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Developing an Accessible Organization

A. INTRODUCTION To Developing an Accessible Organization

The OHPE Editorial Team thanks Wendy Dempsey for providing the following feature drafted by the Wellington-Dufferin Health Promotion Action Group in February 1998. This example of one group's work to address equity and access can be of interest and use to any organization, and as she notes, it is a starting point. Better to address these issues at whatever depth you can than to have never opened the door to access....


Organizations providing human services face the challenge of ensuring that their services are accessible to their community. To be accessible means literally "to be reached." While the effort to become accessible may seem daunting, the pay-off can be well worth it. Working with one's "clients" or community members can make services more effective (because services are tailored to meet specific needs) and more efficient (because services are more likely to be used). Our community services should be easily reached by the variety of people who could and should make use of them. This means overcoming barriers to participation. Different kinds of barriers require different approaches.

Barriers can take many forms. It may be a staircase for a person with visual problems, a step for a person in a wheelchair, having to travel for a person with no car and no money for bus fare, not knowing about a service for a newly arrived Canadian, not knowing how to participate on a committee, not feeling that one has a contribution to make, not feeling able to communicate effectively because of language or education, not having a babysitter, and many others.

The kind of barriers that may exist in organizations depend a great deal on the nature of the organization and the community of interest, however defined. Each organization's approach to accessibility will be unique and each will go through a process suitable to their organization.

It is useful to speak to organizations that have either gone through the process or to people who have some experience in accessibility issues. For example, in dealing with physical accessibility one might approach organizations for people with disabilities.

While there are no straightforward answers to developing accessibility, the following questions are examples of those that have been posed by other organizations/groups. They may help you to get started. Following these questions are some of the resources we've identified. Likely you can think of even more.


Who makes up our communities?

Are we rural/urban?

What diversity of race and ethnicity do we have?

What is the class or socioeconomic status?

What is the range of language/literacy skills?

What types of family compositions are in our community?

What ranges of physical, developmental and mental health challenges are present in our community?

What are the strengths/available resources within the communities we serve?

Who do we currently serve and what do we know about them?

Do we need to reach others in our community?

How does the community perceive our organization?

How do we inform the community about our services?

How does our organization define accessibility?

What barriers need to be overcome to become accessible (such as physical, language, social, cultural, ethnic, geographic and mental health barriers)?

Are there different ways of doing things that we can learn from and use?

How do we change to make our organization/services more accessible?

Who or what in the community can be a resource, (to help answer the previous questions)?


Possible Sources of Data and Information

District Health Council

Public Health Unit

Local libraries (census data)

Local school boards

United Way

Municipal Offices

Some local experts that deal with groups that have specific needs

Alcohol and Drug Centres

Community Advisory Groups/ Community Centres

Community Health Centres

Literacy Groups

Local AIDS Committees

Multicultural Centres

Associations for Community Living

Child Care Committees/ Resource Centres

Services for the Physically Disabled & Special Needs

Healthy Children/Healthy Babies Programs

Women's Organizations

Social Service Agencies

Seniors' Groups

Internal Resources

Any feedback and reports from previous internal processes by your department or overall agency such as surveys of clientele and staff as well as feedback from local media contacts, local community members, volunteers and other local agencies.


Embarking on the process of access and equity is rewarding personally and organizationally. For more information on the Wellington-Dufferin Health Promotion Action Group you can contact Wendy Dempsey at . We hope you find the resources she has identified useful (see OHPE #94.2).

Editor's note: OHPE #94.2 has several sources of information identified by this group as well as several more identified by Wendy Dempsey. You can also refer to OHPE #81.1 and #81.2 (resources) by Brian Hyndman "Removing Barriers: Efforts to Promote Inclusion, Diversity and Social Justice in Health"