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, Karlen Communications

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. has been working in the field of accessible document design since 1999. She began her career in website accessibility and auditing and moved to accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents in 2004. Karen is:

A Canadian delegate of the ISO 14289 or PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) committee and has been for a number of years. A Canadian delegate to the ISO 32000 PDF committee. A Microsoft MVP for Word (Most Valued Professional) since 2009. A Microsoft Accessibility MVP since 2017 when this category of MVP was established.

Karen has written several books on the topic of accessible document design for Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents as well as smaller publications with specific techniques for working with Office applications if you are using adaptive technology and/or the keyboard.

Karen is the president of Karlen Communications.