Building plans; Conversing with ASL; Woman using wheelchair nears moving sidewalk; Children using computer at Community Centre; Person reading Braille

Accessible Education – What Does it Mean?

When we say “accessible education”, we are typically thinking about either providing accommodation services to students with learning disabilities or making the school physically accessible. There is actually a great deal more to ensuring education is accessible to all children. If we think about the big picture view on accessible education, we need to look at the experience of the student from the moment they leave home for school each day, the routes and means of reaching school, the accessibility of the building itself (to access classrooms and facilities), assistive technologies, information and different ways to communicate, as well as services for those with learning and cognitive disabilities.

Footstep markings on the ground reinforce primary path of travel (Source: CAM 20 School, Mexico by Janett Jimenez)

Footstep markings on the ground reinforce primary path of travel
(Source: CAM 20 School, Mexico by Janett Jimenez)

Getting there
How students get to school is the first step in addressing accessible education.

If they are walking, then the path of travel, including the sidewalks, curb ramps/ kerb cuts, crosswalks and intersections, roadways surfaces, signage and lighting are all critical features of the accessible the route for each child. These are clearly city and community planning issues.

If the student relies on public transit then we must consider whether there are accessible ticket dispensing machines, accessible boarding for buses, trains, and other services, accessible seating, and accessible customer service provisions, all are critical transit features. These requirements either are adopted voluntarily by transit companies or mandated by government rules and regulations.

Schools are an educational institution for our children, but they are also a community hub for parents and members of the community who may meet distant neighbours there for the first time, resulting in friendships and community relationships strengthened over the years of a child’s progress. The community’s familiarity with the location and the availability of the spaces during non-school hours also make this a natural community gathering point so making the routes to schools accessible helps everyone, not just children.

Accessible Schools
For the school itself to be accessible, the entrance to the school property and all exterior paths to the main entrance must be accessible., Addressing physical accessibility of buildings includes elements easily considered, the front door(s), the corridors, stairs and ramps, elevators or lifts, lighting, signage, doors to classrooms, routes within the building and classes, furniture in classrooms, washrooms, dining areas, and emergency evacuations considerations such as visual alarms and accessible exit routes are all elements requiring accessibility elements.

Not to be forgotten or easily dismissed is the importance of the accessibility of play areas – being included in play, breaks down the barriers to social inclusion.

Boys using Braille typewriters at school in Saudi Arabia  (Source: GAATES)

Boys using Braille typewriters at school in Saudi Arabia (Source: GAATES)

Assistive technologies to help students with disabilities can range from low tech solutions like a desk lamp that provides additional light, a magnifying glass or pencil grip and flash cards, to high tech solutions like computers and tablets.

Students with learning disabilities may benefit from the provision of sign language interpreters, note takers, additional lessons that help them break down ideas in different ways, one-on-one learning opportunities and receiving information in a number of accessible formats.

Information in accessible formats and options include; described video, Braille, DAISY formats, audio/mp3, picture books and other options.

GAATES Education Forum at the 8th Conference of States Parties
The Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) is hosting a Civil Society Forum at the 8th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the UN Headquarters.

This Forum will discuss some of these global challenges faced by learners with disabilities, with a focus on solutions. GAATES has been working with UNICEF on the development of a series of information booklets that will highlight a variety of the innovative solutions that have been implemented around the world.

The Forum will be held on June 8th, 2015 from 3-6 pm followed by a reception. For more information on the Forum or the UNICEF project, please contact

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