Access versus Accessibility: “What are the Choices?”

Handouts Media

Presented at 4:00pm in Virtual A on Thursday, November 19, 2020.



  • Karen McCall, Senior Advisor, Accessible Document Design, Open Access Technologies

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 45 minutes
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: Pre-conference


As “accessibility of” seems to be diverted to “access to” digital content, it has become clear that these two phrases mean different things. This session explores the differences and provides strategies for making the choice.


As far back as the release of WCAG 1.0 there has been a conversation around two concepts of “accessibility”. The first, hoped for by those of us with disabilities, was that more people developing websites and digital content would learn how to use the WCAG to create web-based content that was accessible, readable, and usable. At the same time, the “push-back” was that “we can’t force document authors or web developers to create accessible digital content and the best that those of us with disabilities could hope for was “equal access” to poorly designed content. In the past three years this concept of “equal access” not specifically meaning accessibility in terms of logical reading order or structure of digital content, especially in the realms of word processing, presentation, and PDF documents has emerged again. How do we decide whether content with no semantic mark-up is good enough and when we need a well-structured semantically correct document?


  1. Learn what "Access" and "Equal Access" has evolved into in terms of digital content
  2. Learn what accessibility means to people with disabilities
  3. Learn strategies to help you and your students decide which type of content you want

Disability Areas


Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Alternate Format, Teaching about Accessibility in Curriculum, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Karen McCall

Karen McCall, M.Ed., Senior Advisor, Open Access Technologies, has been providing a leadership role in the field of accessible document design and training on how to make digital content accessible for people with disabilities for over 20 years. She has written several books on this topic based on her experience making other people’s documents accessible to conform to laws in Canada, the US and internationally. Karen’s ground-breaking book on creating and working with tagged PDF documents, first published in 2005 is now in its fourth edition. Her books on creating accessible Word and PowerPoint content were first published in 2005 and have evolved into both updated books and self-paced online courses. She is a vocal advocate for a global inclusive education standard and the rights of people with disabilities.