What does accessibility mean?



This post is a response to Activity 2.4 for module H810 Accessible Online Learning.

Accessibility can be defined as the removal of barriers to enable the participation of disabled people to be active, engaged and productive citizens

Responsibility for accessibility is widespread with number of stakeholders. Responsibility is both top down including a policy environment, laws and at institutional and organizational level. From a bottom up level disabled people and their advocates share responsibilities in knowing and articulating their rights and requirements.

Accessibility in an educational context

Accessibility in a specific educational context is equivalency of access to educational opportunities, content, instruction and engagement to accomodate a wide range of disabilities. As education is increasingly delivered with at least some form of digital component, accessibility in this context can be seen as

‘digital inclusion…whereby marginalized people, in this case disabled people, are able to participate meaningfully in the same learning activities as others through use of digital technologies. As a concept, digital inclusion is frequently linked to social inclusion and the digital divide’ (Seale & Bishop, 2010).

Online learning offers many advantages to overcome traditional barriers to on-site education. Such traditional barriers include transportation and accommodation while the limitations of paper-based content can be overcome with digital content formats to suit different disabilities. However online learning itself can create new barriers to participation and engagement especially in the design of web materials, access to virtual learning environments, and in the types of instructional methods and services that can restrict access and usability.

Accessibility in education faces particular challenges in a developing country context. In South Africa, there is already unequal access to educational resources and this disproportionally affects  poor and marginalized groups – of which disabled people are part of. Technology is seen as a way of ameliorating access to education for historically disadvantaged groups, but despite a favourable policy environment and strong advocacy groups, disability rights implementation does not appear to be high on the agenda as this article about a forthcoming Disability Act indicates. As there is a correlation between access to educational opportunity and economic upliftment, improved standards and implementation of accessibility (e.g. for online services and websites) may continue to marginalise disabled people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.


Seale, J. and Bishop, N. (2009). Listening With a Different Ear: Understanding Disabled Students’
Relationships with Technologies. In H. Beetham, R. Sharpe & S. de Freitas (eds) Rethinking learning in the digital age. London. Routledge.

SA Good News (2011) Disability Act being crafted (online). Available from http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/social_development/disability_act_being_crafted.html. Last accessed 7 September 2012.


2 thoughts on “What does accessibility mean?

  1. Hi Sukaina, Thanks for pointing me towards that chapter in Beetham, Sharpe & de Freitas. Should be an useful reference for the assignments.Stefaan

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