Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to be used by all intended audiences. According to the Government of Ontario, there are five identified barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities. These barriers are attitudinal, organizational or systemic, architectural or physical, information or communications, and technology.
As an educator, you have a responsibility to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Requests for accommodation are made on an individual basis by students through the Office for Students with Disabilities and require medical and/or formal documentation.
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you also have a responsibility to learn about accessibility for persons with disabilities and how it relates to the development and delivery of accessible programs and courses. To create an accessible learning environment, educators must be aware of the barriers that affect student learning and educational opportunities, and they must proactively remove the barriers that are within their control.
Attitudinal barriers are behaviours, perceptions and assumptions that discriminate against persons with disabilities. These barriers often emerge from a lack of understanding, which can lead people to ignore, to judge, or have misconceptions about a person with a disability.
Examples of attitudinal barriers include:
As an educator, you can help remove attitudinal barriers in a number of ways:
Organizational or systemic barriers are policies, procedures or practices that unfairly discriminate and can prevent individuals from participating fully in a situation. Organizational or systemic barriers are often put into place unintentionally.
Examples of organizational or systemic barriers include:
As an educator, you can help to remove organizational or systemic barriers in a number of ways:
Architectural or physical barriers are elements of buildings or outdoor spaces that create barriers to persons with disabilities. These barriers relate to elements such as the design of a building’s stairs or doorways, the layout of rooms, or the width of halls and sidewalks.
Examples of architectural or physical barriers include:
As an educator, you may not have the ability to make adjustments to the physical environment of your classroom. The best solutions may be outside your scope of responsibility – they may have significant costs to the institution and may need to be phased in over time through building yrenovations or the purchase of new furniture or equipment. Despite these challenges, however, you may be able to participate in intermediary solutions that can help overcome physical barriers. Some examples could include:
Information or communications barriers occur when sensory disabilities, such as hearing, seeing or learning disabilities, have not been considered. These barriers relate to both the sending and receiving of information.
Examples of information or communications barriers include:
As an educator, you have a significant amount of autonomy in selecting, creating and distributing your course materials. When possible, make your course materials available in multiple formats, and make each format accessible to the greatest number of students. Some examples could include:
Technological barriers occur when a device or technological platform is not accessible to its intended audience and cannot be used with an assistive device. Technology can enhance the user experience, but it can also create unintentional barriers for some users. Technological barriers are often related to information and communications barriers.
Examples of technological barriers include:
As an educator, you have a significant amount of autonomy in deciding if and how you use technology in your courses. There are a number of ways you can help remove technological barriers:
Consider working with a curriculum developer or education specialist at your university in the faculty development office or teaching and learning centre, or with staff in the Office for Students with Disabilities to learn how to make your courses more accessible. Learn from your peers and discuss what works well.