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What is accessibility?

Accessibility is about ensuring that places, products, and services are designed or modified so that everyone, including people with disabilities, can use them. Look around, and you’ll spot examples of accessibility in action: ramps for wheelchairs, subtitles for the hearing impaired, and automatic doors that welcome everyone.

In many parts of the world, like Australia, it’s not just good practice to make public spaces, workplaces, and new buildings accessible—it’s the law. Despite this, accessibility challenges persist, affecting people’s freedom to live, work, and move.

Ever noticed a bus, train, or tram stop that couldn’t be used by someone in a wheelchair or who needs mobility support? Imagine turning up to your new job only to discover that no seat can accommodate you because you’re a wheelchair userthat’s what happened to Australia’s youngest-ever Senator, Jordan Steele-John when he entered the Senate. Learn more about his experience here.

But accessibility isn’t just about physical adjustments. Disabilities are diverse, and so are the needs of those living with them. For individuals with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, navigating educational environments or completing complex forms can be daunting challenges. 

To learn more about what can be done to support people with learning disabilities check out this video:

Accessibility in the Digital World

Accessibility matters in the digital world too. This can mean helping people with disabilities through features like speech-to-text, different font colours and sizes and flexible layouts to scale to different devices.  For more information on digital accessibility check out this video.

Accessibility can come in five main forms to accommodate a range of disabilities. These are:

1. Accessibility for People With Visual Impairments

The World Health Organisation has estimated that 2.2 billion people globally have some form of visual impairment. Accessibility for visual impairments can include:

  • Visual and text aids: For example, using alternative text for images, using high contrast between text and backgrounds, using audio descriptions of videos, and large and clear font.
  • Physical accessibility: This comes in the form of braille signs, tactile maps and audio descriptions. For more information on accommodations for visually impaired people check out this video.
2. Accessibility for People With Hearing Impairments

For people with auditory disabilities, such as hearing loss or deafness both digital and physical accessibility measures can be taken to make environments more accessible.

Digitally, incorporating closed captions and transcripts for audio and visual content ensures that everyone can access information and entertainment. Physically, installing visual alarm cues (like flashing lights), making devices compatible with hearing aids, integrating hearing loops, and providing interpreters are cr

This investigation into a building designed for the education of Deaf people explores the benefits of building a world that is accessible for Deaf people.

3. Accessibility for People With Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments, from muscle slowness to paralysis, affect many. Aids like wheelchairs and crutches help, but everyday barriers remain. Things like stairs, narrow doors, and uneven paths restrict access. Solutions to these issues include ramps, accessible bathrooms, and elevators as these improve the accessibility of physical spaces.

In digital spaces, usability is key. Features like large clickable buttons and voice control enhance accessibility, ensuring technology is user-friendly for everyone.

Addressing these issues promotes inclusivity, ensuring those with mobility impairments can navigate both physical and digital worlds more freely.

4. Accessibility for People With Cognitive Impairments

For people with cognitive impairments, navigating everyday tasks can be challenging due to difficulties with memory, attention, or problem-solving. Fortunately, there are various strategies to accommodate their needs

In digital spaces, using clear, simple language and maintaining consistent website layouts can make online information more accessible. For physical environments, implementing clear signage and creating quiet areas like sensory rooms in bustling places like airports can significantly improve accessibility.

These adjustments are essential in supporting individuals with cognitive impairments, ensuring they can navigate both digital and physical spaces more effectively.

5. Universal Design 

Universal Design is all about making spaces that work for everyone. Think about it: ramps not only help people in wheelchairs but also parents pushing prams or someone with a temporary injury. It’s a win-win!

When we make places accessible, it means anyone and everyone can join in, no matter their needs. It’s about including all of us, celebrating how different we all are, and making sure nobody misses out. A world that’s easy for everyone to get around in? That’s not just good design; it’s smart thinking.

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