Accessibility terminology

Published: 8.4.2023
Categories: Accessibility
Reading time: 5 min
Blindfolded person typing on a computer while other person is giving instructions.

Knowing and using the right terminology is the basis for fruitful conversations around disability and accessibility. It will also help you understand the contents of this site.

General terminology


As per the cultural model of disability, disability is a complex interaction of medical, social, personal, and other factors, which altogether impact a person’s ability to perform certain activities and interact with the world around them.

Here are some examples of disabilities that may affect how people interact with a digital service:

  • Auditory: complete deafness, partial deafness, low hearing, hyperacusis, auditory processing issues…
  • Visual: complete blindness, partial blindness, low vision, colour blindness…
  • Verbal: nonverbality, speech impediment…
  • Physical: widespread paralysis, local paralysis, muscular dystrophy, tremors…
  • Neurological and/or cognitive: epilepsy, autism, dyslexia, Down’s syndrome, dementia…

Please keep in mind a few key things:

  • The same disability or diagnosis can manifest in different ways for different people.
  • One person may have several different disabilities (for example, be deaf and blind).
  • One condition can cause different issues (for example, a brain injury that causes vision and coordination issues).
  • A person’s disabilities and the way they manifest might change from day to day and/or throughout their lives.



Accessibility is the practice of designing and developing good services and environments while keeping disabilities in mind. Accessibility is not black or white (completely accessible vs. completely inaccessible), but a spectrum (more accessible vs. less accessible).



Although accessibility is not black or white, many texts use the term "accessible" to describe a product or service that meets certain minimum accessibility requirements; these requirements can change depending on the context. We prefer to avoid this usage of the term, except for when discussing specific legislative texts.


Curb-Cut Effect

A curb cut is a small ramp built into the edge of the sidewalk, to allow smooth passage between the sidewalk and the road. Curb cuts are commonplace nowadays to help people with disabilities. However, they benefit many others: parents pushing child prams, bike riders, people traveling with suitcases, etc.

The Curb-Cut Effect is what happens when you make things more accessible for disabled people: all of the society benefits and accessibility becomes more normalized.


The Curb Cut Effect: How Making Public Spaces Accessible to People With Disabilities Helps Everyoneopens in a new tab by Disability Science Review (2016)
The curb-cut effect: how keeping accessibility front of mind benefits everyoneopens in a new tab by Matt Northam (2019)

Assistive technology

Some (but not all) people with disabilities use various kinds of assistive technologies. These include, for example, mobility aids (such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc.) and hearing aids (such as Cochlear implants, in-ear hearing aids [IET], hearing aid applications [HAA], etc.).

The assistive technologies people use to interact with computers and the internet are so important that they have their own digital assistive technologies page!


Assistive technology factsheetopens in a new tab by the WHO (2018)
Types of Assistive Technologyopens in a new tab on Berkley Web Access

Technical terminology


W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web, which is the information system we access through the Internet.

W3C is responsible for WAI, which is itself responsible for WCAG and ARIA.



WAI (the Web Accessibility Initiative) is put forth by the W3C, and it's comprised of strategies, standards, and supporting documents, that help us make the Web more accessible to people with disabilities.

WAI is responsible for both WCAG and ARIA.



WCAG (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of recommendations made by WAI (which is itself part of W3C), in order to make web content more accessible. They define three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA (lowest to highest).

They are very important, so we made a dedicated WCAG section under the Accessible UIs page!



ARIA (the Accessible Rich Internet Applications suite) is a technical specification made by WAI (which is itself part of W3C), in order to make Rich Internet Applications more accessible. Rich Internet Applications include those with dynamic content, client-side rendering, and complex interactive UI components, such as drag-and-drop features. ARIA is also often called WAI-ARIA.

It's very important, so we made a dedicated ARIA section under the Accessible UIs page!


ARIA overviewopens in a new tab on the W3C website
ARIA articleopens in a new tab on Wikipedia


A formal written enactment produced by a legislature or governing body. These written laws are used to govern the behavior of individuals and organizations within a jurisdiction, prescribing rules, sanctions, and procedures for enforcing the law.


A type of legislative act issued by the European Union that sets out a goal for EU countries to achieve. However, it is up to the individual countries to devise their own laws on how to reach these goals.


A binding legislative act that is fully applicable to those to whom it is addressed (it can be one or more EU countries, an individual, or a company). Decisions do not require national legislation to be enacted.


A technical standard, which is a guideline developed by standards organizations. These are specifications intended to ensure the compatibility and quality of goods, services, and processes.


A binding legislative act that must be applied in its entirety across the EU. Unlike directives, which can be implemented at the discretion of individual countries, regulations must be followed by all EU countries.

Public sector body

Any organization controlled by the government. It includes departments, agencies, or other bodies that are financed through public funds.

Private sector body

Any organization or business that is not owned or operated by the government. It is typically run for profit and is funded through private financing rather than public funds.

Digital services

Any service that is delivered through the internet or an electronic network. This encompasses a wide variety of services including, but not limited to, online marketplaces, social networks, and search engines.


Wish us to audit or enhance the accessibility of your digital?

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