Tools and Strategies

People with Disabilities and the Accommodations they Need

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What do we mean when we talk about “accommodations” for people with disabilities? How do accommodations help people with disabilities and make our society more safe, accessible, inclusive and equitable? 

Video about lack of automatic captioning goes viral

In 2020, when Shaylee Mansfield was eleven years old, she made a video called #Instacaptioning that went viral. (Watch the #Instacaptioning video together and discuss it afterwards). Shaylee, who is Deaf, is an actress and former YouTuber. In the video, Shaylee calls out the need for automatic captioning on Instagram stories. At the time she made the video, Shaylee felt frustrated that there was no captioning on Instagram. While watching Instagram stories from friends and celebrities, Shaylee could not understand what was happening in the videos and she couldn’t follow what people were saying, thinking and doing.  

Captioning in videos, films, TV shows and live events provides a text version (words written out) of the words, sound effects and other non-verbal sounds (i.e., phone ringing, scary music) on a screen or monitor. Sounds often play an important role in establishing plot, tone, or meaning in a video and people who are deaf or hard of hearing might miss these moments without captions. Captioning enables people who need the text to understand the content and have full access to the material. People who use captioning include those who cannot hear the sound in a video because they are deaf or hard of hearing and people who have challenges taking in information through sound only, due to learning disabilities or other reasons. 

Instagram now has automatic captioning available. Shaylee’s video was a powerful way to amplify her message about the lack of and need for accommodations for people with disabilities.

What is a disability?

A disability is “a mental or physical condition that restricts an individual's ability to engage in one or more major life activities (e.g., seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, communicating, sensing, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, working or caring for oneself).” To understand the definition, here are some important things to keep in mind while breaking down the definition: 

  • A mental or physical condition affects a person’s thinking, emotions or behavior. A physical condition affects someone’s body or specific parts of their body (i.e., eyes, legs, fingers, ears, etc.). 

  • Restricting an individual’s ability means to limit or prevent something from happening. Restricting an individual’s ability means they are unable to or have limitations in doing certain things. 

  • To engage in one or more of major life activities means to do, engage in or participate in one or more of major life activities (seeing, hearing, speaking, etc.), so being restricted from this means not to be able to do these tasks or activities. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 61 million adults in the U.S. who live with a disability, which represents 26% (about 1 in 4 people) of the total population. Disabilities include those that involve mobility, cognition, hearing, vision and difficulty engaging in independent living and self-care. 

What is ableism?

Ableism is “the marginalization and/or oppression of people who have disabilities, including temporary, developmental, physical, psychiatric and/or intellectual disabilities.”  

Ableism negatively impacts many people with disabilities and can take a variety of forms. Ableism can take place in schools and workplaces, on public transportation, online and in community places and spaces. Ableism includes discrimination against people with disabilities; lack of accessibility on streets, buildings and public transportation; stereotyping and ableist language, lack of media portrayals or stereotyped depictions of people with disabilities; bullying; low expectations, isolation, pity, and more.

Tools and accommodations for people with disabilities

When there is limited or lack of access for people with disabilities, including the tools and accommodations they need, that is also a form of ableism. People with disabilities need different tools and accommodations in order to easily and comfortably participate in all of life’s experiences, at school, at home, playing sports, playing games, participating in clubs, while working and engaging in other activities.   

In order for places and experiences to be accessible, people with disabilities may need tools and “accommodations” in order to access information and participate. A tool is something that a person with disabilities brings with them, like a hearing aid or a wheelchair. An accommodation is what helps the person use that tool. For example, a wheelchair is a tool and a ramp or an elevator is an accommodation to help a person who uses a wheelchair move around. Providing an accommodation means to change, adjust, modify or adapt something so that people with disabilities have access to work, play, learn and participate in regular life activities.  

Some examples of tools and accommodations for people with disabilities include: hearing aids, captioning, American Sign Language and notetakers for people with hearing disabilities; wheelchairs, ramps, accessible bathrooms, and elevators for people with mobility disabilities; and fidget tools, providing more time for assignments and tests, and breaking learning tasks into smaller steps for people with learning disabilities. 

Shaylee Mansfield, in her viral video, urges Instagram to provide instant captioning because she, and others with hearing disabilities, need this accommodation to understand the videos they watch. 

Engage in the Conversation


8 and up 

Questions to Start the Conversation 

  • What did you learn from Shaylee’s video? How does Shaylee make her case for the need for instant captioning?  

  • What does Shaylee mean when she says, “Knowledge is power. Captioning is power?” 

  • Have you seen examples of accommodations for people with disabilities in school, our community or online? What are they and how do they help? 

  • What did you learn about people with disabilities that you did not know before?

  • What more would you like to learn about people with disabilities and the tools and accommodations they need? 

Questions to Dig Deeper 

(See the Additional Resources section for articles and information that address these questions.)  

  • Have you seen places or spaces where accommodations were needed but they were not available? Please explain. 

  • How do you think ableism impacts people with disabilities? What impact does it have on our community and society? 

  • What can we do to make sure that people with disabilities have the tools and accommodations that they need? 

Ideas for Taking Action 

Ask: What can we do to help?  What individual and group actions can help make a difference?  

  • Educate yourself and others about people with disabilities and necessary tools and accommodations. You can do this on social media or by helping to organize an educational event in your school or community. 

  • Research, learn and reflect on the accommodations that currently exist (or don’t exist) in your school or community. Engage with the school administration or form a committee to analyze what accommodations are present and which ones are not available yet needed. 

  • Identify a place or space where there aren’t the necessary accommodations and then come up with an action or advocacy plan that helps to make sure those accommodations are available.