Accessibility vs. Accommodation


Eliminating barriers for an individual upon request (accommodation) is good and important. Better is creating an inclusive environment for all (accessibility).

"Accessibility" is often presented as added steps you need to take so people with disabilities can access information using adaptive or assistive technologies. But on this website, we think of "accessibility" in a broader way. We want to help you make University of Minnesota digital experiences and materials available to as many people as possible, now and in the future.

Accessibility as a Continuum

It may be helpful to think about accessibility as a continuum:

  • Inaccessible experiences and materials exclude people. See Impact on People with Disabilities for details.
  • Accommodations are modifications or adjustments made for an individual with a disability on an as-needed basis. They give access to whoever is there at the moment, and often require extra work.
  • Accessible digital experiences and materials provide equal access for everyone without extra work. 
graphic of different-sized people watching a soccer game over a fence; one is too short to see; then two have boxes to stand on and all can see; then wood fence is replaced with a wire one and all can see

Accessibility Is Proactive

To understand the difference between making something accessible or providing accommodations, imagine that you are an instructor or content creator and a student, website user, or event attendee with a hearing impairment requests closed captioning in order to access your video or lecture recording. 

You can get help providing accommodations such as these from your campus Disability Resource Center or an outside organization, but this can be time consuming and/or expensive. Transcribing and captioning, for example, can take two weeks or more.

In addition, providing such accommodations on demand creates delays for the student or user, and additional and unexpected work for you, the content creator.

Instead, include accessibility tasks as a regular part of your course, event, or communications development processes so you can:

  • Prevent delays for users and additional work for you
  • Provide additional benefits to all users of your content, such as English language learners or people who watch your videos in loud or distracting environments
  • Support accommodations more quickly, cheaply, and effectively in the future

Get started by learning the seven core and other digital accessibility skills we introduce on this website.