Skip to content

A11Y and Accommodations

  • January 6, 2022

Back in December, I posted an article A11Y vs Inclusion that discussed the differences and similarities between accessible and inclusive design practices. Here’s a short review:


Definitions: According to Adobe -

  • Accessible design "includes designing for the varying levels of ability when it comes to the eyesight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, and memory of your audience."
  • Inclusive design is design "that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference."

Accessible and Inclusive design work together by:

  • removing and lowering barriers to make technology more usable by all people
  • learning how people adapt to technology based on their abilities
  • creating digital experiences that related to a diverse audience and the way they interact with the world

But what if that's not enough? What if an individual still encounters a barrier? Enter accommodations.

What is an Accommodation?

An accommodation is an adaptation or temporary fix that is individualized and created specifically for one community member. Accommodations are made to support individuals when accessibility principles have not been applied, for whatever reason. Web-based platforms that are designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind are designed to be usable by as many people as possible, regardless of disability or assistive technology. Accommodations, on the other hand, are reactive, and may not effectively address everyone’s access requirements.

"For example, if an instructor distributes a print document in class, a student who is blind will be unable to read that document. In this case, accommodation would require the instructor to provide an alternative version of the document, such as an electronic text or audio file." ~ Accessibility vs Accommodation

Accommodations put the burden of access on the person with disabilities. Accommodations require people to disclose their disabilities, especially a hidden disability like OCD, Dyslexia, or hearing deficiency. That is oftentimes perceived as an invasion of privacy.

Below is a quote from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding accommodations:

"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if the government entities receive federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.2 One way to help meet these requirements is to ensure that government websites have accessible features for people with disabilities, using the simple steps described in this document. An agency with an inaccessible website may also meet its legal obligations by providing an alternative accessible way for citizens to use the programs or services, such as a staffed telephone information line. These alternatives, however, are unlikely to provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operation and the range of options and programs available."


Three panel drawing . Each panel has 3 people that are 3 different heights trying to watch a baseball game. The first panel is 3 people, standing at a wooden fence, all standing on the same size box. The shortest person still can not see over the wood fence to see the game. Second panel, the tallest person is not standing on a box, the medium-height person is standing on 1 box, and the shortest person is standing on 2 boxes. Everyone can see over the wood fence and see the game. Third panel, the wooden fence is replaced by a chain-link fence and no one is standing on a box. Everyone can see the game.

Anyone involved in accessibility and diversity and inclusion has seen the image above or one similar. In this particular version, the left side panel represents "everyone being treated the same." All three people have a box to stand on, but clearly, not everyone can see the baseball game over the wooden fence.

The image in the middle panel represents accommodation. The people that could not see over the wooden fence have now been provided additional boxes to stand on so they can see the baseball game. 

The last panel, the one on the right, is an example of accessibility. The wooden fence has been removed and replaced with a metal, chain-link fence and all three people, regardless of height, can see and enjoy the baseball game with having to stand on a box.

Why Accessibility (and Inclusivity) are Better Than Accommodations

Although accommodations have a place in helping to provide everyone access to all of your digital communication platforms, accommodations are in no way a substitute for proper accessible and inclusive design. Accommodations should never be the norm.

Unlimited Play, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that helps to plan, design and build fully accessible playgrounds, provides us with 5 great reminders why accessibility and inclusivity are better than accommodations:

  1. Accommodation is reactive. Accessibility is proactive.
  2. Accommodation requires a person with a disability to "out" themselves when they should not have to.
  3. Accommodations are helpful for people who need them, but accessibility benefits everyone.
  4. Accommodations are required. Accessibility compliance is gaining digital momentum.
  5. While accommodations are measured, accessibility comes from the heart.


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
~ friend of DubBot, A11Y practitioner in higher ed