School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Ellen Ziegler


academic performance, accommodation, disability, learners' needs, learning support, lived experiences, self-advocacy, social well-being, students with disabilities




The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the academic performance and progress of students with disabilities at a high school in the Northeastern United States. The theory guiding this study was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs since it captures the benefits of meeting all learners’ fundamental and unique set of needs to motivate them to self-actualize or realize their full potential. A transcendental phenomenology method was used for this study. Twelve students with disabilities served as participants, and data were collected through interviews, a focus group, and an open-ended questionnaire. The study utilized qualitative data analysis techniques to gain a deep understanding of how the school supports disabled students in the high school setting. This involved examining, theorizing, situating, and integrating the data to establish a comprehensive understanding of the school's strategies for motivating disabled students. Four themes emerged through data analysis using Moustakas’s modified method of analysis in this study and include (a) impact of accommodations on learning, (b) challenges and barriers to effective accommodation, (c) role of self-advocacy and independence, and (d) social and emotional well-being. These themes corresponded to the theoretical framework of the study. This study confirmed Maslow’s theory through participants’ lived experiences as students learning with disabilities. Students experienced success when their needs were met through support and accommodations.

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