Disability Studies

The disability studies concentration blends theory and firsthand experience to offer students a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the growing disabled population.

The concentration was designed with an interdisciplinary approach that reflects the truth that disabilities are woven into every aspect of society. Roanoke College is at the forefront of that movement with the establishment of a dedicated disability studies program.

Through classwork, research and innovative, experiential learning, students in the concentration will learn to be better advocates who can break down not just physical barriers, but cultural barriers to equity and access. 

We offer a concentration in Disability Studies.

“It's been incredible to work with the professors in the disability studies concentration. They’ve given me so many new perspectives about life and advocating for people with disabilities. They’ve also given me a lot of opportunities for field experience.”

Hope Keller, health and exercise science major with a concentration in disability studies, president of the Toy Like Me student club

"There is still so much we don’t know about these conditions."

In the lab, Allyson Herriges is searching for clues to a mystery that still perplexes scientists. Using genetic analysis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction technology, she’s examining how prenatal drugs affect autism risk genes and neural development in the embryos of zebra fish.

The project, which she designed in consultation with her professors, is part of a larger question with a deeply personal significance: can we detect autism earlier and help parents better understand their child's diagnosis?

“My son is autistic,” Herriges says. “His diagnosis is why I started studying this. I want to help parents understand their children and what their children’s diagnoses mean. There is still so much we don’t know about these conditions.” Read more 

Firsthand Learning

modified toy

Toy Like Me at Roanoke College: This campus partnership creates powerful change for children with disabilities by modifying toys to look like them. Students do the hands-on work of creating toys, learning to advocate for the representation of disabilities, and they get to see the smiles on the faces of local children when toys are delivered. Toy Like Me webpage

Lived Experiences: Students learn not only in classroom settings, but through real-world programs on campus and beyond. This range of activities helps them to understand what life is like for people with a wide range of visible and invisible disabilities.

Internships: Roanoke College has internship partnerships with groups like the nonprofit Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center that allow students to get direct experience in serving people with disabilities and their families. 

Disability May Term Course

Roanoke offers an intensive learning term course that is designed to challenge students to understand and appreciate the challenges and abilities of disabled individuals.

Advocate for change

Olivia Brichter’s heard it all before. That her epilepsy means she has to scale back her ambitions. That her ADHD means she won’t thrive in the rigorous world of research. That her disabilities will define and control her.

She’s heard it — and she knows nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s hurtful and disturbing when people try to tell you that,” she says. “But it’s also what fueled my fire. I have this determination in me to prove to the world that I can do the things that other, neurotypical people can.”  Read more