Are you disabled? Social and cultural factors in understanding disability in Trinidad and Tobago

Rolston, Yansie (2014) Are you disabled? Social and cultural factors in understanding disability in Trinidad and Tobago. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis is an analysis of the under-researched subject of disability in Trinidad and Tobago and presents an understanding of the concepts and contestations of disability as it is lived and experienced by disabled people in T&T. In it disability is explored in the context of identity construction, power relations and self-empowerment, and takes into account the ways in which that identity is shaped by historical events, cultural relations, social interactions and political structures.

It identifies the relationships between disability and local social issues through an analysis of the everyday cultural paradigms of religion, kinship, beliefs, rituals, customs and values of the people, and gives particular attention to discrimination within the context of heterogeneity, and the effects that has on disabled people’s contribution to society. The possibilities and limits of claiming a disability identity, and the role of state policy in framing understandings of disability are also explored, as are some of the impacts of those policies on the lives of disabled people.

The research took a broadly qualitative approach, drawing on narrative, semi-structured and formal interviews, focus groups, observations and documentary analysis. The research findings and analysis add to the existing disability scholarship by exploring the cultural impositions and social structures that impact on disability experiences in a country of the Global South, and pinpoint some of the limitations present in hegemonic Western discourse when applied in these settings. It highlights the importance of the legacies of colonialism and challenges assumptions that systems of Western modernisation and development can be easily transferred to countries of the South without considering whether or not they are socially or culturally appropriate. The data results have illustrated that disability in T&T is a social construct which diverges in important ways from the dominant Westernised theorisations of disability and in particular, identifies the significance of religion and spirituality in shaping models of reality and value systems, which must be taken into account more fully in disability scholarship, activism and policy in the country.

Yansie Rolston - PhD- Final Thesis_Redacted.pdf - Published Version

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