Definitions of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion

Debate on definitions must not hinder progress

Download the AAM DEAI Definitions Infographic here.

The proliferation of diversity and inclusion initiatives across sectors virtually guarantees that there will be debate about the terms of engagement. Clear definitions keep us on the same page and allow us to move forward. Although there are many definitions of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, the working group agreed upon a set that best capture our beliefs. The definitions below are each followed by a discussion of why the working group members crafted the definitions in the way that they did.

Call to action: 

We invite you to use these terms with your colleagues, visitors, and museum leadership. You can cite these definitions in your appeals to grant makers, your evaluation work, and your own inclusion planning. Let us know how you have used or revised them in your own work!


Diversity is all the ways that people are different and the same at the individual and group levels. Even when people appear the same, they are different. Organizational diversity requires examining and questioning the makeup of a group to ensure that multiple perspectives are represented.

Why this definition?

Our definition of diversity moves toward opportunities for groups to continually question whether they have adequate representation to make equitable programmatic, hiring, governance, financial, and other decisions. Any individual will have multiple identities and experiences. What it means to be diverse, in practice, will vary depending on the organization.


Equity is the fair and just treatment of all members of a community. Equity requires commitment to strategic priorities, resources, respect, and civility, as well as ongoing action and assessment of progress toward achieving specified goals.¹

Why this definition?

Equity is the goal of our work. It requires deliberate attention to more than matters of recruitment, hiring, compensation, promotion, and retention. Equity includes governance, representation, and other indicators of power. It is, collectively, a step toward recognizing past exclusion and achieving genuine inclusion.

Equity is not the natural state of things. We must deliberately apply time, resources, and consideration to achieve this goal. In addition, our museums must develop relationships of trust and understanding.


Accessibility is giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience. Accessibility encompasses the broader meanings of compliance and refers to how organizations make space for the characteristics that each person brings.

Why this definition?

The definition of accessibility is broadening beyond public accommodations and job opportunities. It’s not just about the physical environment: it’s about access to and representation in content for all.

We must integrate those concerns into the definitions. Our understandings of accessibility include the legal definitions and provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but we’re striving for inclusive design.² We want to go beyond compliance.


Inclusion refers to the intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of organizational work, including decision-making processes. It also refers to the ways that diverse participants are valued as respected members of an organization and/or community.

While a truly “inclusive” group is necessarily diverse, a “diverse” group may or may not be “inclusive.”³ 

Why this definition?

We need museums in which diverse participants are truly integrated and valued as respected members of the organization and/or community, beyond token participation and authority. The measure and success of inclusion must include the perspectives of the disenfranchised.


²Our definition is guided by the principle of inclusive design, which aims to address barriers typically overlooked in the design process.


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