Content Warning: Some of these terms address sensitive subject matter.

Part of engaging in this work is understanding the power of language. The following is a list of terms that we think may be useful in our collective growth as organizers and participants in social movements.

This list of terms has been provided primarily by the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, via their “Campus Toolkit for Creating Consent Culture”, with some additions.

We have also provided a list of commonly used ableist terms at the end of this list, provided to us by the YFS Access Centre. Please note that these are words that we discourage the use of, but are important to understand the problematic history behind.


General Terms

Ally: A member of a privileged group who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit (e.g.. a white person who does anti-racist organizing). Being an ally means acting in solidarity with marginalized groups.

Ageism: The normalization and privilege of people within the preferred age range in a society. This age range defines who is taken seriously, catered to by most goods and services, allowed to have an impact on decisions in society, and valued as a human being. Results in invisibility of, and discrimination and inaccessibility faced by, people outside that age range (both younger and older).

Anti-oppression: The process of making one’s views of the world large enough to include everyone—looking for ways to make connections among different people’s struggles and finding ways to think about how issues affect different people in different ways. It means not just not accepting ‘norms,’ ‘isms’ and oppressive dynamics, but actively working to make the invisible visible, and challenging the systems that hold them in place. Also, an anti-oppression analysis acknowledges that all forms of oppression are linked and that the best way to organize against oppression is to take into account that all oppressions are linked.

Capitalism - An economic and political system where industries are privately owned for an individual/organization’s personal profit, as opposed to the benefits of the state and its citizens.

Classism: Refers to the ideological belief that people deserve the privilege or oppression of their class based on their “merit”, “social status”, level of education, job, work ethic, etc. Although many people suffer under capitalism, classism is relative (e.g. Student poverty) Classism also refers to the social dynamic of privilege or elitism. Access to knowledge or to education, the privilege to choose when to be an “activist”, when to be risk taking (e.g. risk arrest), and the use of exclusive language (i.e. “activist” language, acronyms, “academic” language) are examples of elitism embedded in class privilege.

Coalition: An alliance (usually temporary) of organizations or collectives with different mandates but who share similar goals or identities. Coalitions are usually formed around a particular issue or topic and have definitive goals to achieve.

Colonization - Emma LaRocque has defined colonization as a “form of invasion, dispossession and subjugation of a peoples…The result of such incursion is the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact…The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized”. Colonization provides colonizers with political power and control, economic gain through the exploitation of peoples and resources, and social power with the dominance of colonizer cultural practices and beliefs. Colonization is an ongoing process which continues to provide political/economic/social benefits to the colonizers of lands.

Collective: A group of people who come together through shared experience or a shared set of goals. A collective can work to build a community within itself and work together to influence change. By working together a collective has more organizing capacity and potential.

Decolonize - The active unlearning of values, beliefs and behaviours that have caused physical, emotional, spiritual or mental harm to the people or the land through colonization. These values and behaviours emerged out of the Colonial Process in Canada, and became normalized through settler society. In western culture people are targeted for gender-based violence based on intersections of vulnerabilities and identities. Some of these ideas include: the absence of the sacred, perfectionism, power hoarding, either/or thinking, the scarcity model — all ideas that emerged out of the colonial process.

Emotional trigger - Any type of stimulus that is witnessed or experienced (e.g., a conversation, a smell, a sound, a person, a space etc.) that elicits an emotional reaction in someone due to its relationship to past or present trauma.

Equality vs. Equity: Equality is based on the idea that everyone in society has the same opportunities. However, in recognition that structures in society disadvantage marginalized groups based on race, class, gender, sexuality, orientation, ability and equity takes into consideration the advantages and/ or disadvantages people face in society and recognizes that equality does not mean the same thing for everybody.

An example of equity is Affirmative Action, which tries to break down barriers for people who are normally left out of certain positions. The idea of equity is that we cannot all be equal until we recognize the differences that privilege some and disadvantage others.

Harassment: Harassment is normally considered to be a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours, or communications in any form based on a prohibited ground of discrimination where the person responsible for the remarks, behaviours or communications knows or reasonably ought to know that these are unwelcome. EMicroaggressions - The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment. Microaggressions are rooted in ideologies such as racism, classism, sexism, cissexism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, colonialism, as well as other discriminatory belief systems. xample: “Jokes”, comments, or e-mail messages which demean and belittle an individual(s) and which are based on race, ethnic origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. constitute as harassment.

Intersectionality - A concept used to describe the ways in which different kinds of oppression (racism, sexism, homoantagonism, transantagonism, ableism, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

For example: two people who have a disability or are differently abled (one intersection) may come from different class backgrounds (another intersection). One person may be working class, while the other comes from the middle class. The way that disability affects their lives would be vastly different because of their relationship with the class system that they come from (access to money, education, resources, therapy, etc.). Inversely, that disability can affect their relationship to class (ability to find work, finding educational institutions that can accommodate their abilities, etc.).

  • Other intersections such as race, gender, citizenship, and many others directly affect these relationships and understandings of oppression.

  • For example: women do not all experience sexism in the same way. Their/our race, class, ability, citizenship status, body type (and many other intersections) affect what it means to experience that identity.Marginalization: A form of oppression where an entire category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination. The material deprivation of marginalized groups is unjust, especially in a society where others have plenty.

Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Oppressor: An oppressor is someone who uses their power to dominate another or who refuses to use their power to challenge that domination.

Oppressed: An oppressed person is someone who is dominated by an oppressor and by those who are complicit in oppression through their silence.

Oppression - Institutionalised power that is historically formed and perpetuated over time that allows certain ‘groups’ of people to assume a dominant position over ‘other groups’ and this dominance is maintained and continued at an institutional level.This means oppression is built into institutions like government and education systems. It gives power and positions of dominance to some groups of people over other groups of people.

Systems of oppression are built around what are understood to be “norms” in our societies. A norm signifies what is “normal,” acceptable, and desirable. “The norm” is something that is valued and supported in a society. It is also given a position of dominance, privilege and power over what is defined as non-dominant, abnormal and therefore invaluable or marginal. Norms are also considered to be stable or unchanging over time.

Patriarchy - One of the most influential systems of power in our society that centres, privileges, and prioritizes masculinity. Patriarchy is practiced systemically in the ways and methods through which power is distributed in society (jobs and positions of power given to men in government, policy, criminal justice, etc.) while also influencing how we interact with one another interpersonally (gender expectations, sexual dynamics, space taking, etc.).

Power: Access to resources and to decision maker’s power to get what you want done, the ability to influence others, the ability to define reality for yourself and potentially for others. Power can be visible, hidden, or invisible. Power can show up as power over others, power with others, and/or power within a group.

Prison industrial complex (PIC) - A term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant.

Privilege - Privilege is an unearned, special advantage or right that a person is born into or acquires during their lifetime. It is supported by the formal and informal institutions of society and conferred to all members of a dominant group, by virtue of their group membership.

Privilege implies that wherever there is a system of oppression (such as capitalism, patriarchy, or white supremacy) there is an oppressed group and also a privileged group, who benefit from the oppressions that this system puts in place. Privilege and power are closely related: privilege often gives a person or group power over others.


Ableism - A system of superiority and discrimination that provides or denies resources, agency, and dignity based on one’s abilities (mental/intellectual, emotional, and/or physical.) Ableism depends on a binary, and benefits able-bodied people at the expense of disabled people. Like other forms of oppression, ableism operates on individual, institutional and cultural levels.

Psychologist: Psychology is the study of the human mind and our behaviours, as individuals and as couples or groups, such as family groups. A psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology and is trained to perform psychological research, testing, and therapy.

Psychotherapist/Therapist: A psychotherapist engages in a therapeutic relationship with you to talk about your challenges and re-frame your thought patterns and life experiences to create meaningful change in your life. Psychotherapists see opportunity for growth in emotional health challenges.

Social Worker: A social worker is a helping professional who is focused on both the individual and their environment. Social workers perform interventions through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice and teaching.

Psychiatrist: Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders with the goal of finding ways to diagnose, treat and prevent them. This area of research assesses not only a person’s history and surroundings, but also physical factors that may contribute to mental health. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the assessment and treatment of such mental behavioral disorders. This is also the person who prescribes and monitors medication.

These definitions are provided by www.psychotherapyontario.org/different-disciplines.

Mental Health Terms


Sexual Violence Related Terms

Consent - There are many different definitions and models of consent that take into account the particular wants, needs, and communication styles of those who practice it. At AVP, we define consent as a mutual, emotional, physical and psychological understanding between people(s) without force of any kind. When engaging intimately with other individuals, consent is necessary to ensure that everybody involved is aware and interested in what is happening. Consent is based on communication, not assumptions.

Gender-based violence - Violence rooted in gender-based oppression and power inequalities based on gender identity, perceived gender identity and/or gender expression, such as sexism, cissexism, misogyny, and transmisogyny. Any act of interpersonal, institutional or systemic act of violence (physical, sexual, economic, emotional, spiritual, social) that devalues and/or reinforces expected entitlement to women, girls, and trans, Two-Spirit, genderqueer, non-binary, and gender non-conforming bodies and lives.

Misogyny - The hatred or dislike of women, girls, or femininity; the denigration of women and characteristics deemed feminine. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women and people who identify and express themselves in feminine ways in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, violence, and the sexual objectification of women. Though commonly associated with men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves.

Rape: Rape is an act of power and control, in which the victim is humiliated, degraded, and left with feelings of shame, guilt, and anger. The Criminal Code of Canada does not specifically define “rape” in terms of specific acts. The crime of sexual assault is codified within the general assault provision (s. 265(2)), which makes it a crime to intentionally apply force to another person without their consent.

Rape Culture: A culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence and dominance over women and blames victims for their own abuse.

Sexual Assault: The sexual exploitation, forcible penetration, or an act of sexual contact on the body of another person without their consent. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, and it includes rape (such as forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration or drug facilitated sexual assault), groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner. The term includes but is not limited to, sexual harassment, the threat of sexual assault, criminal harassment (stalking and cyber harassment), and intimate partner violence.

Sexual Harassment: Includes, but is not limited to gender-related comments about an individual’s physical characteristics or mannerisms; unwelcome physical contact; suggestive or offensive remarks or innuendoes about members of a specific gender; propositions of physical intimacy; gender-related verbal abuse, threats, or taunting; leering or inappropriate staring; bragging about sexual prowess; offensive jokes or comments of a sexual nature about an employee or client; rough/vulgar humour or language related to gender; display of sexually offensive pictures, graffiti or other materials, (including through electronic means); demands for dates/sexual favours.

Survivor: While individuals who have experienced or are experiencing sexual violence are victims, they are also in a constant state of “surviving” the experience. The idea of survival carries within it’s definition the ongoing fight to live or “survive” a traumatizing experience, a process that includes dealing with a multitude of feelings and health consequences. It is important to note that there is no singular survivor narrative for violence.


Race and Culturally Related Terms

Anti-Black Racism: Anti-black racism refers to the pervasive and systemic nature of racism that actively targets black bodies and communities. It is the recognition that even within Racialised communities Black people are seen as the furthest from whiteness and as such are viewed as less than. Anti-black racism can look like the under representation of Black people on college and university campuses, high rates of police violence in Black communities or the maintenance of stereotypes that regard Black people as dangerous, lazy or criminal.

Colonialism: Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism is a set of unequal relationships between the dominant state and the colony and between the colonists and the indigenous people.

Intersectionality: The interconnected nature of all forms of oppression (cultural, institutional and social) against particular groups, and the way they are imbedded within existing systems such that they operate in subtle, covert and compounded ways (e.g. gender and colour; religion and race; sexual orientation and race)

Islamophobia: Unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of Muslims. Broadly this presents Islam as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change and characterizes Muslims as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

“Racialised” v. People of Colour: People of Colour refer to anyone who isn’t white. Racialised refers to anyone who experiences racism because of their race, skin colour, ethnic background, accent, or culture. Racialised people are people of colour, aboriginal people, and ethnic, linguistic and cultural Minorities. Racialisation is the process of producing racial identities. Put simply, a group of people is seen as a “race” when it was not done before. Racialised is a more inclusive term to describe people who experience racism due to perceived minority or person of colour status. Racialization is used because it acknowledges that race is a social construct. The discrimination is not based on just ethnicity but more on what the dominant culture perceives that ethnicity to be.

Racism: A system of advantage based on race; the ability to act on the belief that people of different races have different qualities and abilities, and that some races are inherently superior or inferior. Racism manifests in many ways, from dislike and avoidance of people based on their race to discrimination against them on an institutional level to acts of race-based violence Racism is related to power, who has power, and who is given power by society and exists beyond one-on-one interactions.

Reverse racism - Tricked you, this does NOT exist. There are assumptions and stereotypes about white people. However, such assumptions and stereotypes are examples of racial prejudice. Expressions of such assumptions do not constitute racism because they do not have power or authority behind them to affect widespread beliefs about the group, or to affect the authority, privileges and access to resources and power of white people.

White Privilege: A privilege is a right, favour, advantage, and or immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. White privilege is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of:

  • Preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin colour and/or ancestral origin from Europe;

  • Exemption from racial and/or national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Arab world.

  • U.S. institutions and culture (economic, legal, military, political, educational, entertainment, familial and religious) privilege peoples from Europe over peoples from the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Arab world. In a white supremacist system, white privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin.

White supremacy - A historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of colour by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power,and privilege.

Xenophobia: A person who is fearful or has an aversion to people and communities who are perceived as being “foreign.”


Gender Related Terms

Cisgender: A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender expression - The ways in which one presents (or expresses) their gender. As we live in a society that holds and enforces messages about what particular genders are supposed to look like (e.g., men are supposed to look masculine) gender expression is often used (inappropriately and often ineffectively) to determine someone’s gender identity. Though these two concepts can be related, one does not necessarily determine or indicate the other.

Gender identity: The gender that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation and assigned sex.

Gender binary - The most common classification system used in our society to categorize sex and gender. The model asserts a binary in that there are two distinct and opposite labels (female/male), qualifiers (vagina/penis), and behavioural expectations (e.g., caretaker/provider, emotional/rational).

Genderfluid - Gender identity that is mutable (liable to change) or that that is not fixed/static.

Gender non-conforming - Gender that does not adhere to gender expectations within the binary model.

Gender queer (Genderqueer): A person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries.

Gender vs. Sex: Sex is a designation at birth based on reproductive organs and chromosomes that differentiates male from female. For many people their sex matches their gender identity, though these should be considered separate. Transgender people, for example, are assigned one sex at birth but have a different gender identity.

Gender, on the other hand, denotes a social, cultural, or psychological condition, as opposed to that of assigned sex. Some people do not have a gender identity that corresponds to their assigned sex, namely transgender, transsexual, intersexed and gender queer individuals.

Gender binary - The most common classification system used in our society to categorize sex and gender. The model asserts a binary in that there are two distinct and opposite labels (female/male), qualifiers (vagina/penis), and behavioural expectations (e.g., caretaker/provider, emotional/rational).

Intersex: Intersexuality is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomalies of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male or female. The existence of intersexuals shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed.

Misogyny: A fear and/or hatred of women. This is frequently linked to sexism and is often the root of violence against women.

Misogynoir - A fear and/or hatred of black women. The term combines “misogyny” and the French word for black, “noir” - coined by the queer Black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the particular racialized sexism that Black women face.

Women of any other race cannot experience it, but people of any gender or race can perpetuate it. For example, any discomfort expressed by a Black woman is unreasonable, unacceptable and stereotyped as the “angry Black women”. Similarly, Transmisogynoir is racialized misogyny towards Black trans women.

Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it.

Sexism: Perpetuates a system of patriarchy where men hold power and privilege and women are subordinate to men.

Transantagonism - Active hostility, opposition, aggression and/or violence towards trans people. Transantagonism reflects a hatred of those who do not fit easily into the gender binary. The language has shifted from the use of “phobia” (as in transphobia), to the use of antagonism to better encompass the violence that is perpetrated.

Transfeminine - Transfeminine is a term used to describe transgender people who were assigned male at birth, but identify with femininity to a greater extent than with masculinity. This includes trans women, but transfeminine can also describe someone with a non-binary gender who views themselves as significantly feminine, such as demigirls. Transfeminine can also be used as a gender identity in its own right. Although they have feminine gender identities, transfeminine people may prefer not to conform to stereotypical feminine gender expression or gender roles.

Transgender - This term has many definitions. It is frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to all people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system. Some transgender people feel they exist not within one of the two standard gender categories, but rather somewhere between, beyond, or outside of those two genders.

Transmasculine - A term used to describe transgender people who were assigned female at birth, but identify with masculinity to a greater extent than with femininity. This includes trans men, but transmasculine can also describe someone with a non-binary gender who views themselves as significantly masculine, such as demiguys. Transmasculine can also be used as a gender identity in its own right. Although they have masculine gender identities, transmasculine people may prefer not to conform to stereotypical masculine gender expression or gender roles.

Transmisogyny - The intersection of transantagonism and misogyny; hatred, hostility, violence targeted towards transgender women. Transmisogyny is about the hatred of the feminine. It relies on an understanding that women and characteristics coded as feminine are inferior to men and those qualities coded as masculine and therefore are deserving of hatred, mockery, and violence. Trans women experience a particular kind of sexist marginalization based on the fact that they are both trans and feminine. They are devalued by society on both accounts. Trans and gender non-conforming people who do not necessarily identify as women, but who present feminine characteristics are also targeted. Hate crimes against trans people are disproportionately and tragically high, with Trans women of Colour being the most targeted. We see transmisogyny in state violence as well. Trans people experience disproportionately high rates of poverty and homelessness caused by discrimination in jobs and housing, and also experience greater incarceration rates, largely due to gender profiling by the police.

Transphobia: A personal, societal and systemic desire to maintain the gender binary (the strict categorization of “men” and “women”) which obscures the reality of the fluidity of gender and diminishes or ignores the experience of persons who do not identify with either or both gender categories.


Sexual Identity Related Terms

Asexuality - An umbrella terms for folks who do not experience sexual attraction though there is a great amount of diversity in this community in regards to how different people experience attraction, relationships, and intimacy in different ways. This is not the same as celibacy.

Biphobia: Irrational fear, aversion and hatred of individuals who love and sexually desire men, women and non-gender conforming individuals. Similar to homophobia but is also the inherent discounting and erasure of the experiences of bisexual people.

Heteropatriarchy - A colonial construct and concept that defines both masculinity and femininity in narrow and limiting ways in order to maintain a binary distinction between male and female, dominant and subordinate. It operates from the assertion that the earth is inherently female and is therefore seen as inherently subservient/available to be consumed and utilized. Heteropatriarchy serves to naturalize all other social hierarchies, such as white supremacy and settler colonialism. When colonists first came to this land they saw the necessity of instilling patriarchy in Native communities because they realized that indigenous peoples would not accept colonial domination if their own indigenous societies were not structured on the basis of social hierarchy.

Heteronormative - A worldview which frames heterosexuality as the standard sexuality. This is created through repetitive representations of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships in our society. An example of heteronormativity is the assumption that people are heterosexual unless they “come out”. Another example is how non-heterosexual relationships are expected to be similar to traditional “heterosexual” relationships (i.e., labeling one partner as the “man” of the relationship, expecting couples to want marriage/children, etc).

Homoantagonsim - Active hostility or opposition towards people whose sexuality is not heteronormative. This is often based on the assumption that monogamous relationships between one man and one woman is the traditional, superior, and only legitimate form of sexuality. The language has shifted from the use of “phobia” (as in homophobia), to the use of antagonism to better encompass the violence that is perpetrated.Heterosexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and thereby its rights to dominance. Describes an ideological system and patterns of institutionalized oppression that deny, denigrate, and stigmatize any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community. Examples of Heterosexism include:

  • Media portrayals of love/couples in shows/movies/ examples

  • Exclusion of historical and political figures’ and celebrities’ queer or trans identities

  • Censorship of queer characters, themes, and issues in works of art, literature, entertainment

  • Assumptions that someone is “straight until proven gay”

Outing (someone) - When someone reveals another person’s sexuality or gender identity to an individual or group, often without the person’s consent or approval.

Queer - An umbrella term used to describe people who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/gender variant or have an otherwise alternative sexuality or gender identity. At one time this was exclusively used as a slur by non-queer people, however, recently this term has been reclaimed by certain queer communities and is conceptualized as being more inclusive.

  • A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as fluid.

  • A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer.

  • Many older LGBT people feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it, which opens discussions to reclamation and its purpose/effectiveness.

Romantic orientation - An individual’s pattern of romantic attraction to men, women, neither gender, either gender, or another gender. For many sexuals, their romantic orientation and their sexual orientation are in alignment, so the gender(s) of the people they fall in love with are also the gender(s) they are sexually attracted to. For an asexual, who does not experience sexual attraction, it is their romantic orientation that determines which gender(s), if any, they are inclined to form romantic relationships with. A person may be aromantic or romantic, or somewhere in between.


Disability Related Terms

Ableism - Prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities. It can be difficult to detect ableism as it may express itself in the form of expectations, assumptions, values, actions and/or verbally. Furthermore, there is the implicit assumption that everyone is able bodied and have generally the same abilities. Some examples are; having bathrooms that are not wheel chair accessible, type/print that is very small, activities that require a great deal of walking, etc.

The normalization of able-bodied persons resulting in the privilege of “normal ability” and the oppression and exclusion of people with disabilities at many levels in society. Ableism involves both denying access to people with disabilities and exclusive attitudes of able-bodied persons.

Accessibility - The state of being open to meaningful participation by all people, in particular people whose participation (in a specific activity or in society at general) is usually limited by oppression of some kind. Accessibility in general means being free of barriers which can be placed by the dominant group inadvertently or advertently (e.g. lack of childcare or a members-only policy) and/or can be placed by society (e.g. housing must be paid for rather than being a right, etc.)

Sometimes the term “accessibility” is used with specific reference to the needs of people with disabilities. A space cannot be deemed “accessible” in this sense if the atmosphere is ableist, even if measures are in place (e.g. wheelchair-accessible entrance/facilities that are safe and dignified, Braille/large-print/audio-tape resources, TTY (text telephone) and sign language interpretation).


Indigenous Related Terms

Aboriginal Peoples - Aboriginal Peoples is a collective name for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. The Constitution Act of 1982 specifies that the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada consist of three groups – First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

First Nation - Some communities have adopted First Nation to replace the term band. Many bands started to replace the word band in their name with First Nation in the 1980s. It is a matter of preference and writers should follow the choice expressed by individual First Nations/bands. The term First Nation is acceptable as both a noun and a modifier.

First Nations People - Many people prefer to be called First Nations or First Nations People instead of Indians. The term should not be used as a synonym for Aboriginal Peoples because it doesn’t include Inuit or Metis people.

Indigenous - Refers to the original peoples of any given land. In Canada, the Indigenous peoples of this land are Aboriginal people, that is to say, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Inuit - The Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada, who live above the treeline in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and in Northern Quebec and Labrador. The word means “people” in the Inuit language - Inuktitut.

The Indian Act does not cover Inuit. However, in 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the federal government’s power to make laws affecting “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” as extending to Inuit.

Metis - The term refers to Aboriginal people of specific mixes of First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis people, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins, such as Scottish, French, Ojibway and Cree.

Native - A term used to refer generally to Aboriginal peoples. The term “Aboriginal person” is preferred to “native”.

Two Spirit - The term reflects traditional Aboriginal gender diversity, which includes the fluid nature of sexual and gender identity. The term can also refer to having both feminine and masculine spirits within one person. Two-spirit recognizes gender as a continuum and includes identity, sexual orientation and social roles. It is important to note that an individual may identify as two-spirited because of their sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity or roles.


Ableist Terms to Stop Using

Albino - Refers to people with albinism. Most likely ableist when used as a noun by itself (e.g. "she's an albino").

Consider instead: person with albinism, albino person, person who has albinism

Autistic - This is ableist specifically when used as a substitute for "self-centered" or "lacking empathy." It is not ableist if referring to someone who is actually autistic.

Consider instead: selfish, self-centered, lacks empathy, callous, narrow-minded, single-track mind, hyper-focused

Barren - This is ableist when it refers to people who are infertile, carries sexist connotations as well as ableist ones. It is not ableist if discussing agriculture/farming.

Consider instead: infertile, unable to conceive

Bipolar - This is ableist when used as a substitute for "switching very rapidly," "indecisive," or "shifting from one extreme to another" (e.g. "the weather here is so bipolar"). It is not ableist when referring to people who actually have bipolar disorder.

Consider instead: rapidly changes opinions, indecisive, extreme opposites, switching from one extreme to another

Borderline - This is ableist when used to imply a person seems mentally ill because they are unpleasant, toxic, abusive, or manipulative. It is not ableist when referring to people who actually have borderline personality disorder.

Consider instead: unpleasant, toxic, abusive, manipulative, mixed-signals

Blind to ____ / turn a blind eye to ____ / blinded by ignorance/bigotry/etc. / double-blind review - Refers to Blind, low-vision, or sight-limited people. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: willfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring, turning their back on, overcome by prejudice, doubly anonymous, had every reason to know, feigned ignorance

Bonkers - Can refer to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities, if the implication from use is that a person is "like a crazy person."

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Bound or confined to a wheelchair/wheelchair bound - Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities. Considered ableist because many wheelchair-users experience wheelchairs, and other mobility aids, as liberating, since they enable freedom of movement, rather than confining or restrictive.

Consider instead: uses a wheelchair, wheelchair-user, in a wheelchair, began using a wheelchair, needs or requires a wheelchair, is a full-time wheelchair-user

Burn victim - Refers to people who have survived burns and have visible scars from burns. Not considered offensive by all.

Consider instead: burn survivor, significant scarring from burns

Crazy - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Cripple/Crippled (by ____) - Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: Frozen by, stopped by, completely stuck, totally halted all operations (if using metaphors); physically disabled person, person with a mobility impairment, paralyzed person (if referring to a disabled person)

Cuckoo - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities, when not used to describe the bird.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Daft - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: dense, ignorant, lacks understanding, impulsive, risk-taker, uninformed, silly, foolish

Deaf-Mute - Refers to Deaf or hard of hearing people.

Consider instead: Deaf person, nonspeaking Deaf person, signing Deaf person, hard of hearing person, DeafBlind person, ASL user, ASL speaker, signer

Deaf to ____ / Turn a deaf ear to ____ / etc. - Refers to Deaf or hard of hearing people. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: willfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring, turning their back on, had every reason to know, feigned ignorance

Deformed / deformity - Refers to people born with absent limbs, disfigurements, or other atypical appearances, or who later have amputations, burn scars, or other changes to their physical appearance that are stigmatized in society. Note that many people do not mind use of the words deformed or deformity, and others find the word disfigurement offensive.

Consider instead: describing the specific condition or appearance

Deranged - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Derp (also herp-derp, der, durr, duh, doy, and variations) - Sounds meant to mock vocalizations that people with intellectual disabilities are stereotyped as making. Some originated, per Oxford English Dictionary, with a 1943 Bugs Bunny cartoon. (h/t Josh Klopfenstein for this information on "duh")

Consider instead: obviously, of course, uh yeah, ummm, ummm uhhh, um yeah,  hell yeah, fuck yeah

Diffability - Can refer to any person with a disability, and is usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Consider instead: disabled person or person with a disability (referring to individuals); disability/ability statuses (referring to an identity/social category)

Differently abled or different abilities - Can refer to any person with a disability, and is usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Consider instead: disabled person or person with a disability (referring to individuals); disability/ability statuses (referring to an identity/social category)

Dumb - Refers to d/Deaf or hard of hearing people, people with speech-related disabilities, or people with linguistic or communication disorders or disabilities.

Consider instead: dense, ignorant, lacks understanding, impulsive, risk-taker, uninformed, silly, foolish (to replace metaphor); nonspeaking, nonverbal, person with a speech impairment, person with a cognitive disability, Deaf person, hard of hearing person (to refer to a Deaf or disabled person)

Handicap(ped) - Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities, and is usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Consider instead: Disabled person, physically disabled person, wheelchair-user, person with a disability (to refer to a person); accessible parking, placard parking, disabled-only parking (to refer to designated parking spaces)

Handicapable - Usually refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities, but can also mean any person with a disability.

Consider instead: Disabled person, physically disabled person, wheelchair-user, person with a disability

Harelip - Refers to people with cleft-lip palate or similar facial deformities/cosmetic disabilities.

Consider instead: cleft lip, cleft palate, cleft lip and palate

Hermaphrodite - Refers to people with intersex conditions, whether or not they were coercively assigned to a particular sex/gender, and whether or not they currently identify with a binary gender.

Consider instead: intersex person or person with intersex condition (if you are referencing a person's genitals or chromosomes); gender non-conforming, gender variant, or genderfluid person (if you are referencing a person's divergence from expectations of gender norms/expression)

Idiot(ic) - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous, dipshit

Imbecile - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous, dipshit

Insane or Insanity - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Lame - Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: Boring, uninteresting, monotonous, lacks excitement, uncool, out of fashion (if using metaphors); physically disabled person, person with a mobility impairment, paralyzed person (if referring to a disabled person)

Loony / Loony Bin - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Lunatic - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Madhouse / Mad / Madman - Refers to an institution housing people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Maniac - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, extremely energetic

Mental/Mental Case - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Midget - Refers to little people or people with small stature or a form of dwarfism.

Morbidly obese (or just obese) - Refers to fat people/people of size. Note that per many fat activists , it's often completely acceptable to use the word "fat" as a description, so long as it's not used as a pejorative in and of itself.

Consider instead: fat person, person of size

Moron(ic) - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous, dipshit

Mouth breather - Invokes the idea of people who breathe only or mostly through their mouths (instead of their noses) as unintelligent brutes.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, feckless, narrow-minded, dipshit

Nuts - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous, dipshit

Psycho - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Psychopath(ic) - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Some people use it specifically to refer to people with antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, or with the quasi-psychiatric categories of psychopathy or sociopathy (these are disputed). Often used metaphorically.

Consider instead: selfish, self-centered, lacks empathy, callous, toxic, manipulative, egotistical, abusive, wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Retard(ed)/[anything]-tard (examples: libtard, fucktard, etc.) - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, feckless, narrow-minded, dipshit

[you belong on the] Short-bus/ that's short-bus material/etc. - Refers to people with intellectual, learning, or other mental disabilities.

Consider instead: uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, tacky, What were you thinking?, What the hell were you thinking?, What the actual fuck?

Spaz(zed) - Refers to people with cerebral palsy or similar neurological disabilities.

Consider instead: klutzy, clumsy, forgetful, impulsive, reckless

Specially Abled - Can refer to any person with a disability.

Consider instead: Disabled person, person with a disability

Special Needs - Usually refers to people with learning, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, but can mean any person with a disability. Usually a euphemistic phrase to avoid saying "disability" or "disabled."

Consider instead: Disabled person, person with a disability

Stupid - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities (i.e. "in a stupor").

Consider instead: Uninformed, reckless, impulsive, ignorant, risk-taking, risky and dangerous, dipshit

Wacko/Whacko - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control

Deluded / delusional - Refers to people with psychosocial disabilities / mad people / mentally ill people, when experiencing altered states such as hearing voices, having intrusive thoughts, or experiencing paranoia. Often used as a metaphor.

Consider instead: out of touch, totally disconnected, unrealistic expectations, pie-in-the-sky fantasies

Depressed / depressing - Refers to people experiencing various forms of depression. This becomes ableist when not referring to people actually experiencing depression, but merely as a shorthand for sad, upsetting, or disappointing.

Consider instead: sad, upsetting, disappointing, devastating, frustrating, tragic, sad reminder

Impaired / impairment - The term "impairment" is sometimes acceptable and sometimes not. Many (though not all) blind, low-vision, and limited-sight people find "visual impairment" or "vision impairment" offensive. Others describe themselves as visually impaired. Likewise, d/Deaf and hard of hearing people generally find "hearing impairment" offensive. Other disability communities use the word commonly, as in, "learning impairment," "cognitive impairment," or "functional impairment." Your mileage may vary.

Manic - Refers to someone with bipolar (used to be called manic depression). (The word becomes ableist when not used to refer to someone actually experiencing mania or a manic state.)

Consider instead: burst of energy, high-strung, type A personality, meticulous, high-energy, intense

Multiple personalities - This is ableist when used to imply or state that a person is double-dealing, two-faced, manipulative, deceptive, or changing rapidly. It is sometimes, but not always, ableist when describe people who actually have dissociative identity disorder or who belong to multiple systems, depending on language preference of the particular people or systems involved.

Consider instead: two-faced, double-dealing, manipulative, deceptive, changing rapidly, shows one face here and another face there, seems like a different person in another context

Narcissistic - Refers to various neurotypes and psychosocial disabilities, like antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorders (becomes ableist when not referring to a person considered or known to have NPD)

Consider instead: selfish, self-centered, lacks empathy, callous, toxic, manipulative, egotistical, abusive

OCD - This is ableist when used as a substitute for "fastidious," "meticulous," "anal-retentive," or "high-strung." It is not ableist when referring to people who actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Consider instead: fastidious, meticulous, anal-retentive, high-strung, hyper-focused, type A personality

- Phobic (examples: homophobic, Islamophobic) - Appropriates description of a specific mental illness / psychosocial disability, frequently to describe hatred, fear, bigotry, or oppression, or else to describe something disliked or unpleasant. This is not ableist when it refers to someone who actually has a phobia such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, emetophobia, etc.

Consider instead: anti-Muslim, queer-antagonistic, fatmisia, bigotry against, bias against, hate of, prejudice against, oppressive, etc.

Psychotic - Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities. (The word "psychotic" becomes ableist when not used to refer to someone actually experiencing psychosis, either acute or chronic.)

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary

Schizo or schizophrenic - This is ableist when used as a substitute for "switching rapidly" or "acting without regard for others" or otherwise implying a person seems mentally ill simply because they are unpredictable or make someone uncomfortable. It is not ableist when actually referring to a person with schizophrenia or schizo-affective personality disorder.

Consider instead: wild, confusing, unpredictable, impulsive, reckless, fearless, lives on the edge, thrill-seeker, risk-taker, out of control, scary, lacks empathy, toxic, manipulative, egotistical, abusive, unpredictable

Suffers from ____ - Can refer to any person with a disability. Often ableist because it assumes that being disabled always means suffering, when that is frequently not true. This is not ableist when it is a person's chosen description, or if it is describing a specific universally unwanted and painful experience (like having seizures).

Consider instead: has a disability

Cretin - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Feeble-Minded - Refers to people with mental, psychiatric, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.

Invalid (as a noun, as in "my neighbor is an invalid and never goes outside") - Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities or chronic health conditions.

Mental Defective - Refers to people with mental, psychiatric, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.

Mongoloid - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities, and specifically people with Down Syndrome. Derives from a double-whammy of racism AND ableism, from the belief that people with Down Syndrome, regardless of race, look like people from East Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Native nations in the Americas (including Alaska), or the Pacific Islands. This also carries the underlying assumption that people from these racial and ethnic groups are automatically unattractive and undesirable compared to white people of Western European or Scandinavian descent.

Simpleton - Refers to people with intellectual disabilities.

Instead of an ableist word or phrase, perhaps you actually meant to say...

For describing people with disabilities/disabled people in general:

Disabled, Has a disability, With a disability, With a chronic health condition, Has a chronic health condition, Neuroatypical, Neurodivergent

For describing people on the autism spectrum:

Person/people on the autism/autistic spectrum, Autistic person/people, Person/people with autism, Aspie/Autie (note -- this term is often only really used by people who claim it, and often not by many politically autistic people)

For describing people with intellectual disabilities:

With an intellectual disability, Has an intellectual disability, With a cognitive disability, Has a cognitive disability

For describing people with sensory disabilities:

Blind, Low vision, Deaf, Hard of hearing, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled

For describing people with physical or mobility disabilities:

With a physical disability, With a mobility disability, Uses a wheelchair, In a wheelchair, Uses crutches, Uses a cane, Uses a walker, Has/With [specific condition here]

For describing hate, fear, bigotry, or oppression:

Anti- [group] -ness, Anti - [group] oppression, [group] antagonism / antagonistic, Bias against [group], Bigotry against [group], Hate of [group], [group] misia / misic, Prejudice against [group]

- Some examples of the above for trans people: anti-transness, anti-trans, anti-trans oppression, trans-antagonism, trans-antagonistic, bias against trans people, bigotry against trans people, hate of trans people, transmisia, transmisic, prejudice against trans people