A member of the Shakespeare family, his grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare, was made a baronet following long service as a Member of Parliament and in various senior government roles. While still a student, Tom was featured in a television documentary by Lord Snowdon connected to his 1976 report 'Integrating the Disabled' about his restricted growth, along with his father, Sir William Geoffrey Shakespeare, a prominent medical practitioner. His mother was a nurse of Sri Lankan Burgher descent.
Shakespeare was educated at Radley College, Oxfordshire, taking A-levels in English, History, and History of Art; and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1984 to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. He gained a MPhil degree from King's College, Cambridge, in 1991.
Shakespeare then lectured in sociology at the University of Sunderland from 1993 and returned to King's College in 1995 to obtain his PhD degree. His father died in 1996 and Shakespeare inherited his baronetcy, but does not use the title. He is also a campaigner for disability rights, a writer on disability, genetics and bio-ethics and was the co-author of The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996; ISBN 0-304-33329-8).
He studied political science at Cambridge University. As a radical student, he supported liberation movements such as feminism, anti-racism and lesbian and gay rights. During his MPhil, he wrote a book about the politics of disability. He also wrote the book Disability Rights and Wrongs published by Routledge in 2006 and edited Arguing About Disability published in 2009 by Routledge.
He has worked as a research fellow at both Newcastle University and Leeds University, and has worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva. He served as a member of the Arts Council of England between 2003 and 2008. He has presented programmes on BBC Radio 4, including A Point of View.
Shakespeare is currently Professor of Disability Research in the medical faculty at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. At UEA, he has conducted research, including one regarding group singing and its beneficial effects against depression and anxiety; the findings were published in the academic journal Medical Humanities.
In 2002 Shakespeare married dancer and disability rights campaigner Caroline Bowditch. They have a son and a daughter. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). By 2010 he had split with his wife and he lived in Geneva with his partner, Alana. In 2016 he featured on the ITV show 500 Questions, winning £14,000 by answering 42 out of 50 questions. He received a standing ovation for his efforts.
- Defying Disability: The Lives and Legacies of Nine Disabled Leaders, Mary Wilkinson, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009, pg 83
- "Biography » Tom Shakespeare". Tom Shakespeare. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
- 'Tom Shakespeare: Academic', in Mary Wilkinson, Defying Disability: The Lives and Legacies of Nine Disabled Leaders (London: Kingsley, 2009), pp. 79-98 (at p. 83).
- "Parliament Roadshow". A Point of View. BBC. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- "UEA website". Retrieved 21 April 2017.
- "Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Council Members". Retrieved 21 April 2017.
- "Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery". Retrieved 21 December 2017.
- "Record number of academics elected to British Academy | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
- "Caroline fathoms magic of dance". The Journal. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
- Science and Religion: Making Meaning, Conference of Sea of Faith Network (UK), July 2009
- Sue Fox (17 October 2010). "Impatient, bloody minded, stubborn... that's me and my dad | The Times & The Sunday Times". Thesundaytimes.co.uk. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
- Burke's Peerage. 1949.