Date of Award

Spring 2013

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Deborah Deutsch Smith

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Susan Mortorff Robb

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Scott Thomas

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Bianca Montrosse Moorhead

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2013 Heather Taylor Wizikowski


Postsecondary, Disabilities, University, Self-advocacy, Accommodations, Experiences

Subject Categories

Disability and Equity in Education | Higher Education and Teaching | Other Teacher Education and Professional Development | Special Education and Teaching


Legislation, social awareness, and advancements in medicine and assistive technology have created meaningful postsecondary opportunities for students with disabilities over the past 30 years. Mainstreaming, inclusion, and transition planning in elementary and secondary schools also greatly contributed to the increased achievement of students with disabilities. Today, 15% of students with disabilities attend four-year colleges. Current federal data show 88% of private and 99% of public universities report students with disabilities enrolled at their institutions. Much of the current research focuses on institutional practice and need. There is a gap in the research when looking at student needs and experiences.

This quantitative dissertation study analyzed the relationships between student perceptions, self-advocacy awareness and confidence levels, and available disability accommodations at two institutions of higher learning, one public and one private. One hundred and thirteen undergraduate students with disabilities completed an online survey. Thirty-four respondents attend the private university, and 79 respondents attend the public university. Descriptive and associative statistics were analyzed for comparative experiences between the two settings, knowledge and confidence of self-advocacy skills, and relationships between these variables and disclosure patterns.

The sample population of undergraduate students with disabilities appears to have similar experiences. In both settings, public and private, students have similar identification patterns, accommodation experiences, and support experiences. Students in both settings are satisfied with their academic support office and staff. The accommodations students find useful are alternative exam formats, documentation sent to faculty, and registration assistance. Students report having an awareness of and confidence using self-advocacy skills, but have had little to no training in these skills. Students report weak understanding of their legal rights, disability, and accommodations. Students also report poor transition experiences from secondary to postsecondary education, a finding that matches current research.

Transition planning at the secondary level must be purposeful in preparing students for four-year college settings when appropriate. Students need self-advocacy skills and disability awareness training before transitioning to postsecondary settings. Future research should also include revisiting the usefulness of accommodations offered in postsecondary settings, studying effective transition models, and looking at the relationship between self-advocacy confidence levels and postsecondary retention rates.