If you can’t get to it, then you can’t use it.
If I can’t get to a classroom, I’m going to miss the discussion, the lecture, lose the ability to ask questions, and my learning is very definitely impacted. We make our physical spaces accessible by following design standards that are planned to accommodate all of the bodies and abilities we can imagine in all of the ways we can think of. Physical space design standards are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and illustrated in very specific ways here. Anything that impacts a person’s movements, from the size of a doorway to the lack of a ramp or elevator, literally prevents their access to learning.
A learner's ability to access a learning space and use the resources in it is the most basic definition of accessibility in learning. That applies whether we're talking brick and mortar buildings or online learning spaces. Our goal as instructors is to communicate the same information to all of our learners, give them space to process it and apply that knowledge through projects, teaching or other learning assignments.
There are a lot of issues that can come up when it comes to access some that will impact different audiences based on their abilities. Are you doing a live video session? Do live video sessions have captions or a transcript? Are colors used to communicate status information that a colorblind user might miss out on? There is a lot to think about but don’t let it be overwhelming. Access issues are solvable, and we have the technology and capacity to do it. And the best part is, better access is beneficial to everyone. That transcript of a video can be reformatted as a QuickStart instruction guide. A text description in place of a color-changing icon means that both a colorblind user and a low vision or blind screen reader user gets detail they would have otherwise missed.
The article below is based on my experience with implementing software based on accessibility standards in the U.S. If I have misspoken or been insensitive in my language, my deepest apologies. And I thank you in advance if you choose to comment below or use the Contact page to send me corrections or feedback.
What is equal access?
Everyone needs to be able to access public spaces, transit, businesses, non-profits, and government services. The goods, services, and programs provided need to be just as available and accessible to a person with disabilities as a person without disabilities. For example, both disabled and abled people need to be able to go to a physical school building. That building should include wheelchair ramps, an elevator, and accessible bathrooms. If you don't see those things, notice who is missing from that building, and those classrooms. And we're not talking about just the students, but also the teachers, staff, and parents. If accessible entries and basic self-care needs can't be met, then the learning space has a problem defined as a lack of access.
The need to make spaces accessible and the requirements for doing so will differ based on where you are. In the US, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that you can learn about here: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/ada The hope is that businesses will make their products, services, and spaces accessible to any potential employee or customer, and that if a lack of access is pointed out, the business will voluntarily fix the issue. But in many cases, those accessibility requests aren’t fulfilled for a variety of reasons - it’s deemed too expensive, it only affects a small percentage of the population, it’s not taken seriously. When a lack of access occurs and no attempt is made to fix it, it may need to be reported to the Department of Justice who then investigates and may bring on an attorney to manage settling the situation - the goal being that the business fixes the issues(s).
Access benefits everyone, from the parent pushing a stroller who is able to use the wheelchair ramp at a street corner to the employee who now has an accessible restroom on the floor of their building because of a customer request. But access in physical spaces is just the beginning of the picture.