Person with Disability

The information presented within this glossary entry is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

A person with disability, more commonly referred to as a person with a disability, is an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person with a disability may have physical disabilities, vision or hearing impairments, mental health conditions, intellectual and developmental disabilities, chronic medical conditions, or other conditions that affect their daily life.

Some people with disabilities may require accommodations and support to perform daily tasks and live independently. These accommodations should be provided with respect and understanding, as well as an awareness that disability is not a deficiency, but rather a part of society’s diversity.

Proper terminology for people with disabilities

When referring to a person with a disability, one should use respectful language that describes a person's disability without synonymizing the individual with their disability.

It’s best to use person-first language to describe people with disabilities, such as “a person with a disability” instead of “disabled person.” Similarly, “the disability community” is more respectful and inclusive than “the disabled community” or “the disabled.”

Disability categories

People with disabilities are a diverse group, and different people will experience different barriers and require different accommodations. 

A person can be considered to have a disability if they have:

  • Physical disabilities: These disabilities affect a person's physical capacity and/or mobility. They can be temporary or permanent. Examples include mobility impairments, spinal cord injuries, and cerebral palsy
  • Sensory disabilities: These disabilities involve impairments to one or more of the body’s senses, such as sight, hearing, or touch. Examples of such disabilities include blindness, deafness, and color blindness
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities: These disabilities usually occur during a person’s developmental period, and affect cognitive functioning and development, such as difficulty with memory, problem-solving, or adapting to new situations. Examples of such disabilities include Down syndrome and autism
  • Mental health conditions: These conditions involve impairments to emotional and mental well-being that affect daily life. Examples of such disabilities include anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia
  • Chronic medical conditions: These disabilities involve health conditions that can limit a person's ability to fully participate in daily life and function in certain ways. Examples of such disabilities include diabetes, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common disabilities are physical disabilities, or mobility disabilities, which affect 1 in 7 adults in the U.S

Person with disabilities in the eyes of the law

The definition of a disability – and who is considered a person with a disability – differs according to different laws.

The ADA definition of disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as someone who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities
  • Has a history or record of such an impairment
  • Is perceived by others as having such an impairment

The ACA definition of disability

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) defines a disability as any impairment – whether permanent, temporary, or episodic – that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.

The AODA definition of disability

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has a broad definition of disability which is based on the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC).

According to the OHRC, a disability includes:

  • Present and past conditions, as well as a subjective perception of disability
  • Anticipated disabilities for which people may be treated adversely

The EAA definition of disability

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) defines people with disabilities in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

The UN CRPD states that persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments that may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Importance of accessibility awareness in business

In order to participate fully, effectively, and safely in everyday life, people with disabilities need to have equal access to the same spaces, goods, and services as everyone else.

When businesses provide fair and equal access to all customers, including those with disabilities, they can build ‌an inclusive company while increasing resilience and even profits.

Understanding the nuances of accessibility laws also helps businesses mitigate the risk of facing legal recourse in the event that they are found to be in violation of a law.

Accessibility plans for businesses

Businesses’ efforts to become fully accessible to people with disabilities can, at times, require significant investments of time and resources. However, given that accessibility laws are designed to evolve, simply accounting for existing accessibility standards and laws will prevent businesses from drafting the optimal accessibility plan.

The best business accessibility strategy accounts for flexibility and does not view accessibility for people with disabilities as a one-time project.

Accessibility plans for physical and online domains

The most familiar aspects of accessibility laws for businesses include required physical accommodations, such as parking spots and ramps for employees and customers with disabilities.

However, accessibility has also become increasingly important for the digital world.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, websites need to be made accessible to people with disabilities.

Importance of web accessibility for people with disabilities

Web accessibility means that websites and technologies are navigable and inclusive for people with disabilities. When a website is accessible, it reduces barriers and increases opportunities for many people with disabilities. This benefits people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities.

Website accessibility is required by a number of federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Despite this – and although an estimated 27% of the adult American population has a disability – approximately 97% of websites are not fully accessible to the disability community.

The importance of web accessibility has also been recognized by the United Nations, which shared that “ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States.”

Web accessibility benefits for business

When a business or website prioritizes accessibility, it reduces the risk of lawsuits while also demonstrating compassion.

Web accessibility can also lead to improved business results. Organizations most focused on accessibility engagement have been found to grow sales more than four times faster than those that do not.

In general, accessible, human-centered design improves the overall user experience for a wide range of people. This can help to build a brand, increase customer loyalty, and allow access to new markets.

Important web accessibility elements

An accessible website is inclusive and navigable for the highest number of people. 

The best way to measure if a website is accessible is to check it against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the international standard for web accessibility, as set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). While it isn’t codified into U.S. law, WCAG has been referenced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. courts as the standard for accessibility.

The latest version of these guidelines is WCAG 2.1, which is currently the best benchmark for an accessible website. 

Based on WCAG 2.1, these are some of the most important web accessibility best practices:

  • Ensuring compatibility with screen reader technology: People who are blind or have low vision often use screen reader technology to understand web content. To be compatible with these assistive technologies, websites should have clear navigation, provide text alternatives to non-text content (such as images and videos), and use semantic HTML for headers
  • Including alt text on images: Alternative text, or alt text, describes the content of an image. This makes an image accessible for people who are blind or have a vision impairment, as it can be read via screen reader technology. It’s important to add alt text only to images that convey information and provide additional context, and not to those that are purely decorative
  • Allowing size adjustments: Content should be resizable up to 200% without loss of functionality and readability
  • Using sufficient contrast: The minimum contrast ratio between text and its background is 4.5:1, except for large text (with at least 18 point) or bold text (with at least 14 point) which should have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1
  • Using consistent design and navigation: Some people with disabilities find it more challenging to navigate websites. Consistent and predictable design and navigation help to reduce these barriers
  • Choosing clear fonts for better accessibility: Accessible content should be easy to read. This means using clear and simple fonts that avoid unnecessary flourishes and have sufficient size and weight
  • Using ARIA roles/labels and HTML5 markup

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