Impact Feature Issue on the ADA and People with Intellectual Developmental, and Other Disabilities

What Accessibility Means in its Fullness [sidebar]


Loui Lord Nelson is an Educational Consultant focusing on Universal Design for Learning. She may be reached at

The ADA helps us look at accessibility in relation to physical structures and systems. But “accessibility” in its fullness goes beyond the physical design of spaces and things to include the richness of interpersonal relationships, the culture of everyday, and personal validation:

  • Interpersonal relationships: While there are many programs and initiatives in place designed to connect individuals with disabilities to their communities, many fall short of developing interpersonal relationships. For example, participating in volunteer activities is a step toward building relationships, but until the individual’s contributions are recognized and deemed important by both the individual and others in the relationship, then a true interpersonal relationship has not been reached.
  • The culture of everyday: This refers to those cultures that exist based on our everyday interactions: going to work, going to school, participating in worship, or enjoying leisure activities. Accessible cultures maintain a belief set where individuals accept, support, and rely upon one another in a reciprocal relationship, regardless of disability. For example, the culture of the workplace can provide this kind of accessibility. When a person with a disability is hired, fellow employees make sure there’s acceptance of the person’s individuality and needs, that there are appropriate physical and relationship-building supports, and that employees rely on one another to reach the organization’s goals
  • Personal validation: When a culture expects the individual will be a valued and contributing member, then the individual has the opportunity to achieve personal validation. Take, for example, a bird watching club that welcomes a new member who has a disability. All club members, including the individual, are expected to share their logs at the end of each walk and each is congratulated for their sightings. All members achieve personal validation because they are valued and contributing members.

Though beyond the scope of the ADA, these are crucial components of community inclusion and help us push for a broader understanding of accessibility.