General accessibility 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 travelling 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.


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!


Learn more about digital assistive technologies