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Checklist: Accessibility 101

    Creator: Accessible Libraries

    Date of Update: January 16, 2023


    We suggest you use this checklist as a guide for library staff when they are starting their accessibility journey or when you provide staff training. The information is summarized from the Accessibility 101 webinar, slides, and the “Quick Reference: Accessibility 101” document.


    You can download a simple version of the checklist to follow here:

    Learn about different disabilities.

    Educating yourself and learning about different disabilities will help you respectfully interact and provide services for all library staff and patrons.

    Definition of the word “Disability.”

    As defined in the Accessible Canada Act, disability “means any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication, or sensory impairment – or a functional limitation – whether permanent, temporary, or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society” (Employment and Social Development Canada, Definitions from Act, 2020).

    Different types of Disabilities

    Many different types of disabilities present in numerous visible and invisible ways.

    • Cognitive
    • Physical/Mobility
    • Blindness/Low Vision
    • Speech
    • Hearing

    Sometimes there are medical causes for these disabilities, such as:

    • Cerebral Palsy
    • Dysgraphia
    • Macular Degeneration
    • Otosclerosis
    • Dysarthria

    There is a broad range of disabilities, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Accessibility is about flexibility!

    Related Learning Resources

    Use respectful language.

    Ask people their preferences when planning programming, presentations, on the job, etc. While some accommodations can be complex, many are not. Genuinely asking goes a very long way!

    When communicating with people with disabilities, it’s important to consider a person’s first identity versus identity’s first language to facilitate respectful interactions. (e.g., a patron with a print disability vs. Dyslexic patron). We also suggest you ask patrons what language they prefer.

    Communication tips and guidelines

    1. Always ask each person what they prefer, but when in doubt, mirror how the individual refers to themselves.
    2. Avoid using synonyms for the word “disability” or when referring to a specific disability. For example, do not use “differently abled, handy-capable, visually challenged, etc.” These synonyms can be condescending and unhelpful.
    3. The term “vision loss” is used by a few charities and agencies. It is somewhat of a contentious term in the blind community because individuals who were born blind or with low vision never had full sight, to begin with, so they didn’t “lose” anything. Also, they may see themselves as complete or whole individuals.
    4. The Canadian Government uses person-first language as their default.

    Related Language Guidelines

    Ensure your library is welcoming for persons with disabilities.

    When helping people, always ask and never assume. Admit that you don’t know all the answers, but you’ll try your best to find them!

    Ask patrons with disabilities if they need accommodations and what languages they prefer.  If you can, consider using or creating a “notes” section in a patron profile to include the identification preferences that all staff can access.

    Welcoming library staff with disabilities into your library

    In interview or hiring situations, show that you’re willing to offer accommodations.

    Ask everyone in an inviting manner, “Are there any accommodations you need for the job/interview?” or “If you require any accommodations, please let us know.”

    While some needs can be complex, many are not. Asking goes a very long way!

    Related Welcoming Resources

    Learn about physical and digital accessibility.

    For something to be inclusive of people with disabilities, it must be accessible. Accessibility is essential and not an add-on or afterthought.

    Physical Accessibility entails identifying and removing barriers, be they physical, technological, procedural, attitudinal, or environmental, which inhibit peoples’ participation in activities or daily life.

    What is Physical Accessibility?

    Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments which enables all people to participate fully in society without barriers.

    Access to physical spaces can include things like:

    • Entrances and exits
    • Play areas and maker spaces
    • Washrooms
    • Offices and conference rooms

    Access to equipment can include things like:

    • Elevators
    • Handrails
    • Signage
    • Computers, Printers, & Photocopiers

    Accessibility in the library tips and guidelines

    • Ensure the space between shelving and furniture is wide enough for people using mobility aids to move around (both in and out of shelving, not backward).
      • This is also important to consider during special events when the space may be rearranged or furniture added.
    • Consider removing books from the top shelves that cannot be reached from a sitting position and using that space for displayed material instead.
    • Consider integrating accessible collections (such as DAISY or braille from CELA and NNELS) into the rest of the collection.
      • This also creates a great opportunity for inclusion conversations.
    • Remove clutter and visual clutter for increased mobility and ease of browsing and to help make environments less over-stimulating.
    • Consider creating sensory-friendly library times.
    • Consult with people with disabilities or advocacy organizations and consider the competing needs of people with disabilities.

    Remember, it’s a balancing act for a large spectrum of needs. We can’t do 100% of what everyone wants, but our aim is to prevent barriers to access.

    Inclusive Design

    The Seven Principles of Inclusive Design can also be used to help guide the design of physical spaces:

    1. Equitable use: The design is useful to people with diverse abilities.
    2. Flexible use: The design accommodates a wide range of preferences and abilities.
    3. Simple and intuitive: Easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language, skills, or current concentration level.
    4. Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
    5. Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    6. Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with minimal fatigue.
    7. Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

    Related Physical Accessibility Resources

    What is Digital Accessibility?

    Like physical accessibility, digital accessibility refers to full access to digital content, which enables all people to participate regardless of disability. Digital accessibility is more than just the assistive technology people use to access digital content (see more below). It’s about the content itself.

    Digital content created following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in combination with usability testing performed by qualified individuals with lived experience will produce the best digital experiences for all users.

    WCAG was developed to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the international needs of individuals, organizations, and governments. Even though WCAG is a voluntary guideline, it has been embedded into many legislations making it a required standard.

    Advocate for accessible websites/integrated library systems from the vendors (or the entity responsible for maintaining/selecting them). Install assistive technologies on public-use computers, such as NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access). Additionally, learn about the native accessibility tools in your existing technology, such as Narrator and Magnifier in Windows or VoiceOver and Zoom in iOS.

    Digital content created to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in combination with usability testing performed by qualified individuals with lived experience will produce the best digital experiences for all users.

    Related Digital Accessibility Resources

    Learn about the different assistive technologies library staff, and patrons use.

    Learn about assistive technology and support its use in your library for both staff and patrons, to better help them in your library.

    What are assistive technologies?

    Assistive technology refers to the products, equipment, and systems that enhance reading, learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.

    What are the different types of assistive technologies?

    Screen readers: Software that reads the elements on the screen of a computer or mobile device using text-to-speech technology, enabling a blind or low-vision person to use a computer or mobile device independently to access applications and websites.

    Refreshable braille display: A hardware device that often connects to a computer or mobile device and almost instantly translates text into braille. It does this with the help of a screen reader’s braille features. Braille is read by touch; therefore, this setup is suitable for blind, low-vision, or D/deafblind users.

    Screen magnification and enhancement software: Magnifies elements on digital/electronic screens and allows users to adjust other visual settings (contrast, cursor appearance, etc.), increasing visibility and usability for low-vision users.

    Switch devices: Replace the need to use a keyboard and mouse for navigation by allowing people with limited movement to access devices or content by hand, finger, body, or eye tracking.

    Visual timers and schedulers: Allow users to transition smoothly from one task to another.

    Augmentative and Alternate Communication (AAC): a means of helping people to communicate when they have severe difficulties with speech and language.

    Speech recognition software: Allows users to navigate through software and apps on a computer or mobile device, write text, and control other hardware devices by speaking commands.

    Related Assistive Technology Resources

    Don’t use Accessibility Overlays!

    Accessibility overlays are often inaccessible and create accessibility barriers instead of solving them.

    What are Accessibility Overlays?

    Accessibility overlays are products depicted as an “automated solution” that modify the code of a web page, often using JavaScript. These products are usually in the form of a plugin, app, toolbar, or widget. The companies that create and promote accessibility overlays claim their products automatically detect and fix web accessibility issues.

    Accessibility overlays and automation of remediation are far from perfect: these tools often fail to correctly identify problems in several areas, including keyboard traps that prevent users from using form fields, missing links, focus order, quality and relevance of image description and alt-text, use of layout tables, closed captions, inaccessible captchas, and misidentified language.

    Accessibility overlays always leave out both the technical points of website accessibility and the users themselves, thus resulting in exclusionary processes and products.

    Avoid using or supporting “shortcuts” like accessibility overlays and toolbars as accessibility solutions. Your library can use automated website accessibility checkers like Lighthouse and Axe to help catch some significant barriers.

    Related Accessibility Overlay Resources

    Advocate for the procurement of accessible content.

    Advocate for the procurement of digital content. The digital content would, ideally, have considered accessibility from the beginning, is WCAG compliant and tested by qualified individuals with lived experience.

    The “Book Famine.”

    “Book Famines refers to the lack of accessible content. Not all books have been made accessible to those with disabilities, which creates a huge inequality in access to content. Even now, readers are waiting months, years or never getting to read some titles because they are never created in an accessible format. Could you imagine only reading the same ten old books your entire life?

    All people need to see themselves in the public library community – Not as an afterthought or specialized service recipient. Integrating accessible resources into libraries is a step toward an equitable reading landscape.

    What are accessible formats?

    Many different formats can be accessible. It all depends on how the format was structured and if accessibility was considered (before, during, and after) its creation.

    Audiobooks: Audio materials can be human-narrated or use synthesized speech and can be played on almost any device, such as mobile phones/tablets, computers, some refreshable braille devices, and book players. DAISY is a specialized format that offers greater navigational options, such as moving by page numbers, footnotes/endnotes, paragraphs, and phrases in addition to chapters/sections. Accessible audiobook file types include MP3 or DAISY.

    Ebooks: If created with accessibility in mind, they can offer rich navigation and access. There are more navigation options with some ebook file types than others. For example, TXT has no navigational features because it’s plain text, while DOC/DOCX and EPUB do. EPUB3 is the goldmine for navigation and accessibility! Accessible ebook file types include EPUB2, EPUB3, DOC/DOCX, RTF, and TXT.

    Note: Even when marked up, a PDF can pose challenges for users with disabilities. The inability to customize the reading experience causes significant barriers. Support for screen readers from PDF readers is still poor.

    Electronic braille: Braille Ready Format (BRF) files can be viewed on most refreshable braille devices, with transcription software such as Duxbury or Braille Blaster, or turned into hard-copy braille by printing or embossing it on a braille embosser. Human-transcribed BRFs reduce the rate of computer error in automatic/computer-translated braille and allow for proper formatting to provide the user with a more meaningful and accurate transcription of the print version of the book. All braille should always be transcribed and proofread by certified braille transcribers. BRF is an accessible electronic braille file type.

    Accessible Hardcopy formats should be available in your library. Hardcopy formats often allow the reader to view more content at once, giving a better sense of the layout. Physical formats can be especially useful for technical materials, speeches, plays, maps, poetry, and cookbooks. Some users still prefer to read physical formats despite taking up more shelf space. Like print users, braille and large print users should be given the same options. Hardcopy formats can include braille/tactile and large print formats.

    Canadian Independent Publishers, NNELS, CELA, and BAnQ are working collaboratively to create born-accessible digital content and provide access to more specialized materials such as braille and DAISY.

    How can you ensure that your library has accessible formats?

    1. Ask vendors if their products have been tested with assistive technology by qualified individuals with lived experience.
    2. Ask vendors if their products use accessibility overlays (and call them out when they do).
    3. Collaborate with colleagues in other libraries about accessible procurement and consider advocating together.
    4. Support publishers who have committed to creating accessible content.

    Related Accessible Content Resources

    Advocate for accessible digital content platforms.

    Digital content platforms can provide access to greater collections of accessible materials, but the platforms must also be accessible.

    What are accessible Digital Content providers?

    Patrons can obtain digital content through digital content providers such as OverDrive and Hoopla. However, these platforms are not always fully accessible. They can be challenging or impossible to use, especially for users of assistive technologies.

    Some of the challenges include the following:

    • There are unlabelled buttons or links. When buttons and links are not labelled with meaningful text, screen reader users cannot determine the function of a button or link before clicking them. It becomes a guessing game or game of whack-a-mole.
    • There can be a lack of control over page layout, font type and size, and word/line spacing.
    • Content relying on images, videos, or audio to convey meaning isn’t accessible for all users/learning styles.
    • They may be cluttered, complex in design, or over-stimulating for many users.
    • Updates may break accessibility, thus making the app less accessible compared to prior versions.

    Related Digital Content Providers

    Make your events accessible.

    When holding events in your library, online or in-person, ensure they are accessible so everyone can attend!

    Creating accessible online events tips and guidelines

    • Ask participants in advance whether they need any accommodations
    • Ensure that the sign-up and registration process is fully accessible, if applicable.
      • Add a field in your registration for people to indicate any accommodation needs.
    • Mute yourself when you’re not talking.
    • Share screens and slides and make them accessible.
      • If possible, share information in advance in accessible formats.
    • Consider captions/Interpreters to accommodate people who are deaf, hard of hearing and for those who are taking part in a language that is not their preferred language.

    Creating accessible in-person events tips and guidelines

    • Ask participants in advance whether they need any accommodations.
    • Let participants know if there is access to accessible transportation and parking.
    • Create accessible slides and make them available electronically before/after the event.
    • Consider using interpreters (ASL, different languages, etc.).
    • Offer to share information in advance in accessible formats, for example, a tactile map of the venue.
    • Amplification for people who are hard of hearing.
    • Ensure the sign-up and registration process is fully accessible, if applicable.
    • If you’re planning a program and the presenter has a disability, ask if they’d like their disability disclosed, and if so, how they would like to be identified. This is the best practice for all types of inclusion. For example:
      • An autistic person or a person who has autism
      • Joey or Joseph

    Learn what else you can do now.

    Accessible Libraries provide many resources to help you learn more about accessibility!

    Check out our other checklists: Accessible Social Media and Creating Accessible Documents.


    Accessible Libraries (2021, October 14). Accessibility 101 Presentation Slides. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

    Accessible Libraries (2021, October 21). Accessibility 101 for Canadian Public Library Staff Webinar Recording. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

    Accessible Libraries (2022, January 19). Quick Reference: Accessibility 101 For Public Libraries. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

    Canadian Federation of Library Associations (2022, September 14). Guidelines on library and information services for people with disabilities. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

    Employment and Social Development Canada (2020, November 20). Summary of the Accessible Canada Act. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from