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). Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities commits signatories to provide for full accessibility in their countries.
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 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, 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.
Various countries have legislation requiring physical accessibility which are (in order of enactment):
- In the US, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, new public and private business construction generally must be accessible. Existing private businesses are required to increase the accessibility of their facilities when making any other renovations in proportion to the cost of the other renovations. The United States Access Board is "A Federal Agency Committed to Accessible Design for People with Disabilities." The Job Accommodation Network discusses accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace. Many states in the US have their own disability laws.
- In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
- In South Africa the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 2000 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
- In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 has numerous provisions for accessibility.
- In Sri Lanka, the Supreme Court, on 27 April 2011 gave a landmark order to boost the inherent right of disabled persons to have unhindered access to public buildings and facilities.
- In Norway, the Discrimination and Accessibility Act Diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven defines lack of accessibility as discrimination and obliges public authorities to implement universal design in their areas. The Act refers to issue-specific legislation regarding accessibility in e.g. ICT, the built environment, transport and education.
- In Canada, relevant federal legislation includes the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Canadian Labour Code.
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..."
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:
- 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. 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".