Questions & Answers

Here you will find frequently asked accessibility-related and scenario-based questions regarding situations that arise on campus. Click on a question to view the answer.

Accessible Digital Documents & Websites
What does it mean if someone requests an “alternative format” of a document?

People access information in different ways. Some require large print or strong colour contrast, while others may require Braille or an e-version for screen-reading software. According to the Information and Communications Standard, you are required to provide information, upon request, in a format that is accessible to persons with disabilities if they request it. If you receive a request, it is best to work with the individual to decide what alternative format best suits his or her needs.

I’m a graphic designer. Are there any tips for making my designs accessible?

The Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario has developed a handbook of best practices on designing for accessibility. Check out the link below.

The Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario has developed a handbook of best practices
How do I know if my website is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant?

WCAG is an internationally accepted guideline for web accessibility. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) your organization must meet certain WCAG 2.0 requirements. If you are unsure about the accessibility of your website, use a tool called “A-Checker. Simply enter your website’s URL, and this tool will identify non-conformities with WCAG 2.0.

How do I make my website accessible?

You can make your website more accessible in a number of simple ways. For example, you could add captions to videos, heighten the contrast between the background and text to make the text easier to read, and make sure that the website is compatible with a screen reader. The creators of WCAG 2.0 (global standards for web accessibility) also created a resource to assist web developers in designing websites with greater accessibility. A link to this guide is noted below, as well as links to other helpful tools.

How do I make my presentations and documents accessible?

Creating accessible digital documents depends on the platform that you use. There are, however, a few areas of consideration that are common to all platforms: colour contrast, font size, font type, letter/character spacing and the structure of the document. The Inclusive Design Research Centre has created step-by-step guides for developing various accessible digital documents. You can also access other “quick reference” resources noted below to help you in this process.

Accessible Event & Conference Planning
How do I make my space accessible to someone with a physical disability?

Begin by ensuring a barrier-free environment. Remove obstacles and arrange furniture to give clear passage. Provide the person with information about accessible features in the immediate environment (such as automatic doors and accessible washrooms).

What do I do if someone indicates that he or she is allergic to dogs and someone else has brought a guide dog to our meeting/event/lecture?

Analyze all factors and option to find the solution that meets the needs of both people. For instance, you can create distance between the two individuals, eliminate in-person contact, change the time that the two receive service and/or use air purifiers.

Are guide dogs allowed everywhere?

According to the Accessible Customer Service Standard, service animals are welcome in most areas of universities. A few exceptions include areas where food is prepared, sold or stored, and where health and safety requirements could be violated. Remember, guide dogs are working animals and should not be petted.

What are the fire protocols for a person with a disability?

Your institution will have its own fire protocols in place, and these protocols are usually posted on your website. If you suspect fire and are unsure of what to do, contact emergency services on your campus. Indicate to the dispatcher that the alarm is sounding and that someone with a mobility disability is present and cannot leave the floor. Provide your exact location, including floor and room number. Also provide your phone number and ensure that this number can receive and return calls. (You want to be able to call back for updates.) If your safety is compromised, firefighters will assist you in evacuating the building.

Can I charge admission fees for support persons?

According to the Accessible Customer Service Standard, you are required to provide advanced notice of admission costs for support persons. Be mindful that people with disabilities who use a support person often cannot attend events or participate in activities without their support person. Some organizations waive or reduce admission costs for support persons. For example, a dinner theatre posts a notice on its website and at its ticket window, stating that support persons will not be charged if they don’t consume food during the show. The notice also states that, if a support person wishes to eat dinner, he or she will be charged half of the usual admission cost.

I booked a meeting room that is not accessible, not knowing that one of my guests has a disability. What should I do?

If you find out before the meeting, contact the individual and ask what accommodations he or she may need and then make the appropriate arrangements. If you find out on the day of the meeting, offer to meet the individual in a mutually convenient and accessible location. If you are on campus, contact your accessibility services office for guidance. By asking individuals ahead of time if they require accommodation, you will be prepared and likely be able to greatly reduce the number of unexpected requests.

How do I plan for an accessible meeting?

Be mindful of the location, invitations, food, drink and other elements. Most importantly, ask your guests in advance to let you know if they require accommodation. If they do, you can work with these guests to make the appropriate arrangements.

An elevator is out of service. What if someone with a disability needs to use it?

According to the Accessible Customer Service Standard, you must provide notice of all service disruptions. And whenever possible, this notice must be given within a reasonable time in advance. By posting the notice in advance, users have the opportunity to make alternate arrangements if an elevator is required. When a disruption occurs unexpectedly, such as technology breaking down, you must still provide notice as soon as possible. Provision of notice can be done by posting a sign at the elevator indicating when service will be disrupted and, if possible, by posting notice on the website.

Accessible Instruction
I am an educator and would like to provide an inclusive environment for my students. What do I need to do?

Asking this question is a great start. COU has developed a comprehensive toolkit for educators that will help you to create a more inclusive environment for your students. Below is the link to this toolkit, which includes series of tip sheets on creating an accessible learning environment.

Interacting with Persons with Disabilities
How should I communicate with someone who has a learning disability?

Speak normally and clearly. A person who has a learning disability may take a little longer to understand what you are saying and consequently to respond, so exercise patience. Listen carefully and work with the person to provide information in a way that will best suit his or her needs.

What do I do if someone has an anxiety attack?

Be calm and professional. Ask the person how you can be most helpful. If it is an acute or crisis situation, however, seek emergency help immediately.

I haven’t understood something said by a person with a speech-related disability. What should I do?

If you haven’t understood, do not pretend; ask the person to repeat the information. Whenever possible, ask questions that can be answered by a “yes” or a “no.” Allow the person the time he or she needs to get the point across, and wait for the person to finish before you respond.

How do I communicate with someone who is deaf?

Speak normally and clearly. Some individuals with hearing loss may use assistive technology to communicate, while others may use interpretive services or read lips.

How do I communicate with someone who is deaf-blind?

A person who is deaf-blind will probably let you how to communicate with him or her by giving you an assistance card or a note. When you approach a person who is deaf-blind, be sure to identify yourself and speak directly to the person, not to the person’s intervenor. An intervenor mediates between the person who is deaf-blind and his or her environment to enable that person to communicate effectively with and receive non-distorted information from the immediate environment.

I said “see you later” to a person with a visual disability. Is that okay?

Yes. Conversational expressions are perfectly fine to use. You may even hear the individual with a visual disability use the expression too.

How can I help someone who is blind?

Offer your arm to guide the person and then walk at a normal pace. Be precise and clear when you give directions or verbal information. For example, if you are guiding someone with a visual disability and you are approaching a door or an obstacle, say so. Be sure to let that person know if you are leaving, and whether or not you will be returning.

Can I pet a guide dog?

No. Service animals are working and should not be distracted.

I’m an employer. Where can I find out more about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) as it relates to staff at my organization?

The Administrator’s Accessibility Toolkit, in its Employment Standards section, provides resources and best practice information for each requirement within the Standard.

Learning the Language
How do I refer to someone with a disability?

Choose words that don’t imply judgement. Emphasize the uniqueness and worth of the whole individual by saying “a person who has a disability” rather than “disabled.” Remember, people are not their conditions, so don’t label the individual as the condition (for example, say “someone with autism” as opposed to “he/she is autistic”).

Choosing appropriate and respectful language to discuss accessibility issues.
I keep seeing different symbols for accessibility. What do they mean?

Information on symbols of accessibility can be found on the Understanding the Universal Symbols of Accessibility page of this website.