Main Content
AIM Glossary
Glossary: Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM)
Disability & Accessibility

Ableism:  Based on the belief that disability is a defect rather than a dimension of human diversity, the term is used to describe the discrimination against, and the exclusion of, individuals with mental health and physical disabilities from full participation in available community options, such as employment, housing, and recreation.  Ableism affects those with disabilities by inhibiting their access to and power within institutional structures that fulfill needs, like health care, housing, government, education, religious communities, the media, and the legal system.

Accessible:  In the case of a facility, readily usable by an individual; in the case of a program or activity, presented or provided in such a way that an individual can participate, with or without auxiliary materials such as large-print text, or aides such as a sign language interpreter.

Access Barriers: Any obstruction that prevents people with disabilities from using standard facilities, equipment, and resources.

Accommodation:  An adjustment to make a program, facility, or resource accessible for a person with a disability.

Adaptive Behavior:  Behavior consisting of three types of skills:  (1) Conceptual skills (e.g., language and literacy; concepts of money, time, and number); (2) Social skills (e.g., interpersonal skills, social problem solving); and (3) Practical skills (e.g., personal care skills, healthcare, schedules/routines, travel/transportation).

Allyship:  Aligning oneself with those whom society confers you with privilege over and actively working to end unearned privilege.  It is also the practice of working together for social justice rather than working unilaterally on another person’s behalf.

Alzheimer’s Disease:  A progressive, incurable condition that destroys brain cells, gradually causing loss of intellectual abilities such as memory, and extreme changes in personality and behaviors.

American Sign Language (ASL):  A complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body.  ASL is the first language of many Deaf North Americans, and one of several communication options available to Deaf people.  ASL is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA):  A comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public services, public accommodations, and services operated by private entities, and in telecommunications .

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS):  More commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease that causes degeneration of the motor neurons, nerve cells that control the movement of voluntary muscles.  Motor neurons extend from the brain to the spinal cord (the upper motor neuron) and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body (the lower motor neurons).  The disease causes the motor neurons to degenerate and eventually die.  As they die, the corresponding muscles are paralyzed.

ASL:  See American Sign Language.

Asperger’s Syndrome:  A pervasive developmental disorder commonly referred to as a form of “high-functioning” autism.  Individuals with Asperger’s are considered to have a higher intellectual capacity while living with a lower social capacity.  Lorna Wing coined the term “Asperger’s syndrome” in 1981.  She named it after Hans Asperger, an Austrian psychiatrist and pediatrician whose work was not internationally recognized until the 1990s.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):  A common developmental and behavioral disorder characterized by poor concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.  Children and adults with ADHD are easily distracted by sights and sounds in their environment, cannot concentrate for long periods of time, are restless and impulsive, and/or have a tendency to daydream and be slow to complete tasks.

Autism:  Classified by the World Health Organization and American Psychological Association as a developmental disability that results from a disorder of the human central nervous system.  Autism is diagnosed by impairments to social interaction, communication, interests, imagination, and activities.  However, the causes, symptoms, etiology, treatment, and other issues are controversial.

Autism Spectrum Disorders:  This phrase refers to a range of neurological disorders that most markedly involve some degree of difficulty with communication and interpersonal relationships as well as obsessions and repetitive behaviors.  As the term “spectrum” indicates, there can be a wide range of effects.  Those at the lower functioning end of the spectrum may be profoundly unable to break out of their own world and may be described as having Kanner’s Autism.  Those at the higher functioning end, sometimes diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, may be able to lead independent lives but still be awkward in their social interactions.

Bipolar Disorder:  Characterized by periods of excitability (mania) alternating with periods of depression.  The mood swings between mania and depression can be very abrupt.  Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally and usually appears between the ages of 15 and 25.  The exact cause is unknown but it occurs more often in relatives of people with bipolar disorder.  Bipolar disorder results from disturbances in the areas of the brain that regulate mood.  During manic periods, a person with bipolar disorder may be overly impulsive and energetic with an exaggerated sense of self.  The depressed phase brings overwhelming feelings of anxiety, low self-worth, and suicidal thoughts.

Blindness:  The loss or absence of the ability to perceive visual images.  Legal blindness is the condition of a person having less than 20/200 vision.  See Visual Disability.

Braille:  A system of making raised dots on paper to form letters and words that are read by blind people using their fingertips.  The arrangements of dots make up letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks.

Captioning:  Text that is included with video presentations or broadcasts to enable people with hearing problems to have access to the audio portion of the material.

Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART):  Real-time captioning for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Cerebral Palsy:  A general term for a group of permanent brain injuries that affect an infant in the womb, during birth, or in the months following birth.  People with cerebral palsy may have limited motor skills, speech difficulties, learning disabilities, or other related conditions.

Deaf Culture:  The social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values, and shared institutions of communities that are affected by deafness and that use sign languages as the main means of communication.  Members of the Deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability.  In the Deaf culture, the word Deaf is capitalized.

Deafness:  Defined as partial or complete hearing loss.  Levels of hearing impairment vary from a mild but important loss of sensitivity to a total loss of hearing.  Older adults most often experience hearing loss.  Age-related hearing loss affects 30 to 35 percent of the population between the ages of 65 and 75 years and 40 percent of the population over the age of 75.  The most common cause of hearing loss in children is otitis media, a disorder that affects predominantly infants and young children.  A substantial number of hearing impairments are caused by environmental factors such as noise, drugs, and toxins.  Many sensor neural hearing losses result from a genetic predisposition.  See Hard of Hearing.

Depression:  A mental illness in which people experience sadness and lack of interest in everyday activities and events, and feel a sense of worthlessness.  Depression can be triggered by a tragic event or no apparent cause.  Several molecules found in the brain have been associated with depression, which is why it is often treated using medications that act on the brain.

Developmental Disability:  A disability that manifests before a person reaches 22 years of age and that constitutes a substantial disability to the affected individual.  Developmental disability is used to describe intellectual disability or related conditions, which include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or other neurological conditions when such conditions result in problems with general intellectual functioning or adaptive behavior similar to that of a person with intellectual disabilities.

Disability:  Variations in how our minds and our bodies work are part of the vast range of human diversity, and contribute to individual uniqueness.  Society determines which of these variations are considered “normal” or “typical” and defines the rest as “disabilities.”  These definitions are fluid over time and across cultures.

Discrimination:  The act of making a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit.

Down Syndrome / Trisomy 21:  A developmental disability genetic in origin that causes slowed growth, distinctive facial features, and intellectual disabilities.  Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of all or part of chromosome 21.

Epilepsy:  When nerve cells in the brain fire electrical impulses at a rate of up to four times higher than typical, they cause an “electrical storm” in the brain known as a seizure.  A pattern of repeated seizures is referred to as epilepsy.  Known causes include head injuries, brain tumors, lead poisoning, maldevelopment of the brain, genetic differences, and infectious illnesses.  It is important to note that in the majority of cases of epilepsy, no cause can be found.  Medications are available to control seizures for the majority of patients.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD):  An umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can occur to an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.  These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications.

Hard of Hearing / Hearing Disability / Hearing Loss / Hearing Impairment:  Complete or partial loss of ability to hear.  The degree of hearing loss can range from mild to profound.  Most people who are hard-of-hearing are oralists (communicate by using their voice) although a small number learn sign language.  The term hearing impaired is rejected by the Deaf culture movement, where the terms Deaf and hard of hearing are preferred.  People who lose hearing later in life are termed “late-deafened.”  Distinctions and culture can be different from those of people who are Deaf.  See Deaf Culture. 

Impairment:  Any loss or abnormality of psychological or anatomical structure or function.

Intellectual Disability:  A disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.  This disability originates before the age of 18.  Intellectual functioning – also called intelligence – refers to general mental capacity, such as learning, reasoning, problem solving, and so on.  Adaptive behavior comprises three skill types: conceptual skills, social skills, and practical skills.

Learning Disability:  A disorder in basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that manifests itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or use mathematical calculations.  The term includes conditions such as perceptual disability, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Major Life Activities:  Functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and participating in community activities (as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

Mental Illness:  A term used to refer to all mental disorders.  Mental disorders are health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.

Mobility Disability:  A disability that affects movement ranging from gross motor skills such as walking to fine motor movement involving manipulation of objects by hand.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS):  A chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system in which gradual destruction of myelin occurs in patches throughout the brain or spinal cord (or both), which interferes with the nerve pathways, causing muscular weakness, loss of coordination and speech, and visual disturbances.  It occurs chiefly in young adults and is thought to be a defect in the immune system that may be of genetic or viral origin.

Muscular Dystrophy (MD):  A broad term used to describe a genetic disorder of the muscles.  MD causes the muscles in the body to become very weak.  Over time the muscles break down and are replaced with fatty deposits.  The most common form of MD is called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

Night Blindness:  Night blindness (nyctalopia) is the inability to see well at night or in poor light.  It is not a disorder in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying disorder or problem, especially untreated myopia (nearsightedness).

Oralist:  A hard of hearing individual who communicates by voice.

People First Language:  Language that represents more respectful, accurate ways of communicating.  One might say, for example, “people with disabilities” rather than “the disabled.”  Or, “Steve has a physical disability” rather than “Steve is crippled.”  Or, “Maria has autism” rather than “Maria is autistic. “  People with disabilities are not their diagnoses or disabilities; they are people, first.  When we adopt new ways of thinking and talking about people with disabilities, we will not only exert a positive influence on their lives, but on our society as a whole.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):  An anxiety disorder that can occur after an individual has been through a traumatic event.  A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that a person sees or experiences.  During this type of event, the individual thinks that his/her life or others’ lives are in danger.  The individual may feel afraid or feel that he/she has no control over what is happening.

Reader:  An individual who reads printed material in person or records to audiotape.

Refreshable Braille Display:  Hardware connected to a computer that echoes screen text on a box that has cells consisting of pins that move up and down to create Braille characters.

Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI):  This disability may be chronic or acute and usually is described as pain caused by overuse of extremities, usually hands and wrists.

Screen Reader:  Character recognition software that controls a scanner that takes an image of a printed page, converts it to computer text using recognition software, and then reads the text using a synthesized voice.

Service Animal:  A service animal is not a pet under federal law.  According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a service animal is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability.  Some states have legislation that further defines a service animal.

Sign Language:  Manual communication commonly used by some people who are Deaf.  Generally speaking, there are two forms:  American Sign Language (ASL), which has its own grammar and syntax, and Signed English/Pidgin Signed English/contact language, which is generally accompanied by clear mouth movements and is a visual representation of the spoken English.  Users generally prefer one or the other and should be consulted before a congregation engages the services of a sign language interpreter.

Speech Disorder/Disability:  Problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function, ranging from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech.

Speech Input or Speech Recognition:  A method of controlling a computer and creating text by dictation.

Spina Bifida:  A developmental disability resulting from the incorrect development of the spinal cord that can leave the spinal cord exposed.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI):  An injury to the spinal cord that interferes with messages between the brain and the body and results in paralysis and sensory loss below the level of the injury.  The location at which the cord is injured and the severity of the injury determine the physical limitations the person will have.

Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) or Teletypewriter (TTY):  A device that enables someone who has a speech or hearing disability to use a telephone when communicating with someone else who has a TDD/TTY.  TTYs are now used much less frequently, with video phones replacing them as the device of choice for people who are Deaf and use sign language and/or lip-reading.  For people who are hard of hearing and have some ability to hear and understand a regular telephone conversation, the preferred device is a captioned telephone that provides text to support what is heard.

Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS):  A telephone service that allows persons with hearing or speech disabilities to place and receive telephone calls.  TRS is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories for local and/or long distance calls.  TRS providers – generally telephone companies – are compensated for the costs of providing TRS from either a state or a federal fund.  There is no cost to the TRS user.  For more information, consult the US Government TRS Guide.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI):  Open and closed head injuries resulting in difficulties in one or more areas, including cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech.

Trisomy 21:  See Down Syndrome.

Universal Design (UD):  Designing programs, services, tools, and facilities so that they are useable, without modification, by the widest range of users possible, taking into account a variety of abilities and disabilities.

Visual Disability/Visual Impairment:  Complete or partial vision loss.  Specific terminology used to describe levels of vision includes the following:

  1. Partially sighted indicates some visual disability.
  2. Low vision refers to a severe visual disability such that one is unable to read the newspaper at a typical viewing distance, even with corrective lenses.  Adaptations in lighting or the size of print, and sometimes Braille, may be needed.
  3. Legally blind indicates that a person has a best-corrected visual acuity of 20/200 or less, or reduction in visual field to 20 degrees or less, in the better seeing eye.
  4. Totally blind people do not have any vision and need to use Braille and/or other nonvisual media.


Main Sources for Glossary:

Like, Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact