First Advisor

Lahman, Maria K.

First Committee Member

Datteri, Erin

Second Committee Member

Carroll, Talia K.

Third Committee Member

Correa-Torres, Silvia M.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Document Type


Date Created



College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, Leadership Policy and Development: Higher Education and P-12 Education, LPD Student Work


Despite growing numbers of college students with disabilities and a call to offer support beyond disability service offices, earlier data demonstrate disproportionate barriers to disabled students’ academic success resulting from or in (a) limitations to existing accommodations, (b) worsening mental health, (c) academic achievement gaps, and (d) a privileged understanding of disability. Using disability critical race theory (DisCrit) as a theoretical framework, the purpose of this narrative case study was to discover the intersectional experiences impacting sense of belonging for college students with disabilities at a mid-sized regional institution (pseudonym: Mountain West University) in the United States. The study was designed to guide higher education’s scholarship and professional practices alike. A combination of purposeful sampling strategies was used within the case institution, specifically network sampling and maximum variation sampling, to form the sample of six current or recent undergraduate students. The participants were interviewed twice over Zoom for approximately 90 minutes and each of them created a material data collection of at least three items, images, or locations that, for them, exemplified the presence or absence of belonging in higher education. The four major themes discussed in the narrative analysis are (a) academic (in)accessibility, (b) barriers to formal accommodations, diagnosis, and documentation, (c) persistence and sources of support, and (d) personal relationship with disability. In addition to the narrative thematic analysis, detailed participant descriptions are shared to introduce multidimensional and intersectional counter-narratives that have been largely omitted from disability research—especially disabled voices of color and students who have been unable to access formal academic accommodations. Furthermore, they’re shared to offer a small sample of the large variety that exists within the collective “students with disabilities” on college and university campuses. In conjunction with participants’ direct quotes and suggestions, the findings detail harmful university structures and practices that inhibit belonging for disabled college students. The inability to pursue, receive, or use formal accommodations, for example, was a theme with several foundations including prohibitive and biased healthcare, gaps in on-campus support, and insufficient financial means. Conversely, as participants detailed the barriers to belonging, they identified their sources of persistence and on-campus support, namely fellow students and Mountain West University’s cultural and resource centers. The participants’ narratives also revealed shared progression with their personal relationship with disability and belonging. While their intersectional identities were unique, there was commonality in the marginalization, ableism, and shame they encountered. Similarly, they embraced a call to action and voiced a profound desire for community and belonging among fellow students with disabilities. In addition to addressing the need for dismantling whiteness in disability, recommendations for practice include (a) creating universal access, (b) improving formal accommodation processes, (c) fostering students’ self-advocacy, (d) shifting regard for disability in higher education, and (e) creating opportunities for community among disabled college students. Ultimately, the data elicits a call to action and several tangible strategies for improving sense of belonging for college students with disabilities.

Abstract Format



208 pages

Local Identifiers


Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author.