in such a manner and form that it prohibits persons with certain disabilities to access the information. This may include an inaccessible website for visually impaired persons. Or, non-availability of books and reading materials in Braille.
  4. Communication Barriers – Barriers that prohibit or make it difficult for persons with disabilities to fully participate in the society. This may include the non-availability of a sign-language interpreter for a deaf person or the non-availability of a scribe for a blind or deaf-blind person.
  5. Attitudinal Barriers – General negative attitude of people towards disability or lack of awareness about disability and disability rights among the general population of society. This includes discrimination towards persons with disabilities done on day to day basis.
  6. Cultural Barriers – Cultural practices that prohibit persons with disabilities to fully participate in community life. This may include conservative practices like prohibiting persons with certain kinds of disabilities from attending auspicious ceremonies.
  7. Internalized Barriers – This is quite different from all the above-mentioned barriers. This may be understood as a consequence of all other barriers. When a person with a disability regularly faces discrimination and other barriers, she may eventually stop expressing her opinion or claiming her rights. This is called the internalized barrier.

Removing Hindrances and Providing Accessibility

Now, that we have seen the broader categories of barriers faced by persons with disabilities, we can talk about removing them and thereby enhancing accessibility.

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1. Institutional Barriers

The first step in removing institutional barriers is amending the laws to provide equal rights to persons with disabilities. United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, drafted in 2006 was officially the first international effort to do so. Many countries have since adopted laws that provide equal rights to persons with disabilities in their respective countries.

Not only the legislative body of a country but every institution, big or small, should try and remove their respective institutional barriers for persons with disabilities. Schools, for example, should have policies for providing equal opportunities to disabled students as well.

2. Physical Barriers

Concepts like universal design have been developed for removing physical barriers. When we talk about physical barriers we tend not to look beyond an accessible entrance to the public building or the availability of a ramp. But physical barriers have much more scope than that. Tiling pattern, color, placement of objects all form part of the physical environment. Let’s take a small example of the positioning of a mirror in a public restroom. If the height of the mirror is such that a person in a wheelchair cannot see herself in the mirror… this is a physical barrier. If the color contrast between wall and floor is not visible enough for a low vision person to save herself from bumping into the wall… this is a physical barrier. We need to remove all physical barriers to make a place accessible.

Similarly, roads and public transports too need to be free from physical barriers. There are several national and international standards to make things free from physical barriers or better say accessible.

3. Informational Barriers

One of the best places to start with is websites, applications, and other such digital platforms. These platforms need to provide color changing options and font size-changing options for persons with visual impairments. Providing a clear description of images in the alt text is also a way of providing accessibility to images on a digital platform. These digital platforms need to be designed in such a way that they can be accessed through any screen reading software. Providing a text-to-speech option on the website is also a good way of removing informational barriers on digital platforms. You can find these accessibility features on WeCapable too. Blind students need to be given access to reading materials in Braille or audio formats.

4. Communication Barriers

Information barrier and communication barrier may sometimes feel to be overlapping. So, it is important to understand the difference. Information is a one-way thing. If you are not providing information in such a way that everybody regardless of their disability can access the information, you are creating an information barrier. On the other hand, communication is a two-way approach. If you are providing barrier-free information but fail to give equal chance to persons with disabilities to express their views or interact then you are creating a communication barrier.

If blind students are provided with reading materials in braille but are not given a scribe or the permission to use braille input devices to take an examination, they are facing a communication barrier. By removing communication barriers we can ensure equal participation from persons with disabilities.

5. Attitudinal Barriers

A major chunk of attitudinal barriers can be removed by spreading awareness about disability, related myths, and disability rights. When people are well-informed they are less likely to hold a negative attitude towards a fellow disabled person around them. WeCapable is doing its part in removing attitudinal barriers by sharing the right information. You too can do your part by sharing our articles and discussing the right information about disability and disability rights with others, especially with less-informed people.

6. Cultural Barriers

Culture is a geography-specific thing. So, the frequency and intensity of cultural barriers for persons with a disability vary from place to place. Moreover, culture tends to modify with changing attitude of people related to that culture. So, the removal of attitudinal barriers will slowly but surely trickle down to remove the cultural barrier and provide cultural accessibility to persons with disabilities. Every wrong cultural practice needs to be challenged and this can be done only by people with the right attitude.

Needless to say, removing these barriers will automatically remove internalized barriers among persons with disabilities. Let’s do our bit to remove these barriers and provide accessibility to all in every form. Accessibility is the foundation of human rights for persons with disabilities.

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"Accessibility: Definition, Meaning, Examples and Types of Barriers." Wecapable.com. Web. October 28, 2021. <https://wecapable.com/accessibility-definition-meaning-examples-barriers/>

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