The noun form of the word “access”—meaning “the power, opportunity, permission, or right to come near or into contact with someone or something”—first appears in published texts in English as early as the 1300s. It has been used to characterize the relationship between the disabled body and the physical environment since the middle to late twentieth century. More specifically, it refers to efforts—most prominent in the United States—to reform architecture and technology to address diverse human abilities.

In its most literal form, “access” describes the ability to enter into, move about within, and operate the facilities of a site, and is associated with architectural features and technologies, including wheelchair ramps, widened toilet stalls, lever-shaped door-handles, Braille lettering, and closed-caption video. Figuratively, however, it can suggest a much broader set of meanings linked to a more inclusive society with greater opportunities for social and political participation. Given these technical and metaphoric …

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