Six Easy, Nearly-Free Ways to Be More Disabled-Accessible

Disabilities activist Mary Lester says there are simple ways to make your office and program sites more accessible without busting the bank.

Six Easy, Nearly-Free Ways to Be More Disabled-Accessible
6 mins read

Tips to make your nonprofit and events more accessible to disabled persons.

For clients, patrons, visitors:

1. Put up signs, darn it!

So many nonprofits have an entrance somewhere that’s wheelchair accessible, even if their front door isn’t. But there isn’t a sign on the front door that tells visitors to “Go around to the left side of the building for a wheelchair accessible door” or “Press this bell for assistance with the door.”

Similarly, if your main bathroom isn’t accessible, but the one down the hall is, let people know. Hang a sign on the bathroom door that says, “There’s a wheelchair accessible bathroom down the hall to the right.”

2. Post on your website that your facilities are disabled-accessible

Say it in your outreach materials, in your brochures, and registration forms. In one study of 18 community libraries, 16 were accessible but only two said so on their websites!

If you don’t say you’re accessible, people will assume you aren’t. So they won’t come to your programs. And then, in turn, you’ll think “we don’t seem to need accessibility since we don’t have people asking for it.” It’s so easy to break this ridiculous cycle.

3. Do a 10-minute training at the next staff meeting on appropriate interaction with people with disabilities.

Making some small changes in staff behavior can make create a huge leap in your accessibility. Here are the points to make (if you have a secret acting gene, act these out with a partner):

Don’t: Walk up to a low-vision or no-vision person and take him by the arm to lead him somewhere.

Do: Walk up and introduce yourself. Ask how you can help. If he asks for help getting to the conference room, say, “Let me walk you there. Would you like to take my arm?”

Don’t: Escort someone who is blind to the workshop room and then leave.

Do: After getting the workshop participant seated, say, “I’m going back to my office now. If there is anything you need during the workshop, Alice here can help you.”

Don’t: Speak to the sign language interpreter accompanying the deaf art gallery patron or the attendant of your client with cerebral palsy.

Do: Look at and speak directly to the art patron: “Is this your sign language interpreter?” Look at and speak directly to your client: “How can I be of help to you?”

Don’t: Pet a service dog or animal accompanying a person who is blind or has some other disability.

Do: Talk to the person and ignore the dog. If you really want to pet the dog, ask: “I know your dog is working. Is it okay to pet her?”

Don’t: You feel awkward and can’t find anything to say to a person with a disability, so you don’t say anything.

Do: If you see a person in the lobby, ask, “Have you been helped yet?” or get their attention by inquiring, “May I speak to you for a minute?” and then ask, ” Is there something I can help you with?”

4. Use technology

Ask your webmaster if they are familiar with some of the available open-source software that can be safely integrated into a website to increase accessibility (e.g. scalable text and page layout, text-to-speech readers, and high-contrast color options). Such enhancements will create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for your community.

For staff with disabilities:

5. Flex time

Flex time is one of the most requested accommodations by people with disabilities. It could mean an employee comes in a little later because she has physical therapy in the mornings, or takes a two-hour lunch break because he has back pain. Remember that many people have hidden disabilities, or will develop disabilities at some point during their employment. Flex time is often an easy way to help employees stay at their best.

6. Use larger print.

Many people with low vision (often simply because they’re middle aged or older) need print in at least a 12 point font size. Make sure your brochures, handouts, board packets, personnel manuals, and all written materials are in 12 point or larger. 18 point is considered large print and is easy enough to produce.


There are many free and low-cost software programs that can be useful help provide computer access for people with disabilities in public settings. Search on “free assistive technology” or a variation on that theme to find many options in just about every software category.

Windows, Mac, and other operating systems have built-in features that increase access for people with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments. Examples include: screen enlargement, cursor enlargement, flashing signals, text-to-speech. Learn to use them.

  • Access on Main Street: Covers a wide range of mainstream products that make life easier for an elder or a person with a disability. It is well organized and can be searched by disability; function (work, education, entertainment, etc), technology (hardware, software, wireless, etc.) and more.
  • BrowseAloud: A software that reads websites out loud and highlights words as they are read, useful for people with dyslexia or related learning disorders. Temporary free trials available, but there is a fee for ongoing use.
  • iZoom: Offers a screen magnifier and reading software for the visually impaired. Prices range from $19.95 per month subscriptions to $459+ flat rate.
  • This website has compiled links to numerous disability software resources and services.
  • And a book: Access Aware: a comprehensive (but a little outdated) guide to community organizations on facilities, technology, and different disabilities.

About the Author

Mary Lester

Mary Lester consults to nonprofits in fundraising and organizational development, and to nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies in disability access, community programs, and services. She is former executive director of the Alliance for Technology Access, a national network of technology resource centers for people with disabilities. Mary lives in Sonoma County and can be reached at She still denies responsibility for the fact that her boyfriend’s white cane went overboard on a dinner cruise in Hawaii.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

14 thoughts on “Six Easy, Nearly-Free Ways to Be More Disabled-Accessible

  1. I would add that when creating PDF files from Word files or other documents, be sure to "Convert to PDF" (requires Adobe Acrobat) instead of using a "Print to PDF" option. Converting to PDF preserves all the styles and allows the document to be readable by screen readers for the visually impaired. Printing to PDF essentially turns the text into an image, which can’t be read by screen readers. More info on Adobe tools and other tips here: -Carlos B.

  2. It’s very cost effective to make your web pages accessible to screen reading software if done in the design stage. Here’s a great resource for your web developer to use in testing a draft web page or for you to evaluate your existing web pages for accessibility. It provides links to free online tools:

  3. I’ve appreciated receiving and reading your blog for some time. Today, for the first time, I attempted to leave a comment about one of your articles. As a person who is blind and who uses a screen reader to access my computer, I was dismayed to find those leaving comments must view a CAPTCHA
    image and type in the letters or numbers they see. Even to send you this message, I had to request the help of a coworker to read the CAPTCHA
    . That’s incredibly unwelcoming and aggravating. Credible studies have shown CAPTCHA
    s do little to prevent SPAM and present a barrier for many, including some people with standard vision who just have trouble viewing the darn images. IIf you are dead set on using CAPTCHA
    s, then you ought to provide an audio alternative. They’re available. You’re becoming a leading voice in the nonprofit world. Don’t tarnish your reputation by continuing this awful practice that leaves out a large segment of the population.

    1. Richard, you’re right.  There are many sites that have an option to select if you have low or no vision. I imagine  the reason that Blue Avocado has the CAPTCHA feature is to avoid spamm.

      Your point is very well taken. I myself have had great difficulty interpreting the images. I ill talk to Jan and others at Blue Avocado about immediately looking into an alternative way to achieve the same goal and at the least do the audio alternative. I appreciate your input input and your view that BlueAvocado is becoming a leading voice in the nonprofit world.

      I do wonder what your original feedback was going to be before he encountered that problem?

    2. Richard, thank you for taking the time to write about this problem. You are right and I have asked our technology staff to look into a better way to handle the amazing amount of spam that comes our way. I’ll post here when we get something figured out. Jan

    3. UPDATE. We’ve switched to a math captcha which is supposed to be easy to navigate for visually impaired folks. I’m reluctant to give up on captcha altogether; it’s currently blocking about 2,500 spam comments per month, which would be a lot to have to review individually and delete manually. Please, everyone, let us know how this is working for you. You can post here or send an email to editor at blueavocado dot org.

      You can also register (which is different from subscribing) to avoid captcha altogether. Go down the right column to "log in or register (free)." Once you register your Comments won’t require captcha, and in addition, you can opt to be sent an email if anyone responds to the comment you’ve posted. Thanks again, Jan

  4. Thank you for this post, and for your response to the captcha issue (wordpress and a lot of other blogging software has made visual-only captchas such a strong default that this is becoming more and more of an issue). I especially appreciated the quick training suggestions for staff – bringing up the question so that people have a place to ask questions they might find embarassing is so helpful!

  5. Thanks for including this incredibly helpful article by Mary Lester in the same issue where you attempt to help an employer work through disability law for an employee. It’s a great balance and adds to your credibility.

  6. Thanks for including this incredibly helpful article by Mary Lester in the same issue where you attempt to help an employer work through disability law for an employee. It’s a great balance and adds to your credibility.

  7. I find it awesome that you said to hang up a sign to help those with disabilities to find a bathroom that they can use safely. In addition to that, one can create such a bathroom by calling a local installation service. That way, a homeowner can help prevent accidents from happening inside, thus keeping them from injuring themselves in the process.

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