These are definitions of terms that I use frequently in my writing, provided for your convenience and reference. I have generally written all of these definitions myself, but have drawn some of the ideas in some of the definitions from Julia Bascom, Adam Gluntz, and Shain Neumeier. If a term is missing that you think ought to be defined here, feel free to shoot me an email. (Contact information is in the sidebar.)

Some of these definitions derive from disability theory, whereas others address broader sociological theory and critical pedagogy, and others concern disability politics and policy. If you use these definitions, please cite them. I have taken many of these definitions from the body text of formal papers that I have written.

Under construction. Missing terms that should be here.


People who do not have any physical or sensory disability or mobility impairment.

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.

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

Access needs
The modifications to the typical environment that a person needs in order for that environment to become accessible.

The ability to make independent decisions and act in one’s own best interests.

The frequently problematic borrowing or theft of specific elements from an oppressed culture in the absence of context, sensitivity, or consent from members of the oppressed culture.

Autism is a variation on the typical human neurology, or the way that most people’s brains work. It is considered to be a developmental disability.

1. Compliance-based behavioral interventions that seek to eliminate unwanted behavior by associating the behavior with an unpleasant, or aversive, stimulus.
2. Aversives frequently include beatings, electric shock, deprivation techniques, prolonged restraint and seclusion, forced exercise and labor, forced medication or chemical restraint, and verbal abuse.

1. The use of power and privilege to invalidate the expressions and viewpoints of oppressed people by suggesting that characteristics, whether stereotyped or generally true, of their group impair their ability to be able to adequately understand or respond to discourse about issues that affect them.
2. The use of double standards to claim that an oppressed person is too emotionally invested, personally biased, or incapable of “appropriate” discourse to participate in discourse about issues that affect them.

People are disabled when they have physical or mental differences or impairments while living in a society where their bodies and ways of thinking, communicating, sensing, or moving are not treated as “normal” or “natural.”

The systematic removal of the viewpoints and existence of oppressed people. The systematic omission of the identities of oppressed people.

A form of psychological and emotional abuse in which the abuser actively works to cause the victim to question xir ability to perceive and understand reality.

Horizontal oppression 
1. When a member of an oppressed group contributes to the oppression of other members of the same group, such as a sexist woman, a heterosexist lesbian, an ableist autistic person, or a racist black person.
2. When a member of one oppressed group contributes to the oppression of another group, such as a classist black person, a transmysoginistic disabled person, a racist queer person, or an ableist poor person.

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).

The idea that the goal for disabled people should be to seem as non-disabled as possible, solely for the sake of appearing non-disabled, and even at the expense of necessary and natural means of communicating, moving, or functioning.

When an adult is treated as though they are an infant or a child.

Internalized oppression
Aspects of oppression that an oppressed person believes to be true and will often enforce on other members of the same oppressed community; often co-occurs with self-hatred.

1. The recognition that a person’s identity is complex and multifaceted, and the result of many distinct aspects, including (but not limited to) gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion (or lack thereof), class, (dis)ability, nationality, legal status, size, and age.
2. The recognition that social justice theory and work cannot treat individual identities or specific axes of oppression and privilege as isolated, but must recognize the complexity of overlapping identities, oppressions, and privileges. 

Invisibly disabled
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.

Systematic erasure and silencing of the viewpoints of oppressed people.

1. The belief that differing neurologies are a natural part and form of human diversity.
2. The belief that atypical or divergent neurologies are not indicative of disease, defect, disorder, or illness.
3. The philosophy that neurological difference should be celebrated and accepted as natural and normal. 

People whose brains work in basically the same way as most other people, or whose ways of thinking and processing information are considered more or less “normal” by the standards of their society.

1. 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. 

The deprivation of a person's agency by restricting individual freedoms, rights, and responsibilities, often in the name of protecting the victim and frequently by people with privilege and power. 

How people with power or in positions of power have said things are supposed to be.

The ability afforded to privileged people by nature of their privilege to reinforce the systems that give them privileges at the expense of oppressed people.

Practice (Praxis)
How people actually act, especially on a regular basis.

1. Often-unearned advantages and benefits in society due to actual or presumed membership in a particular group at the cost of the analogously oppressed group.
- May be benefits that ought to be afforded to all.
- May be advantages or benefits that no one ought to have.
2. Some of the most common forms of privilege include able-bodied privilege, Christian privilege (in most Western contexts), cisgender privilege, class privilege, education privilege, man or masculine privilege (sometimes called male privilege), neurotypical privilege, status privilege, straight privilege, thin privilege, and white privilege.

1. The physical, mechanical, or chemical inhibition of an individual's freedom of movement, behavior, or action.
2. Physical restraint is when a person is bodily restrained by other people holding xir limbs, sitting on xem, or otherwise pinning xem against a wall or floor.
3. Mechanical restraint is when a person is strapped, tied, or otherwise bound to another object such as a table or board.
4. Chemical restraint is when a person is forced or manipulated into taking psychotropic medication for the purpose of chemically inducing compliant, passive, and complacent behavior. 

A punishment in which the victim is placed alone in a room with a locked or barricaded door and intentionally prevented from leaving voluntarily for a period of time that can last from minutes to hours.

1. The use of power to erase oppressed people.
2. The use of psychological abuse to prevent an oppressed person from expressing xirself by causing xem to fear xir own safety. 

Well-structured and examined ideas about how things are and how they ought to be.

When one person (usually a privileged one) tells another (usually a marginalized one) that xir opinions, ideas, thoughts, and feelings should not be expressed if they are not expressed in a sufficiently polite or civil tone. 

Visibly disabled
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.

Xe, xem, xir
A set of gender-neutral personal pronouns. May be used to anonymize individuals in place of the binarist “he/she,” to fairly safely refer to people whose gender identity and or preferred pronouns are unknown, or to refer to people who do not identify within the gender binary.


  1. I see the term douchebag is suggested as an alternative to ableist language, but d-bag is sexist!! It's sexist because it uses a term associated with women to demean and objectify others, as if women are a low form of life. Could you please remove the term d-bag? Thank you!!

    1. The thing about douchebags is that women don't need them. Think about it: vaginas are beautiful, self-cleaning genitalia. What genius fooled us into thinking we needed to pump caustic chemicals up in there? Consider what douches do to things like pH balance and native microbes -- basically, a douche/bag is an invader that disrupts our natural functioning for no discernible reason other than "someone else is going to think I stiiiiiink!" So why on earth would it demean us to call someone that?

      Maria W., Almost B.A.

  2. We should just go back to using they/them/their rather than xe/xim/xir. Xe/xim/xir is just confusing, and they/them/their were the original gender-neutral pronouns.

  3. Lydia,
    I absolutely love your blog. What a fantastic idea; to provide a key to frequently used terms that you employ in your writing. I wish all bloggers were so preemptive. Can't wait to read more!
    the Yellow Rabbit


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