Definition: Defining the Meaning of Accessibility
Refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). 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. This is about making things accessible to all people (whether they have a disability or not).
Accessibility can be defined as the "ability to access" the functionality, and possible benefit, of some system or entity and is used to describe the degree to which a product such as a device, service, environment is accessible by as many people as possible.
Accessibility is often used to focus on people with disabilities and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology. Several definitions of accessibility refer directly to access-based individual rights laws and regulations. Products or services designed to meet these regulations are often termed Easy Access or Accessible.
While accessibility is often used to describe facilities or amenities to assist people with disabilities, as in "wheelchair accessible", the term can extend to Braille signage, wheelchair ramps, elevators, audio signals at pedestrian crossings, walkway contours, website design, and so on.
Another dimension of accessibility is the ability to access information and services by minimizing the barriers of distance and cost as well as the usability of the interface. In many countries this has led to initiatives, laws and regulations that aim toward providing universal access to the internet and to phone systems at reasonable cost to citizens.
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 which we all pay for.
Disability Management (DM) is a specialized area of human resources, to support efforts by employers to better integrate and retain workers with disabilities. Some workplaces have policies in place to provide "reasonable accommodation" for employees with disabilities, however, many do not. In some jurisdictions, employers may have legal requirements to end discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Different countries currently have legislation requiring physical accessibility:
In the US, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, new public and private business construction generally must be accessible. Existing private businesses are required to increase the accessibility of their facilities when making any other renovations in proportion to the cost of the other renovations. The U.S. Access Board is "A Federal Agency Committed to Accessible Design for People with Disabilities." Many states in the US have their own disability laws.
In South Africa The Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 2000 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
In Ontario, Canada, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2001 is meant to "improve the identification, removal and prevention of barriers faced by persons with disabilities."
In Australia the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
In the UK the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
In the United Kingdom, the Department for Transport have mandated that each local authority produce an Accessibility Plan that is incorporated in their Local Transport Plan.
An Accessibility Plan sets out how each local authority plans to improve access to employment, learning, health care, food shops and other services of local importance, particularly for disadvantaged groups and areas.
Quick Facts: Urban Design Accessibility
Accessibility modifications to conventional urban environments has become common in recent decades. The use of a curb cut, or kassel kerb, to enable wheelchair or walker movement between sidewalk and street level is found in most major cities of wealthy countries. The creation of priority parking spaces and of disabled parking permits has made them a standard feature of urban environments. Features that assist people with visual impairments include braille signs and tactile paving to allow a user with a cane to easily identify stairways, train platforms, and similar areas that could pose a physical danger to anyone who has a visual impairment.
See our feature:
Disability Accessibility Guide for Towns - Americans with Disabilities Act - (2011-03-12)