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Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms





Able-ism is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against persons with disabilities.


Accessibility is the opportunity to access programs, services, devices and the environment at the time they are needed without encountering barriers.


Accommodation is a means of preventing and removing barriers that impede full participation and access based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Accommodation is a reactive process that is triggered when an individual identifies their need to be accommodated. For example; a religious or a disability related accommodation.

Adaptive Devices/Technology

Assistive devices and technologies such as wheelchairs, prostheses, mobility aides, hearing aids, visual aids, and specialized computer software and hardware increase mobility, hearing, vision and communication capacities. With the aid of these technologies, people with disabilities are able to enhance their abilities, and are hence better able to live independently and participate in their communities. (Definition adapted from the World Health Organization (WHO) website).

Alternative Format

Alternate formats are other ways of publishing information besides regular print. Some of these formats can be used by everyone while others are designed to address the specific needs of a user.

(Definition taken from


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) or AODA is Ontario law that sets forward the obligation of public, private and not-for-profit organizations, with one (1) employee or more must comply with to ensure a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities.

The purpose of the legislation is:

 "(a) developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and

(b) providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standards. 2005, c. 11, s. 1."

For more information on the AODA please see:

Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) Definition of Disability

Section 10 (1) of the Code defines "disability" as follows:

…means for the reason that the person has or has had, or is believed to have or have had, any degree of;

  • physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness,
  • diabetes mellitus, epilepsy,
  • a brain injury,
  • any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination,
  • blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
  • condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
  • learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
  • mental disorder, or
  • an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

"Disability" should be interpreted in broad terms. It includes both present and past conditions, as well as a subjective component based on perception of disability. Although sections 10(a) to (e) set out various types of conditions, it is clear that they are merely illustrative and not exhaustive. Protection for persons with disabilities under this subsection explicitly includes mental illness,[8] developmental disabilities and learning disabilities.

See more at the Ontario Human Rights Commission website

Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the following grounds:

  • race
  • ancestry
  • place of origin
  • colour
  • citizenship
  • ethnic origin
  • family status
  • gender expression/identity 
  • marital status (including same-sex partnership status)
  • sex/gender
  • sexual orientation
  • creed/religion
  • receipt of public assistance
  • disability
  • age
  • record of offenses

McMaster's Anti-discrimination policy expands upon the grounds of discrimination in the Code to include the following:

  • Language
  • Accent
  • Dialect
  • Political belief
  • Membership or non-membership in a political organization
  • Membership or non-membership in a trade union, or employee or employer organization

UN Charter of Person’s with Disability Definition of Disability

"Disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments, conditions or illnesses and the environmental and attitudinal barriers that hinder full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others"

Person with a Disability

The phrase “person with a disability” is the preferred way to refer to people living with various types of disabilities. In general, we should be using person first language, such as a person with low vision, a person with bi-polar disorder, etc.

Sanism (Saneism)/Mentalism

Is a form of ableism and are words used to name the descrimination and oppression, both attitudinal and by actions, towards those labelled or perceived to be 'mentally ill'.

Service Animal

Service animals are animals that have been trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

For McMaster’s policy on the use of Service Animals, please visit:

Service Disruptions

Service disruptions are an interruption to a regular service or facility.

Student Accessibility Services (SAS)

Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at McMaster University supports students who have been diagnosed with a disability or disorder. SAS assists with academic and disability-related needs, including:

  • Learning Strategies
  • Note-taking
  • Assistive Technologies
  • Accommodation for Courses
  • Test and Exam Administration
  • SAS Lounge and Events

For more information, please visit the SAS website.

Support Worker

Some people with disabilities rely on support persons for certain services or assistance, such as using the washroom or a person with a speech impairment may use a support person to facilitate communication. A support person may be a paid professional, a volunteer, a family member or friend of the person with a disability. A more specific definition of each term is provided below.

(Definition taken from Accessibility Standard for Customer Service: Employer Handbook)

For McMaster’s policy on the use of Support Workers, please visit: