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[Ableism] may be defined as a belief system, analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, that sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities (OHRC, 2017).

Fore more on Ableism, see the Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability authored by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

According to Accessibility Services Canada, accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities. Ontario has laws to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Ontario Building Code. Accessibility is the opportunity to access programs, services, devices and the environment at the time they are needed without encountering barriers. It is “the proactive identification and mediation of barriers to anticipate and welcome members of our diverse community and increase accessibility for all” (Forward with FLEXibility, 2017).

For a detailed look at accessibility and how it specifically applies to the teaching and learning environment, please visit McMaster’s Accessible Education resource,  Forward with FLEXibility: A Teaching and Learning Resource on Accessibility and Inclusion. This resource, while specific to Accessible Education, offers a principled approach to the adoption of an accessibility lens that can be adapted to a number of environments where the proactive identification and mediation of barriers need to be considered, including:

  • Presentations
  • Workshops
  • Meetings
  • Tutorials and Labs
  • Events and event planning
  • Conferences and conference planning
  • Volunteer, staff and faculty training

Please visit the FLEXForward resource e-book to learn more about the exciting and endless possibilities of integrating accessibility into your life as a student, staff member or faculty member at McMaster University.

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.


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).

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 http://www.accesson.ca/).

Examples of alternative formats include: audio and video files, accessible PDFs, Words Documents that correctly use Heading Styles, e-text and Braille. For quick and easy conversion of documents into a variety of accessible formats, visit McMaster’s document conversion tool SensusAccess.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) or AODA is Ontario law that sets forward the obligation that 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: http://www.accesson.ca/

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

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

  • Age
  • Ancestry, colour, race
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Creed
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status (including single status)
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
  • Record of offences (in employment only)
  • Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • Sexual orientation

See more in McMaster’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention & Response.

“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”

Many people impacted by disability and/or disablement have a preference between person-first language like people/person with disabilities or identity-first language like disabled people/persons (Liebowitz, 2015Kassenbrock, 2015). This language distinction is explained below.

Person-first language

  • Person with a disability
  • People with disabilities

[Person-first language is] preferred by some because it emphasizes the person first, and the disability second; [it also] highlights how disability is only one aspect of the person.

Identity-first language

  • Disabled person
  • Disabled people

[Identity-first language] focuses on how people become disabled by environmental conditions; it understands “disablement” as a collective experience arising from systematic barriers, not an individual trait (“a disability”) within the person.

While persons with disabilities is the “politically correct” phrase often encouraged and used by public institutions right now, many disabled people prefer identity-first language. We recommend that you ask people their preference and use a variety of terms when you do not know.

(Definition taken from Forward with FLEXibility, 2017, n.p.)

Sanism is a form of ableism and are words used to name  both attitudinal and action-oriented discrimination toward and oppression of those labelled or perceived to be ‘mentally ill’.

Sanism is also called “mentalism” and “describes the systematic subjugation of people who have received ‘mental health’ diagnoses or treatment. Like racism, sanism may result in blatant discrimination, but will be most commonly expressed in “multiple, small insults and indignities” known as “microaggressions” (Kalinowski & Risser, 2005, p. Sanist microaggressions will include low expectations and professional judgments that individuals with such diagnoses are “incompetent, not able to do things for themselves, constantly in need of supervision and assistance, unpredictable, violent and irrational” (Chamberlin, 1990, p. 2) (Poole et al., 2012, p. 20-21).

For a through critical look at Sanism, see Sanism, ‘Mental Health’, and Social Work/Education: A Review and Call to Action by Jennifer M. Poole et al.

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: http://mcmaster.ca/accessibility/

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

Visit our section on Service Disruptions for more information, including a downloadable template to create notice of Service Disruptions.

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.

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.

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

For McMaster’s policy on the use of Support Workers, please see the McMaster University Policy on Accessibility