:: My argument is essentially this: accommodation is not accessibility, and it is not nearly as good.

Image Alt-Text: A photograph of a large brown moth on a large green leaf. The moth’s wing has seven large dots on it that look like eyes. This moth, like many people with disabilities, is a master of disguise.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the difference between the paradigms of accommodation of disabilities and accessibility for disabilities. My argument was essentially this: accommodation is not accessibility, and it is not nearly as good.

Here’s why.

“Accommodation” shifts the burden to the person with disabilities. Accommodation requires a person with a disability to interact with a gatekeeper, to ask for something extra, and often to prove that she deserves accommodation in the first place—that she is “disabled enough.”

Furthermore, many disabilities, both physical, psychiatric, and mental, are invisible. And some people with disabilities are really good at passing as able-bodied. We do so for our own reasons—reasons we don’t need to, and shouldn’t have to, explain to anyone.

But the accommodations model requires us to disclose our disabilities, it requires us to explain, to give up secrets we might not want to share. The accommodations model depends on invasions of privacy to work.

Accessibility, alternatively, means that a space is always, 100% of the time, welcoming to people with disabilities. Accessibility means that “accommodations” are integrated into a space and are not particularized to an individual—but rather created for our society as a whole. We, as a society, are people with disabilities. Therefore we, as a society, build spaces and procedures for people with disabilities.

It really is that simple.

Except it isn’t. It isn’t that simple because big, slow-moving structures such as federal government entities, state government entities, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (yes I just did that) insist (incorrectly) that moving from an accommodation model to an accessibility model would be too expensive. So they put the burden on individuals with disabilities—the burden of cost, the burden of proof, the burden of just about everything that they, as the large, powerful entities, should be doing instead.


There is one large entity that I’ve been a part of for years that tends to get the accessibility thing right. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has an annual conference nearly as large as AWP’s. We meet in a large city (this year it’s Houston), one that is often unfamiliar to most attendees.

CCCC (pronounced “4-Cs”) could run a clinic on how to make a conference accessible. Things aren’t perfect, of course, in part because accessibility depends a lot on the attendees themselves. (I’ll address that issue in Part 3 of this blog post series, tomorrow.)

But for now, as an example, take a look a the accessibility guide the local committee put together. Here’s the link to the PDF, which is located on the main conference webpage—not buried on some “disability accommodations” page. Note: This document is incredible.

No attendee has to ask how to get from the airport. It’s in there. No one ask to ask what the accessible rooms, breezeways, or carpets are like. The creators of this document photographed them and described them in detail. This is amazing.

This is what accessibility looks like.

I really hate that I’m amazed by this document. Except that I am amazed because I so rarely encounter stuff  like this unless I’m attending a disability studies conference where, you know, they super know how to get it right.

Tomorrow, in Part 3 of this blog series, I’ll write about how I create accessible presentations, why I always do so, and why you should, too.


Read this article now in DISABILITY ACTS Magazine: disabilityacts.com.


(c) 2017

If you enjoyed this piece, you will enjoy my book, LIFE OF THE MIND INTERRUPTED: ESSAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, available at lifeofthemindinterrupted.com. Buying my books is a great way to support the online writing that I do for free.

Thank you.


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