The impact of accessibility

At UW–Madison we respect and acknowledge the inclusion of all abilities as a core part of what makes us diverse. That all people require and deserve access to all aspects of society as a fundamental right. This includes all programs and services our university has to offer.

Privilege and ableism

Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of able-bodied individuals.

Ableism is damaging, segregating, and can prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in society.

Ableism can be intentional and also appear as microaggressions.

When we fail to design inclusively to support the full range of human identity and ability, we perpetuate ableism.


Individuals with disabilities experience exclusion on a regular basis. Creating accessible experiences in our university environment reduces barriers and ensures that everyone can access, interact, and benefit.

Physical and digital infrastructure, from meeting spaces to websites and digital materials, that are not designed with accessibility in mind exclude a significant population of potential users from participating in the university.

Examples of everyday situations where ableism results in exclusion:

  • Holding meetings in inaccessible spaces
  • Not using a microphone in large meeting spaces
  • Producing videos without captions
  • Using small font sizes on documents
  • Creating websites inaccessible to screen readers

What is a disability?

Disability is a critical aspect of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Individuals with disabilities comprise the largest underserved community in the world. Accessibility is often discussed in the context of disability and means an individual with a disability is able to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services and benefits as a person without a disability in an equally effective and efficient manner without the need for an accommodation. When we design accessibly:

  • We create services, programs, digital and physical environments that are usable and beneficial to all users – with or without a disability
  • We normalize disability by reducing barriers
  • We send a message of valuing all members of our community
  • We reduce our overall costs when we don’t need to provide a reasonable accommodation

The medical model

A disability is considered a health condition, which causes a limitation with performing a task or function resulting in impairment. The impairment is considered abnormal and prevents a person from being able to fully participate in society. Examples of disabilities include:

Visual: blind, low vision, color blindness
Hearing: deaf, hard of hearing
Motor: paralysis, cerebral palsy, facial muscular impairments
Cognitive: learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism
Mental health: bipolar, depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia

The social model

A disability is not caused by a medical condition but is instead created as a result of society enacting psychological, physical, or digital barriers through design that is not inclusive of variances in human needs.

With an inclusive design that takes into account all we know about the full range of human capability, disability is embraced as an aspect of diversity and is designed for through accessibility.

Non-apparent disabilities

Disabilities aren’t always immediately apparent, or even visible, to others. Apparent disabilities can sometimes be accepted or normalized in certain settings while nonapparent disabilities can be stigmatized, sometimes questioning the validity of the disability. At least 20% of all disabilities are nonapparent.

Your role

If we all play a part in the way we think about accessibility, we can together create a more inclusive UW-Madison. We believe everyone should be able to participate, and that means accessibility is our shared responsibility.

Explore your role

It takes all of us

UW-Madison values the contributions of each person and respects the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities and opinion enrich the university community.

It takes all of us to achieve the university’s mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from everyone background.