Accessibility vs. Accommodation

The difference between accessibility and accommodation is in how we plan to include people in the experiences we provide them at UW-Madison.

Accessibility is proactive and strives to remove barriers during the design stage of an event, program, or service. 

Accommodation is reactive and strives to remove barriers caused by inaccessible design. This ensures people with disabilities have the same access as people without disabilities.


Being proactive when it comes to accessibility at UW-Madison is the right thing to do because it puts people first now, and in the future.  We want to think of accessibility as a way of planning ahead to create an inclusive environment for all.

The benefits of designing experiences with accessibility in mind include creating an inclusive learning and working environment, better retention, and cost and time savings. Inaccessible experiences exclude people, cause harm, and damages the university’s reputation.

Another way to look at it


Planning to create an inclusive environment for all.


Eliminating barriers for an individual upon request.

Accessibility is often only presented as extra steps that one needs to take to include people with disabilities. This is problematic because it fosters prejudice against people with disabilities (ableism) and exclusion.

The University of Minnesota Accessible U website provides a helpful example of how planning for accessibility benefits everyone.

It is comprised of three illustrations showing people watching a game from behind a fence. In the first illustration representing inaccessible design, the shortest of the three cannot see through a wood fence to see the game. The second illustration represents accommodations where the shortest person is given two boxes to stand on, and can see the game. The third illustration represents accessible design where a chain-link fence allows all three people to see the game without accommodations.

Illustration of two adults and one child watching a soccer game on crates to see over a fence.
Inaccessible design excludes people.
Illustration of two adults and one child watching a soccer game over a fence, short adult stands on one crate and child on two crates.
Accommodations give access to whomever is there at the moment. They often require extra work.
Illustration of two adults and one child watching a soccer game through a chain link fence.
Accessible design means that current and future viewers will have access, without extra work.