Frances McCutcheon, founder of Toy Like Me at Roanoke College, has been honored with a 2023 Impact Award from the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.
The statewide nonprofit said McCutcheon stood out not only for her work with Toy Like Me, but for her commitment to weaving disability awareness and advocacy into the classroom, community partnerships and beyond.
McCutcheon, a biology lecturer and Roanoke alumna (Class of 1999), created the college’s first disability-focused course with her May Term program, “Differ-abilities: Considering the Experiences of the 'Disabled,’” a curriculum that combines lived experiences and real-world analysis of accessibility and equity issues.
She’s also co-coordinator of the College’s recently announced concentration dedicated to disability studies.
“Professor McCutcheon impacts, at a very personal level, every life she encounters and imbues it with love, knowledge, awareness and a greater respect for humanity,” said Sean Campbell, a board member with DLCV.
“As a professor, she seamlessly blends educational concepts with storytelling and class projects, weaving in both the science and the history of disability in our world while connecting with her students,” he said. “… Professor McCutcheon’s greatest gift is perhaps her ability to transition student views of disabilities from stereotyped, dispassionate views into passionate, well-educated ones. This, in turn, has led her to create students into advocates. Those advocates go on to influence and demonstrate change across the campus and in their future lives.”
McCutcheon was presented with the Impact Award, representing the western region of Virginia, during a ceremony held via zoom Jan. 26. She was one of eight advocates across the state celebrated by the Richmond-based nonprofit.
In accepting the award, she thanked the families, educators and service providers she’s worked with in the pursuit of more empathetic and accessible communities.
The world of disabilities is one we are all born into, she noted. One in four U.S. adults has been diagnosed with a disability, according to CDC statistics.
But a disability isn’t an ending. “We were also born to fight and to succeed,” said McCutcheon, describing it instead as a new beginning. “… My advocacy today focuses on inclusion.”
In 2016, McCutcheon founded Toy Like Me at Roanoke College, bringing together students, community volunteers, local schools and hospitals to donate toys that are modified to represent children with disabilities.
McCutcheon’s work encapsulates the mission of the disability advocacy movement, DLCV representatives said.
“Thank you for providing meaningful impact for people and also using your work to send people out into the world who are prepared to continue that work,” said Greg Crapanzano, a board member and part of the awards committee.
DLCV was created in 2013 at the behest of state leaders to serve as an advocacy and protection resource for people with disabilities. Its free services include legal representation, short-term assistance, training and monitoring programs. More information about it is available at dlcv.org.