AccessAbility Playbook - Play 1 Learn about accessibility, it's more than you think

Play 1 Learn about accessibility, it's more than you think

Barrier-free access for everyone

Over the years, many decisions were made to better serve Canadians. However, some of these decisions might have created obstacles that make it difficult, or even sometimes impossible, for persons with disabilities to access government programs and services.

What is accessibility

Accessibility can be described as the “ability to access” without encountering any barriers. Barriers are the obstacles for persons with disabilities that prevents them from doing the things many of us take for granted. In practice, accessibility is about having a barrier-free access, being treated with dignity, having meaningful options for interacting with government and getting consistent information everywhere across all service channels. Everyone benefits from accessibility.

Why accessibility matters

The Government of Canada serves millions of people that have diverse needs and expectations. The challenge is to serve them better equally. We need to change because it is the right thing to do. Accessibility is about respecting human rights. All Canadians are entitled to receive government services and benefits.

Your role as a public servant

Your job is to make sure that all Canadians have meaningful options for interacting with government, regardless of their personal situation. Learn from each other so that you can do better. Equitable access should be part of what we do every day.

Existing client service barriers

Check out five service areas that were identified as creating challenges for people living with a disability or functional limitation.

Physical Space

Clients may find it difficult to travel to a building because of the location. For others it could be signage that is not clearly in their line-of-sight or it might be the background noise that is disturbing. Some design elements can make it difficult to use stairs or navigate doorways and hallways. For some, the layout of the rooms and how the furniture is displayed can be a tripping hazard. In addition, features such as plexiglas barriers can also cause challenges for clients with hearing impairment.

Policies & Processes

The policies and processes you create to implement existing laws and regulations can make access difficult for clients and have negative impacts on client needs and expectations. An example would be a service representative that is not authorized to fill out a form on behalf of the client. This can present a barrier to accessing a service or benefit.

Language & Information

Clients may not be able to understand if the information is too complex, government communications has earned a reputation for being difficult to understand. Accessible formats – and accessible ways to obtaining accessible formats – can not be an afterthought. Similarly, sign language interpretation and not forcing screen readers to go through long privacy statements that sighted clients can scroll past, are essential elements of respect.

Communicating in plain language is essential for some persons with disabilities to access information.

Awareness & Attitude

If you do not promote accessibility features, clients may not feel confident in their abilities to access your program or service. Client can miss out on important information if communication is not effective and timely. If employees do not have proper training, it may result in misunderstanding, confusing or dismissive behaviour. It may also lead to assumptions or unfair judgments about a person’s ability or appearance. Always remember that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.


Some systems are not set up or designed to support the use of appropriate tools and devices such as screen readers, accessible keyboards and audio player. This also applies to systems that do not allow for compatibility with client assistive devices used at home. For example, the accessibility of websites and electronic equipment within the premises such as wayfinding devices, accessible self-service kiosks, the need to use a joystick instead of a mouse, etc. The World Wide Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the starting point, always strive to do better.

Most common types of disability

The personal situation of someone living with one or more types of disability can be permanent, temporary or episodic. Symptoms can be visible or hidden. Genetic disorders, illness or accidents can hinder a person’s full and equal participation in society.


Difficulty with mobility, standing while waiting or reaching counters and door knobs. Includes mobility, flexibility, dexterity issues and pain.


  • Musculoskeletal issues;
  • Neuropathic problems;
  • Visceral issues;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Using fingers;
  • Bending down or reaching.


Difficulty with perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning. Difficulty with understanding written and spoken language, meeting new people or following instructions.


  • Down's Syndrome;
  • Autism;
  • Cerebral palsy;
  • Dementia;
  • Alzheimer's;
  • Brain injuries;
  • Dyslexia;
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Difficulty with hearing another person talking (either in-person or on phone), especially in a noisy environment, or pronouncing words clearly.


  • Hearing impairment (mild to profound hearing loss) or deafness;
  • may include conditions such as vertigo or tinnitus.

Mental health

Difficulty with functioning in certain environments (noisy, crowded), concentrating or processing information. Feeling anxious, depressed, confused or having mood changes.


  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Bipolar disorder;
  • Substance abuse;
  • Anorexia.


Difficulty with pronouncing words or making oneself understood.


  • Apraxia of speech;
  • Cluttering;
  • Stuttering;
  • Muteness;
  • Cerebral Palsy where muscles move in uncoordinated ways and speech is slurred.


Difficulty with maneuvering through an office, reading forms and signage or seeing faces.


  • Blindness;
  • Photosensitivity;
  • Visual stimuli (e.g. quick, bright flashes).