School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Ellen Ziegler


students with disabilities, transitions, transition outcomes, self-determination, disability self-awareness


Education | Special Education and Teaching


Students with disabilities (SWD) struggle with achieving positive postsecondary outcomes in training or schooling, employment, and independence. SWD’s transition plans should prepare them for these subsequent phases, but SWD are not finding that success. The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of students with a personal disability awareness as they transition from high school. The central research question for this study was: What are the lived experiences of postsecondary students with a personal disability awareness as they transition from high school? The study used a transcendental phenomenological approach through interviews, focus groups, and journal prompts to better understand the experiences of students with a personal disability awareness, and it followed the phenomenological analysis steps as outlined by Moustakas (1994). The study included 10 students with disabilities who had transitioned out of high school and were between the ages of 18 and 24. Data analysis revealed six themes: personal disability awareness influences emotions about disability, personal disability awareness increases understanding of self and needs, personal disability awareness eases transition, self-determined actions support independence in transition, desire for personal disability awareness earlier in life, and engagement with people increases personal disability awareness. Findings revealed that personal disability awareness helps SWD act in more self-determined ways and improves their likelihood of pursuing success. Further research should be conducted to better understand the development of a personal disability awareness earlier for SWD. The implications from this study could benefit special education teachers in supporting SWD become more self-determined individuals.