What are barriers?
A barrier is anything that keeps someone from fully participating in all aspects of society because of a disability. Barriers can be both visible and invisible. Furthermore, while barriers are often unintentional, they can restrict access to goods and services.
An attitudinal barrier is an ideological obstacle to good customer service. This barrier is about what we think and how we interact with persons with disabilities. It is perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome because our attitudes – based on our beliefs, knowledge, previous experience and education – can be hard to change. For instance, some people don’t know how to communicate with persons with disabilities – they may assume that someone with a speech problem also has an intellectual disability. Some people worry about offending someone by offering help and deal with this by ignoring or avoiding persons with disabilities.
Architectural or structural
Architectural or structural barriers may result from design elements of a building such as stairs, doorways, the width of hallways and room layout. These barriers may also occur through every day practices, such as when we store boxes or other objects in hallways, obstructing accessible pathways.
Information or communication
Information or communication barriers – like small print size, low colour contrast between text and background or not facing the person when speaking – can make it difficult to receive or convey information.
Technology, or the lack of it, can prevent people from accessing information. Common tools like computers, telephones and other aids can all present barriers if they are not set up or designed with accessibility in mind.
Systemic barriers can result from an organization’s policies, practices and procedures if they restrict persons with disabilities, often unintentionally, as in the case of making a full course load a requirement for eligibility for campus services such as residences, scholarships and honours listing. An example of a systemic barrier would be an academic practice that does not allow for “make-up” mid-term exams and instead increases the weight of the final exam to include the missed mid- term. Students may be unable to write a mid-term for disability-related reasons, such as delayed access to texts in alternate format, assistive technology issues or regularly scheduled medical treatment like dialysis. The practice of re-weighing final exams may work for most students but, in some cases, constitutes an unfair practice for students with disabilities.
Did You Know?
There are many myths around disabilities that can create attitudinal barriers.
These attitudes can range from pity to hero worship, from ignorance to denial of a person’s disabilities.
You can find a full list of commonly held myths about disabilities in the Sources and Resources.
While used in the media to refer to persons with disabilities, some members of the disability community use the term “disabled people” for a much different reason. To them, “disabled” means that environmental barriers interfere with their ability to participate. Disability is as much a function of the environment as it is something that you are born with or acquire”. Please see Resources for more information about this topic.