Decolonial Theory and Disability Studies: On the Modernity/Coloniality of Ability


  • Thomas P. Dirth
  • Glenn A. Adams


This paper applies a decolonial approach to hegemonic psychological science by engaging marginalized knowledge perspectives of Disability Studies (DS) to reveal and disrupt oppressive knowledge formations associated with standard understandings of ability. In the first section of the paper, we draw upon mainstream DS scholarship to challenge individualistic orientations to disability (evident in the medical model and positive psychology perspectives) that pervade psychological science. The purpose of this approach is to normalize disability by thinking through disabled ways of being as viable and valuable. In the second section of the paper, we draw upon critical race and global disability perspectives to denaturalize hegemonic accounts of ability. Rather than essential properties of human bodies and minds, the capabilities of the modern subject reflect technological and ideological investments that enable a privileged few, while disabling the marginalized global majority. We conclude by discussing implications of decolonial theory for DS and ways in which considerations of disability subjectivity can inform the decolonial project.