Accessibility in the sense considered here refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities.[1] The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology[2] (for example, computer screen readers).

Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and benefit from some system or entity. The concept focuses on enabling access for people with disabilities, or special needs, or enabling access through the use of assistive technology; however, research and development in accessibility brings benefits to everyone.[3][4][5][6][7]

Accessibility is not to be confused with usability, which is the extent to which a product (such as a device, service, or environment) can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

Accessibility is strongly related to universal design which is the process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations.[8] This is about making things accessible to all people (whether they have a disability or not).

a woman with a baby carriage uses a platform lift to access a station above street level
Universal access is provided in Curitiba's public transport system, Brazil.


The disability rights movement advocates equal access to social, political, and economic life which includes not only physical access but access to the same tools, services, organizations and facilities for which everyone pays (e.g., museums[9]). Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities commits signatories to provide for full accessibility in their countries.[10]

While it is often used to describe facilities or amenities to assist people with handicap impaired mobility, through the provision of facilities like wheelchair ramps, the term can extend include other types of disability. Accessible facilities[11] therefore extend to areas such as Braille signage, elevators, audio signals at pedestrian crossings, walkway contours, website design and reading accessibility.

Government mandates including Section 508, WCAG,[12] DDA are all enforcing practices to standardize accessibility testing engineering in product development.

Accessibility modifications may be required to enable persons with disabilities to gain access to education, employment, transportation, housing, recreation, or even simply to exercise their right to vote.

National legislation

Various countries have legislation requiring physical accessibility which are (in order of enactment):

Legislation may also be enacted on a state, provincial or local level. In Ontario, Canada, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2001 is meant to "improve the identification, removal and prevention of barriers faced by persons with disabilities[22]..."

The European Union (EU), which has signed the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, also has adopted a European Disability Strategy for 2010-20. The Strategy includes the following goals, among others:[23]

  • devising policies for inclusive, high-quality education;
  • ensuring the European Platform Against Poverty includes a special focus on people with disabilities (the forum brings together experts who share best practices and experience);
  • working towards the recognition of disability cards throughout the EU to ensure equal treatment when working, living or travelling in the bloc
  • developing accessibility standards for voting premises and campaign material;
  • taking the rights of people with disabilities into account in external development programmes and for EU candidate countries.

A European Accessibility Act was proposed in late 2012.[24] This Act would establish standards within member countries for accessible products, services, and public buildings. The harmonization of accessibility standards within the EU "would facilitate the social integration of persons with disabilities and the elderly and their mobility across member states, thereby also fostering the free movement principle".[25]