African American Studies Black Disability Studies
Therí Alyce Pickens
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0120


Black disability studies is dedicated to the study of the intersection of Blackness and disability. As a field, Black disability studies has several aims, emanating from its activist and justice-oriented impulses. First, the field uncovers Black disabled people from the archives or margins, explicating their stories and circumstances, so that they are neither lost to history nor have their disability excised from their narrative. Second, because Blackness and disability function as discourses, the field has also dedicated itself to understanding where those discourses appear, regardless of whether they are linked to Black disabled bodies. Finally, Black disability studies imagines a future where Black (and) disabled people are centered and desired. Scholars and activists rely on multiple academic disciplines and traditions, including but not limited to international Black radical traditions, disabled activism, disability studies, Black studies, sociology, literary study, rhetoric, gender and sexuality studies, historiography, and anthropology. Within each of these spaces, Black disability studies pushes against the disciplinary constraints and fallacies of tradition that uphold ableist and antiBlack habits of thought. For that reason, much work in Black disability studies is found in anthologies curated by scholars with the requisite time and institutional power. This field is fundamentally shaped by the lived experience of disability, and since so many of its scholars and activists experience it within systems of inequality and medical neglect, in some instances, the field is shaped by the lives and deaths of scholars, activists, and public figures.

General Overviews

Black disability studies has multiple points of origin. The satirical book chapter “Introducing White Disability Studies” of Bell 2006, in the second edition of the Disability Studies Reader is widely understood as the moment Black disability studies was called into being. In a later edition of the Disability Studies Reader, Lukin 2013 provides a short overview of the intersection of Blackness and disability. Black feminist scholars like Bailey and Mobley 2019 as well as Hinton 2021 have found points of origin that precede Bell’s book chapter, finding the field’s origins in Black feminist study. Introductions to scholarly volumes like Bell 2011, Pickens 2017 and Pickens 2021 also provide useful overviews of the field. Erevelles 2011 offers an account of Blackness and disability privileging a global context, while Erevelles 2015 provides an overview of how race functions in larger conversations within disability studies. Miles 2019 provides an overview of Black people with disabilities.

  • Bailey, Moya, and Izetta Autumn Mobley. “Work in the Intersections: A Black Feminist Disability Framework.” Gender & Society 33.1 (2019): 19–40.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243218801523

    Black feminist introduction to disability studies.

  • Bell, Christopher M. “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” In The Disability Studies Reader. 2d ed. Edited by Lennard Davis, 275–282. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Widely understood as a scholarly agent-provocateur instigation of the field.

  • Bell, Christopher M. “Representational Detective Work.” In Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions. Edited by Christopher M. Bell, 1–7. East Lansing: Michigan State Press, 2011.

    Introduction that frames the goals of Black disability studies.

  • Erevelles, Nirmala. Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137001184

    Imagines Black disability studies in a global context.

  • Erevelles, Nirmala. “Race.” In Keywords for Disability Studies. Edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, 145–148. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

    Focuses on race broadly in disability studies conversations. There is no separate entry for Blackness.

  • Hinton, Anna. “On Fits, Starts, and Entry Points: The Rise of Black Disability Studies.” In Special Issue: Blackness and Disability: This. Is. The. Remix., or I Thought I Told You That We Won’t Stop. Edited by Therí A. Pickens. College Language Association Journal 64.1 (2021): 11–29.

    Black feminist origin story of Black disability studies.

  • Lukin, Josh. “Disability and Blackness.” In The Disability Studies Reader. 4th ed. Edited by Lennard Davis, 308–315. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    Overview of Blackness and disability with a focus on one particular figure.

  • Miles, Angel. “African Americans with Disabilities.” In Disability in American Life: An Encyclopedia of Concepts, Policies, and Controversies. Edited by Tamar Heller, Sarah Parker Harris, Carol J. Gill, and Robert Gould, 15–17. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2019.

    Overview of African Americans with disabilities.

  • Pickens, Therí A. “Blue Blackness, Black Blueness: Making Sense of Blackness and Disability.” In Special Issue: Blackness and Disability. Edited by Therí A. Pickens. African American Review 50.2 (2017): 93–103.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2017.0015

    Introduction to a scholarly volume that provides a cartography of the field.

  • Pickens, Therí A, ed. Special Issue: Blackness and Disability: This. Is. The. Remix. Or I Thought I Told You That We Won’t Stop. College Language Association Journal 64.1 (2021).

    Introduction to a scholarly volume that explains the purposes of and exigent circumstances in Black disability studies.

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