Guide | Anti-ableism glossary - Museums Association

Guide | Anti-ableism glossary

A quick look at some key words and terms
Image courtesy of the Black Country Living Museum

Key words

Language is constantly evolving and something that is acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another. If you aren’t sure what words or phrases to use, don’t be afraid to ask, and take on advice if you are corrected. Here are some phrases to use or avoid: 

Don’t say: able-bodied 
Instead say: non-disabled 

Don’t say: wheelchair-bound 
Instead say: wheelchair user 

Don’t say: the disabled 
Instead say: disabled people 

Don’t say: suffers from
Instead say: has [name of condition or impairment]  


Don’t say: the blind 
Instead say: people with visual impairments/blind people/blind and partially-sighted people 

Don’t say: disabled-friendly parking/toilet  
Instead say: accessible parking/toilets  



Ableism means prioritising the needs of non-disabled people over disabled people. Unlike disablism, which emphasises discrimination against disabled people, ableism refers to discrimination in favour of non-disabled people. 



Anti-ableism recognises abled privilege and actively looks to challenge and dismantle it through theory, actions and practices.  

Changing Places toilets 

Accessible toilets are not suitable for all people. A Changing Places toilet should be 12sq m in new buildings (there is flexibility for historic buildings) and must offer: 

  • A tracking hoist system. 
  • A height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench. 
  • Space for one or two assistants. 
  • A shelf for stoma and colostomy bags. 
  • A non-slip floor. 


Deaf with a capital D refers to people who have been deaf all their lives, or since before they started to learn to talk. Being pre-lingually deaf, Deaf people tend to communicate in sign language as their first language. While deaf in lowercase indicates acquired deafness.


Reasonable adjustments 

Organisations, including museums, and people providing services or public functions have an anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments if a disabled person is at a disadvantage compared with someone who is not disabled. 

Social model of disability 

This model holds that a person isn’t “disabled” because of their impairment, health condition or the ways in which they may differ from what is commonly considered the medical “norm”; rather, it is the physical and attitudinal barriers in society – prejudice, lack of access adjustments and systemic exclusion – that disable people.

To say that someone is “just different” or “differently-abled” ignores the fact that they face these disabling barriers created by society, and implies that they do not experience discrimination, and that society does not need to change to become more accessible and inclusive.  

Disability Pride flag

The flag was created in 2021 by Ann Magill, who got feedback from disability communities to refine its visual elements. Magill has waived copyright and entered this flag into the public domain so it is free to use.

The flag’s black represents mourning, rage and protest against ableist violence.

The five colours represent the variety of needs and experiences:

  • Red: physical disabilities
  • Gold: cognitive and intellectual disabilities
  • White: nonvisible and undiagnosed disabilities
  • Blue: psychiatric disabilities
  • Green: sensory disabilities

The parallel stripes are for solidarity within the disability community; and the diagonal band “cuts across” barriers that separate disabled people, with creativity cutting through the dark.

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