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Access is a chain

Access is a chain

Marnie Peters

By Marnie Peters, President of Accessibility Simplified, from Canada

Marnie is recognized as an Internationally Certified Accessibility Consultant – Built Environment (ICAC-BE), Level 3 – Expert.


Universal design and accessibility

When speaking with clients or giving presentations about universal design and accessibility, we often speak about the Access Chain — the recognition that addressing accessibility in silos (e.g. each building is accessible but the connecting public realm/public transport in between is not) fails to create a fully inclusive and equitable environment for everyone, including people with disabilities, families, older people, etc.

A chain of events

“Access is a chain of events that begins with the decision to visit and ends with the visitor’s safe return home. … Failing to provide for every link in the visitor experience can mean that the visit may end with the visitor feeling frustrated or, more likely, the visit may not happen at all.” (Sensory Trust)


Links of a chain illustrating the Access Chain: the decision to go, the journey+arrival, on-site experience, return home
The Access Chain illustrated, Sensory Trust (UK)


While each project may only be addressing a single site or building, it is important that the accessibility efforts being made at that site, extend to the exterior grounds and approach to that building.

  • Can people get to the building from public transport and using city sidewalks?
  • Is there an accessible lay-by for passenger pick-up /drop-off (PPUDO) that has sufficient clear maneuvering space adjacent to the curb, and a curb ramp to get on the sidewalk?
  • If there is paid parking, can people using mobility devices easily get to and stop in front of the ticketing/payment machines ? Is there equitable approach and access to the building ?


Efforts being made for a specific site must be coordinated with City or municipal efforts related to accessibility, providing the opportunity to increase the overall level of accessibility and dignified inclusion one project or city block at a time.

Online information

It also needs to be recognized that addressing accessibility of the built environment is not just about doors and washrooms.
It is also about other elements of the Access Chain: access to information about the accessibility of the site, before leaving home via accessible websites and mobile Apps, and access to information while on site via accessible signage and wayfinding; self-service devices — such as kiosks, point of sale (POS) devices; information screens in building lobbies, ticketing and ordering devices; plans, policies and procedures related to fire and life safety for vulnerable people; the list goes on and on… all must be accessible for there to be a complete Access Chain.

Broken link

Unless a person can independently: obtain information, leave home, arrive at a location, interact with the environment (e.g. office building, public square, historical park,museum, etc.), use site facilities and amenities (e.g. kiosks, washrooms, restaurants, etc.) and arrive safely home again, the Access Chain has a broken link.

‘Safe and complete’ is the key to access for all

Addressing the elements of the Access Chain is about providing safe, equitable and dignified access for everyone, including people with disabilities. A complete access chain creates a safer, dignified and equitable environment for all users, of all abilities, at all stages of life.

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