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Disability Awareness: Glossary

Note on language

In developing this resource, we were cognizant of the power of language to exclude or include, to offend or support, and to reinforce or resist oppressive action. Here, we offer some working definitions related to Disability rights and awareness. We work to use and recommend language that is free from stereotypes, subtle discrimination and negative messages. We aspire to use inclusive language that "acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.” (Linguistic Society of America)

We acknowledge that every person has their own preferences and level of passion around what they do and do not wish to be called. As a rule: Ask people what they prefer.


"1. Oppression, prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against disabled people on the basis of actual or presumed disability.
2. The belief that people are superior or inferior, have better quality of life, or have lives more valuable or worth living on the basis of actual or perceived disability."

- From Lydia X. Z. Brown

“the power, opportunity, permission, or right to come near or into contact with someone or something… the relationship between the disability bodymind and the environment.” (Bess Williamson)

From Critical Disability Studies Collective

"How well a person with atypical ways of thinking, communicating, sensing, or moving, can easily navigate an environment."

From Lydia X. Z. Brown

Mention only when relevant. We use person-first language, such as person with a disability, not disabled person. (From the Linguistic Society of America): “In referring to groups characterized by a disability, be sensitive to community and/or author-specific preferences for terms such as Deaf vs. hearing impaired, disabled vs. person with disabilities, is autistic vs. has autism vs. has been diagnosed with autism, and other such expressions. Be aware of the significance of capitalization with terms such as deaf vs. Deaf, where the former refers to a physical characteristic and the latter represents membership in the Deaf culture and communities. (AP style differs here, lowercasing deaf in all uses.) Avoid seemingly euphemistic terms such as differently abled. - From CU Boulder's Inclusive Language Guide

Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and Stacy Milbern offered the disability justice framework in 2005 in order to centralize experiences of "disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others." 

Since that time, activists have identified 10 principles of Disability Justice:

  1. Intersectionality
  2. Leadership of Those Most Impacted
  3. Anti-Capitalist Politics
  4. Commitment to Cross-Movement Organizing
  5. Recognizing Wholeness
  6. Sustainability
  7. Commitment to Cross-Disability Solidarity
  8. Interdependence
  9. Collective Access
  10. Collective Liberation

The 10 Principles of Disability Justice

Disability studies is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field that is intent on:

  • Challenging the belief that disability can only be understood as a medical deficit.
  • Exploring and establishing models and frameworks to reveal the social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability.
  • Repairing collective responses to difference and de-stigmatizing disability and illness.
  • Encouraging and celebrating participation and leadership from disabled students and faculty.

Adapted from the Society for Disability Studies.


"When someone has difficulty doing something that most other people can do easily. Impairment may lead to disability (such as paraplegia), but does not necessarily (such as nearsightedness)."

From Lydia X. Z. Brown

"A person whose disability is not apparent, such as someone with dyslexia, a person with schizophrenia, people with communication disabilities or sensory processing disabilities, or an autistic person. "

From Lydia X. Z. Brown


"A person whose disability is externally apparent, such as someone in a wheelchair, a little person, someone with Down syndrome, many Blind people, or someone with cerebral palsy. "

From Lydia X. Z. Brown

" Systematic disenfranchisement due to actual or presumed membership in a particular group as a result of the power exercised by the analogously privileged group. 2. Some of the most common forms of oppression include ableism, ageism, audism, cissexism, classism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, sizeism, and transmisogyny. "

From Lydia X. Z. Brown

More definitions from Lydia X. Z. Brown.