Access to Mental Health Toolkit

Design is powerful. The ways that buildings, products, processes, and even services are designed can include or exclude people. This toolkit offers suggestions for rethinking design in ways that are more inclusive.

Man and woman communicate using ASL

In this toolkit, we identify:

  • Common barriers to accessing mental health services
  • Ways to improve access through:
    • Design solutions
    • Accommodations
    • Use of technology

As you explore these resources, consider this definition of disability that emerges from a social justice perspective of disability and access:

Disability: the loss of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.

We use the term disability to describe this shared experience of exclusion. This experience is common to people with a wide variety of bodily conditions. People who are deaf, blind, who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, people with intellectual disabilities, chronic illnesses, dyslexia, and speech-related conditions all share the common experience of being disabled by the design and perspectives of society.

When we see disability in this way, we recognize that, as people who design and deliver services and processes, we can be a part of the problem of exclusion or a part of the solution of inclusion.

We hope that this toolkit will provide you with the resources you need to create more inclusive mental health services.

Note: The sections allow you to open and close them in accordion style. If you prefer to open them all, you may select the button below.

Common Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Services


Improving Access Through Design

Creating an inclusive environment means that, to the extent possible, service providers take a proactive approach to providing access. This section will focus on changes that can be made proactively to remove the barriers identified in the previous section.

Improving Access Through Accommodations

When access is not achieved proactively through design of a product, process or service, individual accommodations provide an alternative means to achieve access. The ADA requires that businesses provide “reasonable modifications” and “auxiliary aids” when necessary so that everyone has an equal opportunity to benefit from services and participate in programs.

“Reasonable modification” and “auxiliary aids” can include:

  • Provision of access services such as a sign language interpreter
  • A modification of a typical process or procedure
  • A modification of a format
  • Use of communication tools and technologies to remove barriers to or enhance communication

We have created a separate section focused on use of technology. Here we focus on the first three categories of accommodations listed above. These suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive. Accommodations should not be viewed as a laundry list of options or as formulaic but as solutions that remove barriers to access. Often the best solutions are suggested by the individual or arise out of a creative, interactive process between a service provider and the disabled person.

Improving Access Through the Use of Technology

Technology provides solutions to a multitude of persistent barriers to access and has changed the design landscape. To recognize the difference that technology makes, consider this question: What if Stephen Hawking had been born before the computer technology were available that gave him the tools to communicate and record his ideas?

We have chosen to provide a separate section focused on technology for several reasons:

  • Technological solutions can be both design solutions and accommodations.
  • There is a lot to cover in the topic of technology alone.
  • It can be helpful to see technology in terms of the categories of barriers typically addressed.

Generally, when discussing technology that removes barriers, the term assistive technology is used. Yet many of the technologies that accomplish the removal of barriers are used by non-disabled people as well. We also recognize that many mainstream technologies started out as access solutions before moving into the mainstream. Barrier removal, in fact, might be considered a propeller of innovation for technology. The line between what might be considered assistive technology and what is just technology is definitely not a solid line. We prefer, therefore, to simply address the topic of technology and how it can be used to solve access barriers.

We will focus our discussion of technology on items or products that can be used to remove or reduce barriers to face-to-face communication. We will include items that are high tech or low tech and in between.

The examples we provide are not intended to be exhaustive by any means. Where specific products are mentioned, it is not our intention to promote those products but to be concrete enough that the reader can find a product when needed.

Spoken language may present a barrier when communication is taking place between a therapist and someone who is D/deaf or hard of hearing, DeafBlind, and or who has a condition that affect auditory processing.

Possible solutions include:

  • Amplifying or increasing clarity of speech
    • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
    • Hearing Enhancement Apps
  • Use of an alternate form of communication
    • Two-Way Text Communication Devices and Apps
    • Alternative Communication Apps and Devices

Note: None of the technology solutions described should be seen as alternatives to providing access services such as interpreters or CART providers when those are requested, but may be the preferred options for some and may be short-term solutions when access service providers are not available.