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Students/Faculty News Stephen Lanzi June 29, 2023

Bearded man sits in wheelchair at a desk with a laptop, a whiteboard behind him.UAB continues to prioritize disability health research and expand its footprint in the growing field of inclusion science.

Recently receiving approval from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, the UAB School of Health Professions in the fall semester will begin offering a bachelor’s of science degree in disability studies and rehabilitation science, a four-year, student-focused degree that maximizes academic, commercial and government employment opportunities for students.

Housed in the department of physical therapy, the major will focus on disability inclusion science, prevention, health promotion and wellness integrated across the entire curriculum.

CEDHARS Director Dr. Jim Rimmer is excited for the degree’s potential to develop the next generation of researchers, especially because of its focus on inclusion science, which he defines as including people with disabilities across all areas of research.

Dr. Christopher Hurt, associate professor in the department of physical therapy, will be the program director. Hurt said the focus on disability inclusion science will prepare graduates to be advocates for individuals with disability and chronic conditions.

“There aren’t that many disability studies and rehabilitation science programs in the United States, and most are focused on vocational rehabilitation, whereas we wanted to tailor our program around the intersection of physical activity and health,” Hurt said. “We’ll be the only one in the state specific to disability, community mobility and research.”

The degree’s curriculum will prepare students for careers in rehabilitation-related professions, such as therapeutic recreation, health promotion rehabilitation or community health. It will also serve as a launching pad for students pursuing advanced degrees in physical or occupational therapy or rehabilitation science research.

“We see this inventive program as the beginning of a ‘continuum of knowledge’ in the field of rehabilitation sciences at UAB, because our school now offers degrees from the undergraduate through doctoral levels in this critical area of care and research,” said UAB School of Health Professions Dean Andrew Butler. “This is the type of program that can positively impact an entire school with the students it attracts and the courses that it offers, and I’m encouraged by what this all means for the future of health care.”

One of the required courses of the degree will be “living with a disability,” which Hurt said will be taught by faculty with disability.

“We are fortunate at UAB to have individuals, such as Jereme Wilroy, who is not only a great researcher, but can also really speak to the heart of the class and provide students with a valuable perspective,” Hurt said. “I see a lot of collaboration as we move forward.”

Each student will complete a senior capstone research project that will involve community engagement with the disability community.

“We’ve tried to create a curriculum that covers a lot of bases, but as we move forward, we’re going to have opportunities to add classes as we add students,” Hurt said.

Additional classes in the curriculum include “environmental and community considerations of mobility,” “adapted mobility and exercise.” Hurt also sees the potential to partner with other programs on campus such as biomedical engineering and the new human rights minor offered beginning in fall 2023, as well.

“I have a lot of individuals, from Dr. Rimmer and Dr. Wilroy to the Chair of the Physical Therapy Department Dr. Dave Morris, around me who certainly will help make this major reach whatever potential it can, which I think is pretty high,” Hurt said.

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