Understanding Barriers to Accessibility

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.

What are the five barriers to accessibility?

Attitudinal

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:

  • Assuming a person with a disability is inferior.
  • Assuming that someone with a speech impairment cannot understand you.
  • Forming ideas about a person because of stereotypes or a lack of knowledge.
  • Making a person feel as though you are doing them a “special favour” by providing their accommodations.
Organizational or systemic

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:

  • A program that requires students to take a full course load.
  • Office hours conducted in person only, or not allowing students to access their professors or administrators by phone, e-mail or other means of communication.
  • Having poorly defined or unclear learning objectives for a course.
  • Requiring students to express their understanding of course content in only one way.
Architectural or physical

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:

  • Sidewalks and doorways that are too narrow for a wheelchair, scooter or walker.
  • Desks that are too high for a person who is using a wheelchair or other mobility device.
  • Poor lighting that makes it difficult to see for a person with low vision or a person who lip-reads.
  • Doorknobs that are difficult to grasp for a person with arthritis.
Information or communications

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:

  • Electronic documents that are not properly formatted and cannot be read by a screen reader.
  • Lectures that are confusing and poorly organized.
  • Language that is not clear.
  • Print that is too small or in a font that is difficult to read.
  • Videos that are not captioned and don’t have transcriptions.
Technology

Technology 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. Technology barriers are often related to information and communications barriers.

Examples of technology barriers include:

  • Electronic documents without accessibility features, such as alternative text (Alt Text), which screen readers read to describe an image.
  • Handouts or course material that is available only in hard copies.
  • Requiring students to use a website that does not meet accessibility standards.
  • Learning Management Systems or course websites that cannot be accessed using screen-reading software.
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