Peter Rosenbaum, a developmental pediatrician with 45 years of experience as a clinician and researcher in the evolving field of childhood disability, will tell a story that is both personal and informed by scientific evidence as the next Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Maury Strass Distinguished Public Lecture at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15.

His talk, titled, “Disability in the 21st Century: What Are We Thinking, Talking, and Doing About it?” will take place at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke, Virginia. 

A professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, Rosenbaum not only investigates and works to improve disabilities, but he also strives to help caregivers, policymakers, and the public at large understand the culture surrounding how disabilities are described and treated. 

“I have the opportunity to watch and participate in some remarkable developments in our field – and in the broader community’s maturing understanding of the concept of ‘disability,’” Rosenbaum said. “My goal [in this talk] is to challenge all of us to reflect on how, in my view, our ideas are becoming more humanitarian and less medical.” 

Rosenbaum points to the good intentions of the 20th century, in which treatments were designed to correct diagnosed disorders. Now, according to Rosenbaum, it’s better understood that for some disorders, treatment should revolve around correcting a difference to match what is generally thought of as “normal.”  

In 1989, Rosenbaum co-founded the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research with Mary Law, professor emeritus in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University. A nonprofit research and educational institute, CanChild provides a translational hub for researchers and clinicians to explore how to improve the lives of children with a variety of developmental conditions and their families.

The multidisciplinary research group works in partnership with Canada’s children’s treatment centers and with the Ministry of Children and Youth Service to address the issues of developmental disability. These include such research topics as the development of measures and systems to classify functions, translating research findings to caregivers and policymakers, and longitudinal studies of the history of development of young people with developmental disabilities. The center is now recognized worldwide for its research and dissemination activities in the field of childhood disability. 

According to Rosenbaum, the work of CanChild helped reveal a critical shift in how therapeutics should be approached. From thinking of how to “fix” disabilities, Rosenbaum and his team became focused on how to improve function for people with disabilities. He compares it to chronic care management – hearing or vision impairments aren’t fixed, but the function can be improved through the use of an aid or glasses. “I hope to provide evidence that we are doing better, and to plot the course toward further improvements in our language, thinking, and doing with regard to disability in the 21st century,” Rosenbaum said. 

Rosenbaum joined the faculty of McMaster University in 1973, and has been a professor of pediatrics since 1984. He earned his medical degree and his undergraduate degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Rosenbaum is currently a fellow of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, as well as the chair of the Scientific Advisory Council for the CP Foundation. He has won numerous awards, including the 2011 Pediatric Chairs of Canada Pediatric Academic Leadership Clinical Investigator Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine in 2014, the inaugural Holland Bloorview Medal of Excellence in Childhood Disability in 2015, and the 2018 Foundation Motrice Price from the European Academy of Childhood Disability. 

The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will precede the talk at 5 p.m.