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Critical Disability Studies Thematic Group

Aims and Objectives (updated Feb 2021)

Year Established: 2008

This group is comprised of scholars whose work and research in Critical disability Studies include: disability, race, and ethnicity; disability and poverty; education, schooling, and pedagogy; disability and children; law and human rights, free speech and hate speech; policy; violence and marginality, ableism, ability and use of technology, and social inclusion. Members include those with lived experience of disability, madness, and neurodiversity as well as allies, who are activists, advocates, bureaucrats, educators, carers, and parents.

The CDS thematic group facilitates and supports research and collaboration into the social life of ability and disability, however that is defined, and the broad and various intersectionalities within these fields. It also aims to promote social awareness, foster collaborative endeavours, and disseminate knowledge around issues pertaining to dis/ability and dis/ableism.

Aligning with our critical disability studies politics and praxis, we are:

  • respectful of the foundations of disability studies, and in particular the social model of disability;
  • attuned to the local and global, regional and urban, national and international contexts and their differential impacts on disabled people;
  • attentive to the relational qualities of disability, and while ‘critical disability studies might start with disability it never ends with it, remaining ever vigilant of political, ontological and theoretical complexity’ (Goodley 2019: 191);
  • mindful that analyses of disability should not preclude considerations of other forms of injustice, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other vectors of power;
  • adherents of relationality and criticality (including within critical disability studies itself);
  • Interested in imagining disability as the site of human un/becoming.
    Additionally, the CDS group is committed to collegial and cohesive forums that encourage debate and reflection, supporting emerging and post-graduate students, and providing avenues for researchers to collaborate and share their research in supportive inclusive environments.

Note: our account of critical disability studies draws from Goodley (2017) and Shildrick (2012).

Goodley, D 2017, Disability Studies: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, 2nd edn, SAGE, London.

Shildrick, M 2012, ‘Critical Disability Studies: Rethinking the Conventions for the Age of Postmodernity’, in Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies, edited by N Watson, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 30-41.

In 2021, the group ran a competition for high school students. The winners are listed below. For details about that competition, including some great video resources, please click here.

2021 Inclusion Is! Winners

National winner of the Visual Artwork section

By Megan Roso
Year 11, Emmaus Catholic College

Perceived as a visual piece expressing the struggles of growing up with dyslexia and how dyslexia is perceived. I was inspired by my own experience with dyslexia and how discouraging societies view is of dyslexia. When I was younger people constantly told me I was dumb consequently sparking a hate for school. Now I have learned how intelligent I truely am and how my dyslexia does not define me. In my art work there are 2 frames, one which expresses the damaging views which is held by society about dyslexia and the other which expresses the true super power dyslexia is. The material practise largely links with the conceptual practice. The background of both frames is my hand written dyslexia diagnosis with letter reversals and spelling mistakes to capture the difficulties of dyslexia. In the first frame water colour is scene dripping down the page representing tears/sadness and damage. The person in the middle is also transparent showing how society sees dyslexia as a defining trait. Rude comments such as “dumb” and other phrases are written in Oil pastel because oil and water do not mix, therefore showing how prominent and damaging these remarks are. The second frame is filled with colour to represent creativity and how dyslexia is just a different way of thinking.

Please view from left to right row 1 then row 2. 
Perceived 1
Perceived 2
Perceived 3

Perceived 4
Perceived 5
Perceived 6

National winner of the Writing section


Alphonsa Benjamin
Year 10, The Mac.Robertson Girls' High School

A piece that explores what neurodiversity is and the several ways in which society can help neurodivergent individuals feel like they belong in a world they interpret differently.
Disability. Disorder. Dysfunction.

Words that society uses to present barriers to some people. However, it’s time that we use words to empower and enable.

With such vision, Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who was on the autism spectrum herself, coined the term neurodiversity in 1997. The word presents the idea that brain differences are normal, that they are not deficits. It reinforces that neurodivergent individuals interact and interpret the world in unique but not wrong ways. While the term was derived in recognition that the brains of people on the autism spectrum were naturally different, not flawed, it has slowly become an umbrella term for all the ways that brains can function differently. From autism to dyslexia to ADHD, neurodiversity captures it all and the one word formed a community for neurodivergent individuals to embrace themselves.

Attitudes towards the neurodiverse community remain at large unchanged and have made menial progress. An evident disparity remains in the outcomes for neurodivergent individuals compared to their neurotypical counterparts. 78% of autistic young Australians who attend a school or other educational institutions reported experiencing difficulty at their place of learning. The main barriers encountered are fitting in socially, learning issues and communication difficulties. Later in life, when attempting to find jobs, the neurodiverse community is left behind again. In Australia, 34% of people with autism are unemployed, a stark contrast to the 4.6% unemployment rate for those without any disabilities. Employment prospects for neurodivergent individuals are critically low despite the ‘awareness’ raised through various media platforms. The stigma erected around those with brain differences leaves these individuals unable to access the same opportunities as others. The current general societal norm: there should be only one type of brain. However, the establishment of neurotypical as ‘normal’ can draw parallels to heteronormativity, a mindset that there is a push in today’s age to break free from. Similarly, we need a strong drive and a vociferous stance that ‘normal’ needs to broaden its horizons to include those with brain differences.

Implementing tangible changes in society is crucial because those with atypical brains are human too. The general public must realise that they have the same rights as the rest of the population. There needs to be a shift away from just awareness and the spread of information and a move towards normalising, accepting and celebrating neurodiversity. An emphasis on all the strengths that different neurotypes can contribute towards society will ensure that we view everyone as important. To finally allow neurodiverse people to use their potential to the fullest and receive recognition as valuable employees, companies must create an environment with both understanding colleagues and flexible work culture. At the same time, as we fight for equality, the progress achieved needs to be acknowledged. For example, Australia’s Department of Defence has employed high-functioning autistic individuals in its cyber security faculties. Such actions give hope for the future and pave the path towards acceptance.

Today, we have many tools to equip ourselves with open and progressive mindsets. From critically analysing the vast range of information available online to engaging in meaningful conversations with neurodivergent individuals, we can become more empathetic people. Without feigning ignorance towards brain differences and the challenges they may present the afflicted, we can still acknowledge each person as society’s assets.

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” -Mahatma Gandhi

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Archived Aims and Objectives
Archived Aims and Objectives
  • foster the recognition of existing, and the development of new, critical sociologies on disability, with the aim of building upon recent theoretical developments that examine the social , cultural, economic and political relations of disability;
  • encourage critical research that examines the intersectionality of disability, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, migration, class and Aboriginality;
  • build links with disability communities to facilitate research networks across Australia to generate collaborative research & publishing projects between scholars, disability activists and disabled people;
  • provide a collegial and cohesive forum which encourages critical debate and reflection;
  • support emerging scholars and post-graduate students;
  • provide an avenue for researchers to have draft papers informally reviewed by members; and
  • encourage the submission of papers to TASA conferences from critical disability scholars, disability activists and disability communities engaged in counter-hegemonic knowledge production.


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Group Conveners:

Michelle King
Michelle King
University of Queensland & STARS

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