Part II: How to Categorize Types of Barriers

Outcome: By the end of this lesson you will have been introduced to 6 ways to categorize common barriers to inclusion. Part III of this lesson will provide solutions to removing these barriers so all organizations can become more inclusive to people with and without disabilities.

Lesson Length : 15 minutes


  1. Read Introduction
  2. Activity 1: Learn about Different Types of Barriers. 
  3. Answer Pause & Reflect questions 
The word "Push" with an arrow pointing to the Right and the word "Pull" with an arrow pointing to the Left


A common question people ask in our inclusion workshops is, “How can we attract more families of children with disabilities to attend our programs?” Examining how you attract families to your program or “pull” them in is a key part to running and inclusive program. However, a question that does not get asked as frequently is, “What aspects of our organization may  in fact be pushing families away?”

Parents and youth-care providers expressed barriers in Part I: Identifying Barriers of this three  part lesson. The barriers they expressed can be organized into six categories: attitudinal, organizational, financial, physical, communication, and programatic. 

Understanding the type of barrier can give us a better understanding of what may be pushing families away from our programs and organizations and give us a starting point for how to remove them to ensure better access for ALL children.

Activity Part I:

Let's learn about different types of barriers

1.Attitudinal Barriers

Kids with disabilities face many barriers every day–from physical obstacles in buildings to exclusion from summer camps and after school programs. Yet, often, the most difficult barriers to overcome are attitudes other people carry regarding people with disabilities.  These can be thought of as attitudinal barriers. 

Attitudinal barriers are pervasive negative perceptions and value systems that focus on a person’s disability rather than their ability and other valued characteristics. 

Judgment, stigma,  negative perceptions, low  expectations, stereotyping, social exclusion and segregation- all stem from attitudinal barriers.  Whether born from fear, ignorance, misunderstanding or hate, these attitudes keep people from fully welcoming, engaging with, learning from, or socializing with people with disabilities in our society. 

Attitudinal barriers are directly connected to every other kind of barrier. They are often the hardest to overcome but can have the biggest positive impact on an organization when they are.

Attitudinal Barriers connect to every other kind of barrier

2.Organizational & Administrative Barriers

Organizational barriers to inclusion are policies, practices and systems within an organization that either directly or inadvertently lead to the exclusion of people with disabilities.  Organizational barriers are frequently related to a lack of awareness or enforcement of existing laws and regulations that require programs and activities be accessible to people with disabilities.

Such as, 

  1. Denying individuals with disabilities access to programs, services, or opportunities to participate as a result of physical barriers or child-care settings.  Common response to families from an organization  may sound something like,

    “Unfortunately, we can’t accept your child into our program because the trails we use aren’t accessible for your child.”


    “We are sorry we cannot allow your child to bring their service dog with them to the cooking class because it is not sanitary.”

    Do you see why this is a significant barrier for an individual to participate?

  2. Denying reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities such as denying participation because the child requires medications at certain times of the day, needs assistance toileting or changing clothes, or the child requires a more flexible schedule to participate. A common question child-care centers ask as it relates to accommodations may sound like,

    Q: Our center specializes in “group child care.” Can we reject a child just because she needs individualized attention?

    The answer to this question is No.

    According to the  Americans with Disabilities Act,Most children will need individualized attention occasionally. If a child who needs one-to-one attention due to a disability can be integrated without fundamentally altering a child care program, the child cannot be excluded solely because the child needs one-to-one care. 

  3. Boards of Directors and administrators may not understand inclusion well enough to support it or seek to push inclusion initiatives forward.
  4. Administrators may also mistakenly presume that inclusion means complicated or expensive liability arrangements (hence that it takes too much time, money, or it is simply too hard). A common question child-care centers ask as it relates to liability may sound like,

    Q: My insurance company says it will raise our rates if we accept children with disabilities. Do I still have to admit them into my program?

    The answer to this question is, Yes.

    According to the Americans with Disabilities Act,  Higher insurance rates are not a valid reason for excluding children with disabilities from a child care program. The extra cost should be treated as overhead and divided equally among all paying customers.

  5. Administrators and program directors may feel that they can’t become more inclusive because the space they operate in wasn’t originally designed to be accessible to people with disabilities.
  6. Directors and administrators may have other diversity and inclusion goals that they want to focus on first, and mistakenly don’t see disability as part of that work. 

3.Financial Barriers

Youth-care providers frequently mentioned that their biggest barrier to inclusion is financial. They expressed concern over  having the funds to hire and train more staff, provide 1-1 support for a child, the ability or lack of ability to offer financial assistance to families and the cost associated with making changes to their organizational setting. Inclusion of people with disabilities, does take effort and does require additional financial means. 

Keep in mind, that living with  a disability in the United States can  incredibly expensive for individuals and/or their family. Many families struggle to cover the many additional expenses a disability presents: therapy copays, aides, tutoring, necessary medical care, time off work for appointments, assistive technology and equipment – these are just some of the added costs of disability. When these expenses mount, the price of admission to the zoo or children’s museum quickly becomes out of reach for many. 

What can organizations do to make sure that ALL kids get to participate? How can you adjust your annual budget to better support the inclusion of more people with disabilities in your organization? 

4.Physical and architectural barriers

Physical barriers are often the first thing that comes to mind when people start to think about inclusion and accessibility.  A physical barrier is one that limits an individual’s mobility and ability to access a program or program materials. A physical barrier can also mean a lack of relevant assistive technology, program activities are not adjusted to accommodate the needs of all  or program activities that are designed with only one type of kids in mind. 

Examples of physical barriers include: 

Holding a program in an inaccessible location, or at a table that is not an accessible height for participants to access. 

  • Narrow sidewalks, trails, doorways, or aisles
  • Lack of accessible parking or restrooms
  • Steps without ramps, elevators, or lifts
  • Lack of automatic or push-button doors
  • Low lighting or weak color contrast
  • Keeping supplies in inaccessible locations such as high shelves. 
  • Tables without knee and toe clearance

Curb cuts, ramps, automatic door openers, elevators, braille signage, telecommunication devices, and similar accommodations (or the lack thereof) send a message that people with disabilities are or are not welcome. Architectural barriers should  never be used as an excuse to deny participation.

5.Communication Barriers

Communication barriers are experienced by people who have disabilities that affect hearing, speaking, reading, writing, and or understanding, and who use different ways to communicate than people who do not have these disabilities. Examples of communication barriers according to the Center for Disease Control and Disability Health Data System include:

Written messages in print and online with barriers that prevent people with vision impairments from receiving the message. These include

  • Use of small print or no large-print versions of material, and
  • No Braille or versions for people who use screen readers.

Auditory messages may be inaccessible to people with hearing impairments, including

  • Videos that do not include captioning, and
  • Oral communications without accompanying manual interpretation (such as, American Sign Language).

Communication barriers can also exist between families and the staff of an organization. 

  • Staff and families speak, read and or write in different languages 
  • Effective systems are not in place for communication between program staff and families. Though this is a communication barrier, it is also more of an organizational barrier. As communication between staff and to families programs are serving are often dictated by organizational policies and procedures. 

6.Programmatic Barriers

Programmatic barriers can lead to exclusion of  people with disabilities from key life experiences. Examples of programmatic barriers include:

  • Strict program requirements. Examples of strict requirements include having strict age requirements, requiring that children be toilet trained, requiring that a child must be able to walk a certain distance to participate, or requiring that a child be able to feed themselves or change their clothes independently.

  • Inconvenient scheduling is a programmatic barrier for many families; such as Sensory-Friendly Hours being at 9am on a Saturday or programs only being offered in the afternoon after school which may be inaccessible for children that go to therapy appointments after-school.
  • Staff attitudes,  knowledge and understanding of people with disabilities are barriers to full inclusion. Staff attitudes and knowledge (or lack thereof)  can lead to having low expectations for individual kids, having biases and assumptions around what a child can and cannot do, not knowing how to support a child with a specific type of disability, or how to promote social inclusion for kids with and without disabilities.

Pause and Reflect

  1. How do the barriers feed into one another?
  2. Of the six most common types of barriers which do you feel have the biggest negative impact on a family of a child with a disability?
  3. Make a list of the barriers you feel exist in your organization, try to organize them by category. Hold onto that list to use in Part III of this lesson.