Accessibility for Co-designers

Guide for Community Involvement

About this guide

Co-designers may have different accessibility needs - whether they be physical, cognitive, mental health-related, or social location-related. When co-designing with those who are most impacted or those on the margins, many people may have accessibility needs that have contributed to them being at the margins in the first place. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure accessibility barriers are removed as much as possible, so these critical perspectives can be incorporated.

The goal of this guide is to provide an example of different accessibility considerations, and provide suggested practices for including people with these different considerations.

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Accessibility considerations

Physical differences

  • Mobility
  • Vision
  • Hearing

Cognitive differences

  • Working with varying attention spans
  • Memory loss
  • Communication styles
  • Cognitive load or capacity

Mental health differences

  • Those with traumatic experiences, especially if what you’re asking them to think about may call on those experiences (ex. immigration, safety in the city, precarious housing, workplace injury)
  • Mental health related disabilities, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, etc

Social location differences

  • Language differences
  • Literacy differences
  • Childcare needs
  • Time constraints
  • Groups that experience systemic discrimination based on identity or circumstance, and may have traumatic experiences associated with that (black, brown, and indigenous co-designers, women, disabled, queer, trans, or gender non-conforming co-designers, undocumented co-designers, illiterate or homeless co-designers)

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Asking co-designers what they need

  • Facilitators and organizers are asked to communicate with the participants prior to the event to ask them about any accessibility needs they may have, and if there are any accessibility services they’d like arranged.

Safety and comfort

Facilitators will be reminded to be mindful of different needs and preferences in diverse groups and try to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe to contribute to discussions and participate in the activities, for example:

  • Allowing people to step out of the session at any time
  • Allowing participants to change groups and work with people they prefer
  • Allowing people to use their own devices, communication systems and communication methods as needed

Co-design activities

  • Seek alternative formats for the activities and any other material distributed in the session upon co-designers’ request
  • Design co-design activities to be as multi-modal as possible, allowing for different kinds of expression (talking, writing, drawing, acting out, etc)
  • Consider how your activities can be flexible to allow responding in the moment to unexpected or changing circumstances
  • Activities that may require co-designers to disclose trauma should be used cautiously and with trauma-informed facilitation methods, especially when co-designing around difficult or sensitive topics and issues

Accessibility services

  • Organizers are encouraged to offer sign interpretation, translation, captioning and audio description upon attendees request where possible
  • Organizers are encouraged to offer peer emotional support or onsite social workers if the topic matter is a difficult and potentially polarizing one, or if activities require disclosure of trauma
  • Organizers are encouraged to organize onsite childcare services, if they are expecting parents to attend


  • Utilize trauma-informed facilitation practices to avoid re-traumatizing co-designers as much as possible
  • Use anti-oppressive facilitation practices to develop an understanding of systemic power dynamics in the room, and how to address it and amplify the voices of those who may have not been able to contribute or participate fully
  • If the conversation is going to be on a difficult, sensitive, or potentially polarizing topic, facilitators who have direct lived experience of those challenges or topics are highly encouraged (ex. if you’re co-designing immigration supports, have a facilitator who is an immigrant newcomer)
  • Respect the agenda, but also create space to be flexible if other needs arise or follow what emerges from the group


  • Organizers are encouraged to prepare an access guide including information and images of the venue, public transit access to the venue, details about the facilities, food, and activities and send it to participants at least 3 days ahead of the session (See sample access guide). This will give participants enough time to become familiar with the space and to know what to expect.

  • The most accessible path to the event should be included in the access guide or sent to the participants via email ahead of time.

  • Accessibility of the space can be described at the beginning of the session

  • The room should be set up to best facilitate the activities and provide enough space for participants to move freely

    • For small group work, workstations can be created as needed by grouping tables and/or chairs
    • Instructional materials can be posted in the room in large print for easy access
    • Any creative materials should be laid out to be most accessible to all participants
    • Space between workstations should be wide enough and without obstructions (such as power cords) as to allow free movement of all participants (including those in wheelchairs or those with service animals)

Co-designing remotely

Check out our Remote Co-design Guide for tips on ensuring accessibility during remote design sessions.

Important required forms

  • Any forms, such as CLAs (Contributor license agreement) and consent forms, that require careful attention of the participants to fill out, should be sent out to the participants ahead of time to allow them enough time for careful reading.

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Conflicting accessibility needs


When bringing a diverse group of people together, there is a possibility that they have conflicting access needs. These varying needs can significantly impact participation and should be considered when planning a co-design session.

For example:

  • How can a person with a service dog work with a person who is allergic to dogs?
  • How can a person who can only work in dim light work with someone who requires bright lighting?
  • How can someone who needs details and concrete examples work with another person who prefers to work on abstract concepts?


The following strategies may mitigate the conflicting access needs and enable participant to more fully participate in the activities:

  • Enquiring about participants access needs prior to your session will give the planning team a chance to organize participants in teams in a way to minimize conflicts
  • Offering different workstations, such as indoor/outdoor, enclosed and open spaces, stations with different lighting settings, etc. would make it possible for participants to choose a station that works best for their needs.
  • Providing a simplified version of the workshop materials including worksheets, agendas, guidelines, etc.
  • Having concrete examples and fully completed activities available to help participants model their activities after them (if needed)
  • Having extra help available for teams that experience conflicting access needs to help them bridge the communication gap by repeating the conversations or communicating the messages in written form or any other medium that helps different co-designers to communicate
  • It is most effective to have co-design sessions within a community where everyone has common needs and has access to professional support. In that scenario, people can fully participate at their own pace.

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Creating an Access Guide

Accessible Communication Practices

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Further resources

AORTA | Anti-Oppressive Facilitation Guide

To be added:

  • Trauma-informed facilitation practices
  • Captioning services
  • Transcript tools

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