Words We Use A Lot


This glossary was not aggressively sourced, nor urgently edited. These terms are approximate coordinates to help ground some of the ideas related to our practice of Access Art. Some do not have ideal sourcing but we are artists, not academics. If you want help locating the root of a term, please feel free to contact us.


A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, excellence and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, colonialism and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel and "behave."  You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.

Working definition by Talila "TL" Lewis in conversation with Disabled Black and other negatively racialized folk, especially Dustin Gibson. January 2021.

Access Check In

An Access Check In asks, “what do you need (or want) the group to know for you to participate?” It might also be an opportunity to respond to the questions, “how are you feeling and what do you need?” or “why are you here and what do you need?” or “what do you hope to learn and what do you need?”

During an Access Check In, a person might realize they need water. It is ok to stop the Access Check In for an access need to get met. Access Check Ins can be an agenda item that interrupts ableism, they may also interrupt an agenda.


Access is a process of negotiation between land, individuals, communities, and institutions that results in equitable outcomes.

Access Needs

Access needs are the needs a person has to arrive into a space. People have access needs. Most institutional structures are built so that non-disabled people don’t acknowledge their access needs, nor how they are being met.


Accessibility describes the structures in place to facilitate access, as well as their relative frictions. Accessibility is best measured by the people who are excluded from or experience the most impact from frictions built into structures. Structures could be social, legal, cultural, or physical.


Obviously this is a word with a multitude of definitions. We use this description from Tobin Siebers’ book, “Disability Aesthetics,” as a working definition: “Aesthetics tracks the sensations that some bodies feel in the presence of other bodies (Siebers 1).”


Aftercare is a phase in Threshold Practice that refers to the care one needs following a Chamber. Formally, Aftercare can occur at the same time as, or follow, Digestion.

This phase is when a person gives self-care or requests collective care.  Examples of self-care include breathing, drinking water, brushing teeth, taking notes, napping, or leaving. Examples of collective care include asking for group activities like breaths, wiggles, animal impressions, sighing, or closing one's eyes together. It could also include asking for advice, Advil, an ice pack, or a video of one’s cat.

This term is also used colloquially in kink culture to refer to the care of someone after an intense experience.

Agential Realism

This is a term coined by Karen Barad. It is a complex set of posthumanist theoretical ideas that relate the theories of knowing, theories of being, and ethics. In agential realism, an apparatus makes symbolic cuts that constantly define and refine edges of and meaning. It is very dense and deserving of much more than this short, highly unrepresentative definition.

“In my agential realist account, intelligibility is an ontological performance of the world in its ongoing articulation. It is not a human-dependent characteristic but a feature of the world in its differential becoming. The world articulates itself differently” (Barad 149).

“[It is] a cutting together/apart of the agentic qualities of phenomena that emerge in the ongoing performance of the world.”

“an agential realist elabora­tion of performativity allows matter its due as an active participant in the world's becoming, in its ongoing intra-activity” (Barad 136).


We tend to refer to “body” in very loose terms. We don’t refer to a single human body as the center of the universe, but rather a way of describing living and nonliving phenomena as defined for a given circumstance. 

Some examples include a person’s body, a cell body, a body of work, a body of ideas, an institutional body, a cultural body, a flavor that has body, the body of the planet, the body of a molecule, body parts as individual bodies. It is sort of a fractally way of defining phenomena. Some bodies hold water and trauma and stories.


This term tries to describe the ways that body, space, and time are situated together. In the context of describing a Chamber, how body-space-time is defined while Negotiating Witness will impact the shape and emergence of a Chamber.

Call (A Chamber)

This is the phase in Threshold Practice that names and frames a Chamber.

A person who calls a Chamber negotiates witness.


Sometimes notated as a question mark (“?”), the Chamber is a body-space-time event framed by Threshold Practice.

Formally, it is the phase in Threshold Practice that comes after Calling a Chamber and Negotiating Witness, but before Aftercare, Digestion, and Reflection. A negotiated chamber may be entered by an individual, or a group.

Practically, a Chamber can emerge unexpectedly. In this case, it may be useful to name that has been Called, Negotiate Witness if it is still happening, and follow it with Aftercare, Digestion and Reflection.

It is the thing that’s happening. It might be an improvisation, a shared experience, or some difficult-to-describe set of intra-actions.

A Chamber can expose one’s limits, and stretch one’s threshold of tolerance for new experiences, skills, imaginations, and ways of being.

Confusingly, or interestingly, can chambers live within other chambers. An entire life could be considered a chamber.

Community Performance

This is a kind of performance that is described by Petra Kuppers in her book of the same name. Loosely defined, it is communally created, centers process over product, and is also political labor (Kuppers 3-5).

Kuppers also suggests that in this context, “community” can refer to a variety of things— warm and fuzzy community (feels great to be in community, decenters conditions of outside world), us vs them (communities of exclusion: we is us and good, them is out and bad), Uniting Communities (coming together around a common cause), experimentation (taking collective rises), and towards a different world (communities imagining different ways of being) (Kuppers 9-11).


This is a phase in Threshold Practice that follows a chamber. It is typically a moment of rest and quiet before taking care of Aftercare needs. Parasympathetic nervous system governs this domain.


“Disability is a word that links people of common overlapping related experiences of oppression based in navigating a world designed and defined by able-bodied people. This term has been reclaimed by people whose bodyminds have been medicalized and pathologized, working from an empowered perspective.”

Sins Invalid. Skin, Tooth and Bone: the Basis of Movement is Our People. 2nd ed. Glossary. Page 153.


Eugenics is a historical movement started in the 19th century, rooted in imperialism, whose aim is to “better the race.” It was founded by white non-disabled men to serve their interests.

“[Eugenics is] the practice of controlling a population by deciding who is born, who is able to have kids, who is given healthcare, and who is allowed or encouraged to die, in order to create a specific “desirable” population. Eugenics can include genetic engineering, forced sterilization and birth control, assisted suicide, and other mechanisms through which people in power get to decide who is worth existing”

Sins Invalid. Skin, Tooth and Bone: the Basis of Movement is Our People. 2nd ed. Glossary. Page 155.


Friction is the resistance that occurs when bodies move against other bodies. From friction emerges new ways of being, alternate stories, a measure of one’s own aesthetics, and paths to access. Attention to frictions can also teach about oppressive systems and institutions. Frictions can also help to assess accessibility. A stairway creates a different friction for someone who can’t walk up stairs than for a person who can.  For some, friction is barely noticeable, for others friction can hurt, delight, inspire, or be a barrier.

Pleasure Activism

A term coined by adrienne maree brown and unfurled in the book Pleasure Activism.

“Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.” 

One more quote, “I have seen how denying our full, complex selves—denying our aliveness and our needs as living, sensual beings—increases the chance that we will be at odds with ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, and our neighbors on this planet.” 

The whole book is a pretty joyful read.

brown, adrienne maree; Rodriguez; Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. “Pleasure Activism.” Apple Books. 


“Phenomenology is a series of philosophical practices that find their founding moment in the observation of enwordliness. Phenomenology holds that knowledge of the world is constituted in the world: not as a separate mental entity observing the realm of the bodily, but instead in direct interaction and deeply involved in the flesh and the world … objects do not come to me and my senses as categorized ‘things’ that find their place in a mental storage system, but I encounter them as densities, and as others. In reacting to them, I interact with them, and act in an intersubjective world.”

Kuppers, Petra. Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge. Page 17.

Negotiating Witness

This is the phase in Threshold Practice that comes before a Chamber. 

Negotiating Witness could include an Access Check In, setting a time or space or body for a chamber, a request of how to be witnessed, an invitation to witness in certain ways, or an option for others to join a chamber.

Non-human bodies may be asked to offer witness, such as cameras, animals, or trees. Consider consent and the needs of the witnesses. 

Potential witnesses may say no to offering witness in the way it is proposed and can further negotiate how they witness.

Examples of Negotiating Witness:

“I will do a five minute solo chamber around that tree, and I want the tree to witness as well as all of you around me in a circle. Does that work for you?”

“I’m going to recite some text. Please ignore it or pay close attention to your breathing while I do. The chamber ends when the text is done being read. Also, you can draw or take notes if you want. Are there other ways you want to witness?”

“This chamber will begin when the crows fly toward downtown, and will end at sunset. Me, the trees, and the air are the witnesses. Witnesses are invited to get comfortable.”

Nervous System (Sympathetic)

The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system which gets the body spun up and ready for violence or intense physical (or emotional) activity.  It tends to tell the body to “fight,” “run,” “freeze,” or “fawn.” A traumatized living body may enact these responses even when it is not in immediate danger.

Nervous System (Parasympathetic)

The “rest and digest” part of the nervous system which allows the body and emotions to calm. It also controls functions relating to energy conservation, eating, pooping, peeing, low-stakes social activity, and sex. 

Nervous system definitions loosely based on definitions from Blakeslee and Blakeslee.

Symbiogenesis (Endosymbiotic Theory)

Symbiogenesis describes an evolutionary process that is driven by cooperation and meaning-making (semiosis) rather than competition, initially theorized by Lynn Margulis.  Generally, it suggests that single-cell organisms tried and failed to fully digest each other, and ended up sharing each other’s genetic material, which was a formative force in evolution. Wendy Wheeler’s “Figures in a Landscape” offers an intriguing overview here.


This is the last formal phase of Threshold Practice. During Reflection, the person who called the Chamber may define how they want the Chamber to be reflected. 

This could include written reflection, Q&A, a report from the inside, one-word thought associations, witness feedback, dances, vocalizations, or illustrations. 

This could also be a debrief: ie, plusses (what felt good), deltas (what could change over time) and key learnings (what was learned). 

This is also a phase to talk about “defractions” or places where frictions, resistance, or changes in direction emerged throughout the course of the Chamber.

Threshold Practice

Threshold Practice frames micro-theatrical encounters. It cuts, shapes, and interrupts normative expressions of body-space-time. It particularly emerged as a way to center Negotiating Witness and Collective Care within anti-ableist spaces. 

Formally, it follows phases in a particular order: call, negotiate witness, chamber, digest, aftercare, and reflect.

Practically, the different phases of Threshold Practice may be called for at different times. Sometimes a phase is only recognized after it has begun. For instance, someone may have begun a story before negotiating witness. In this case, we like to acknowledge that we are in a chamber, pause the chamber itself, and then negotiate how the storyteller wants to be witnessed.

Threshold Practice may be used to make art, set a rehearsal agenda, engage with media, perform labor, hang out with friends, and travel imaginary worlds.

It originated in the artistic crisis of Grotto Worlds, a collaboration between Larissa Kaul, Grant Miller, Jonathan Paradox Lee, and Dare Sohei.

Like the Viewpoints, Threshold Practice is not owned by anyone. It is an emergent practice and changes with each and every practitioner. Including trees. 

Window Of Tolerance

This is a term that describes the feeling of having agency and choice when the nervous system is in a regulated state of arousal. We move out of this window we go into hyperarousal (angry, out of control, flight, flight) and hypoarousal (frozen, numb, depressed, shut down). These modes can occur without choice as a result of stress and trauma 


A witness is a body that feels a shared experience among other bodies. “witness” (in our use of it) implies shared presence and responsibility. Witnesses have bodies and needs. Consider consent and the needs of the witness who agrees to witness.  A witness may refuse or give witness in different ways than how they are asked.

This is a break from the term “spectator,” whose root emphasizes visual modes of receiving information (spect-), or “audience” whose root implies hearing as the basis for shared knowledge (aud-) and is often understood as a passive recipient whose needs are normate (eugenically-defined).

Some trees are generous witnesses.

Offering witness is a gift.




Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press, 2007.

Blakeslee, Sandra, and Matthew Blakeslee. The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better. Random House, 2009.

Berne, Patricia, and Sins Invalid. “10 Principals of Disability Justice.” Skin, Tooth, and Bone: the Basis of Movement Is Our People: a Disability Justice Primer. Sins Invalid. First Edition 2016. pp. 16–20.

Berne, Patricia, and Sins Invalid. “Glossary.” Skin, Tooth, and Bone: the Basis of Movement Is Our People: a Disability Justice Primer. Second Edition 2019, pp. 157.

brown, adrienne maree; Rodriguez; Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Pleasure Activism. Apple Books. 

Kuppers, Petra. Community Performance: an Introduction. Routledge, 2007.

Kuppers, Petra. Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge. Routledge, 2008.

“How to Help Your Clients Understand Their Window of Tolerance.” NICABM, 27 Aug. 2020, www.nicabm.com/trauma-how-to-help-your-clients-understand-their-window-of-tolerance/.

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Aesthetics. University of Michigan Press, 2010.

Lewis, Talila TL. “Ableism 2020: An Updated Definition.” TALILA A. LEWIS BLOG, 1 Jan. 2021, www.talilalewis.com/blog/ableism-2020-an-updated-definition. 

Wheeler, Wendy. “Figures in a Landscape: Biosemiotics and the Ecological Evolution of Cultural Creativity.” L'Esprit Créateur, vol. 46, no. 2, 2006, pp. 100–110., doi:10.1353/esp.2006.0029.