4.7 Persons with disabilities: Incorporate Universal Design

There are many types of disabilities[1], some visible and others invisible. People may have different levels of comfort when it comes to asking for accommodations to support their full participation. It is important to establish a culture that normalizes difference and provides opportunity for potential board members to discuss possible accommodation needs during the recruitment and selection process.

Since you cannot anticipate what all possible accommodation needs might be, your board can adopt an approach called Universal Design to create an inclusive culture for all board members.

Universal Design is one of the most significant developments in disability advocacy and culture to emerge over the last decade[2]. It refers to the construction of structures, spaces, services, communications and resources that are accessible to a range of people with and without disabilities, without further need for modification or accommodation[3]. Although the purpose of Universal Design is to create accessibility for persons with (dis)ability, it also has the potential to benefit everyone by creating better access.

A few ways that Universal Design practices could apply to your governance board:[4]

  • Provide manuals, materials and forms to all members in digital formats that can be read by people who use adaptive computer technologies, as well as by anyone else.
  • Ensure that the spaces where you meet are accessible to people with mobility issues, including those who use wheelchairs, or other assistive devices.
  • Offer board members a range of ways that they can contribute. This allows board members who have limitations to organize their time and strengths.

Not-for-profit organizations in Ontario must comply with standards outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). For more information about accessibility standards, visit the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

  1. The term disability is a contested one, particularly by people with lived experience. In the social model of disability, disability is framed as a socially created problem in which naturally occurring differences become disabling when society fails to fully integrate individuals into society (Oliver, 1990).  Some organizations are using terms such as (dis)ability, DisAbility, and dis/ability to highlight the social dimensions of the experience.
  2. Burton Blatt Institute (2011). What is an Inclusive Culture? Retrieved from Syracuse University
  3. Myhill, W.N., Cogburn, D.L., Samant, D., Addom, B., & Blanck, P. (2008). Developing Accessible Cyberinfrastructure-enabled Knowledge Communities in the Disability Community: Theory, Practice, and Policy. Assistive Technology Journal, 20(3), 157-174.
  4. Adapted from Burton Blatt Institute (2011). What is an Inclusive Culture? Retrieved from Syracuse University.


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