Can You Tell the Difference Between Accommodation and Accessibility?

Or do we need to make fun of you? (Issue 3)

Fixing whatever this is would be complicated. Creating an accessible conference? Not complicated. Image via Laura Collins Britton,

On my blog, I recently wrote a post about the difference between accommodation of disabilities and accessibility for disabilities.

My argument was essentially this: accommodation is not accessibility, and it is not nearly as good.

Here’s why:

“Accommodation” shifts the burden to the person with disabilities. Accommodation requires a person with a disability to interact with a gatekeeper, to ask for something extra, and often to prove that she deserves accommodation in the first place — that she is “disabled enough.”

Furthermore, many disabilities, both physical, psychiatric, and mental, are invisible. And some people with disabilities are really good at passing as able-bodied. We do so for our own reasons — reasons we don’t need to, and shouldn’t have to, explain to anyone.

But the accommodations model requires us to disclose our disabilities, it requires us to explain, to give up secrets we might not want to share. The accommodations model depends on invasions of privacy to work.

Accessibility, alternatively, means that a space is always, 100% of the time, welcoming to people with disabilities. Accessibility means that “accommodations” are integrated into a space and are not particularized to an individual — but rather created for our society as a whole. We, as a society, are people with disabilities. Therefore we, as a society, must build spaces and procedures for people with disabilities.

It really is that simple.

Except it isn’t. It isn’t that simple because big, slow-moving structures such as federal government entities, state government entities, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs insist (incorrectly) that moving from an accommodation model to an accessibility model would be too expensive.

They put the burden on individuals with disabilities — the burden of cost, the burden of proof, the burden of just about everything that they, as the large, powerful entities, should be doing instead.

Here’s a Group Who Super Gets It Right

There is one large entity that I’ve been a part of for years that tends to get the accessibility thing right. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has super large annual conference that meets in a large city (this year it’s Houston), one that is unfamiliar to most attendees.

CCCC (pronounced “4-Cs”) could run a clinic on how to make a large conference accessible. Things aren’t perfect, of course, in part because accessibility depends a lot on the attendees themselves to make their talks accessible.

But for now, as an example, take a look a the accessibility guide the CCCC’s Local Committee put together. Here’s the link to the PDF, a link which is located on the main conference webpage — not buried on some “disability accommodations” page.

Note: This document is incredible.

No attendee with disabilities (or without disabilities!) has to ask how to get from the airport. It’s in the guide. No one ask to ask what the accessible rooms, breezeways, or carpets are like. The creators of this document photographed them and described them in detail. This is amazing.

This is what accessibility looks like.

I really hate that I’m amazed by this document. Except that I am amazed because I so rarely encounter stuff like this unless I’m attending a disability studies conference where, you know, they super know how to get it right.

Tipsy Tullivan Videochats with Someone Who Super Gets It Wrong

As readers of this column know, we can’t end without a visit with Tipsy Tullivan. Today’s column has a special treat: Tipsy has a videoconference with Mr. Man, a representative of AWP. They discuss the disability debacle at AWP 2016. It’s very enlightening.

To learn more about Tipsy, visit

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Disability Acts

Disability Essays, Screeds, and Manifestos by Disabled Writers for Everyone

Katie Rose Guest Pryal

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Novelist (Entanglement, Chasing Chaos, Fallout Girl), Essayist (Catapult, The Establishment, Motherwell, Women in Higher Education), & Attorney (the good kind)

Disability Acts

Disability Essays, Screeds, and Manifestos by Disabled Writers for Everyone