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Roanoke College adds disability studies concentration

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A new Roanoke College studies curriculum is designed to give students a deeper understanding of the growing population of people with disabilities.

Understanding the wide-ranging nature of disabilities will enable future professionals in health care, education, research and elsewhere to provide better services, according to Andréa Burchfield, assistant professor of psychology, in an announcement about the curriculum.

“The rates at which people are being diagnosed with a disability increases every year; especially autism and dementia,” Burchfield said in the announcement. “As numbers rise, students entering many career fields are more likely to encounter clients, patients and employees who live with a disability.”

The five-course disability studies concentration is designed to blend interdisciplinary coursework from departments across campus with experiential learning, the announcement said.

“Interdisciplinary is the most rational approach to disability studies,” said Frances McCutcheon, a biology lecturer and co-coordinator of the concentration, in the announcement. “A disability can impact multiple aspects of a person’s life and consequently multiple aspects of society, including employment, income, health behaviors and legal needs.”

In the announcement, Teresa Milbrodt, an assistant professor and co-coordinator of the concentration, added that the curriculum focuses on a wide range of concerns held by people with disabilities.

“Our goal is to introduce students to the variety of differences in human form, abilities, and expressions of personhood,” Milbrodt said. “They can integrate that perspective into their life and work.”

The disability studies concentration, approved by Roanoke College in fall 2022, reflects the college’s commitment to ensuring that its programs serve emerging workforce demands and student needs, the announcement said.

Other additions at Roanoke College in recent years include the establishment of an engineering science major, a comprehensive department for education majors, and an health studies partnership with Carilion Clinic, the announcement said.

“The new concentration meets a growing demand from students who want to be better prepared to be advocates for people with disabilities, both in their future careers and in their personal lives,” the announcement said.

Simple ways to accommodate people with disabilities whilst traveling, direct from those living with a disability. Buzz60’s Chloe Hurst has the story!

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Luke Weir covers higher education and state government. He can be reached at (540) 566-8917 or

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