Equality vs. Equity – What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter? 

Aug 21, 2020 | 0 comments

“That’s not fair!”

Have you heard this exclamation before? It’s usually a protest or objection to a decision made that left someone feeling disadvantaged. We see what someone else is receiving or getting to do, and we feel that it’s only fair for us to have equal treatment, or at least the equivalent opportunity. 

Equal means “the same as”, and at first glance equality looks appropriate and ethical. However, if we expand our perspective and consider that we all have diverse needs, then we realize that the “one-size-fits-all” approach of equality doesn’t actually fit. 

Equity means being fair based on individual needs, not based on what everyone else is getting. 

The difference? Equity is giving people what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same and ignoring specific needs. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place, has the same abilities and needs the same things. Equity may appear unfair, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by “leveling the playing field”.

Classrooms, for example, are made up of different learners. This means that students enter the classroom with different learning styles (such as visual, auditory, or hands-on). Visual learners and auditory learners will process information differently and therefore have different needs. If a teacher only talks, auditory learners have the advantage.

Since everyone is different and we embrace these differences as unique, we must also redefine our basic expectations for fairness and success based upon those individual differences.

Would we assess a fish’s success by its ability to climb a tree? No! In fact, Albert Einstein once stated that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This image gives a clear visual of the difference. 

Equality versus Equity

And if we take this one step further, we understand the importance of removing barriers (which is part of our mission at reachability!). 


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