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Accessibility vs. Accommodation

Accessibility and accommodation are related concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

Accessibility refers to the design of products, environments, and services that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It means that everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, can access and use a product or service in a way that is equal to others. Accessibility often involves removing barriers and providing alternative solutions that make it possible for everyone to participate.

Accommodation, on the other hand, is the process of making specific changes or adjustments to a product, environment, or service to meet the needs of an individual or group of individuals with disabilities. Accommodation is often provided in response to a specific request or need and is designed to provide equal access to an activity or service. Accommodation may involve providing additional resources, tools, or services that are specific to the individual's needs.

In essence, accessibility is about designing for inclusivity and creating environments that are accessible to everyone, while accommodation is about making specific changes or adjustments to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Accessibility is the baseline of equal service, and accommodation is the second step to take when accessibility alone isn't enough. (Pulrang, 2013)


Accessibility is what we should expect to be ready for us without asking or planning ahead. It can be provided by following an easy to implement set of standards and practices that make "adaptation" unnecessary. We can benefit from accessibility without announcing or explaining our disabilities.

Accessibility guidelines provide the basic or foundational level of access to our campus within our community. There are a variety of accessibility guidelines that shape what we do on our campus. Including:

  • Width of doorways
  • Elevators and ramps
  • Curb cutouts
  • Housing arrangements
  • Digital content

Accessibility guidelines are what we all should strive to consider and incorporate in all the content we create and share within our community


Accommodation is for adaptations that can't be anticipated or standardized. They are different for each individual. Although we should expect there to be a general willingness to accommodate us wherever we go, we can't expect actual, specific accommodations unless and until we ask for them. We do have to announce, and may have to explain our disabilities a bit in order to get accommodations.

Accommodations are different than accessibility in that they are specific and individualized for one community member. Accommodations are in place to support individuals when general accessibility principles are not sufficient. Examples include:

  • Note-taking assistance
  • Recording devices to capture lectures
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Alternative format materials
  • Modified assignments and tests

Essentially, accommodations are something an individual requests through a specific process. If accommodations are warranted, then the appropriate department or individual on campus will provide a record of the approved accommodations through an official university communication.

Lynn Niemi

Have Questions?

Do you have a question about making following accessibility guidelines or offering an accommodation? People like Lynn Niemi, Director of Student Accessibility Services and Accessibility Committee Co-Chair can help!

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