Peterson, M. C. (2016). Assistive technology management by disabilities services managers in higher education: A phenomenological study (Publication No. 10127838) [Doctoral dissertation, Capella University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.


Peterson, M. C. (2016). Assistive technology management by disabilities services managers in higher education: A phenomenological study (Publication No. 10127838) [Doctoral dissertation, Capella University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.


Capella University


No age; Postsecondary; U.S. context



Specific accommodations were not the central focus; instead, the researcher investigated the processes and experiences of implementing assistive technology and accommodations in postsecondary institutions, from the perspective of disabilities services professionals.


The researcher interviewed a purposive sample of 10 educators who managed or coordinated disabilities services (DS) offices in higher education institutions for at least six months in Pacific Northwest states, Oregon and Washington (U.S.). The interview participants detailed their experiences responding to requests and providing assistive technology (AT) and accommodations to postsecondary students with disabilities. The higher education institutions included public and private, with two-year and four-year programs. The researcher reported participants' demographic characteristics including age (most were over age of 50), gender, ethnicity (all were White), and years of employment in the field and as coordinators (ranging from 9 months to 20 years); each participant was individually described according to these characteristics.

Dependent Variable

Participants responded individually to a semi-structured interview protocol of 13 open-ended questions. Questions were about participants' professional training, challenges in providing assistive technology, difficulties in performing their jobs, struggles and successes of students with disabilities and related factors, DS office resources, and AT use training to staff and students. The interview transcripts formed the primary data set, along with interviewer journal notes, which were coded for themes and subthemes. The researcher indicated that he followed an inductive approach and constant comparison process for sorting participants' interview responses and formulating themes. Using NVivo 10 software, the researcher performed manual coding and auto coding.


Three themes emerged in the analysis: (1) academic challenges of students with disabilities were independent of age or type of disability,( 2) "Lack of campus-wide disability support" (p. 91), and (3) "The burden of disabilities services" (p. 92). Several subthemes were also identified, and their distribution across participants' statements was reported. For the first theme, a subtheme reported by all participants was "The transition from modifications to accommodations" (p. 93), referring to the difference between K–12 education and higher education in the nature of support: specifically, that education can sometimes be accommodated and sometimes modified for K–12 students with disabilities, and that postsecondary education is only accommodated. Another common subtheme for the first theme was based on seven participants' observations that students with disabilities do not always use accommodations that they have requested. For the second theme, all participants indicated that postsecondary institutions have instances of "poor adherence to Universal Design" (p. 114) and also of not being fully accessible and responsive to the needs of postsecondary students with disabilities, either in-person or online—including the physical facilities as well as the academic learning environments. Additional subthemes each reported by over half of participants were that DS office personnel including service coordinators have received little technology training, that student workers are part of high-demand DS office services, service delivery is often not planned for or budgeted beyond the current school year, and the recognition that the entire institution needs to share responsibility for and be trained in providing access yet the responsibility is routinely shifted only to the DS office. For the third theme, there were five subthemes, and five to seven participants endorsed each of them. Burdens included participants' experiences of hearing from institutional administrators about the financial and other resource costs of disabilities services. In this view, the DS office "is seen as an expensive choice, not a mandate" (p. 151), and even "reasonable accommodations have upfront costs" (p. 151). There is an assumption that community colleges are positioned to more successfully address the access needs of students with disabilities. The other subthemes include: "Disabled students often do not know what has been provided for them," and "There is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach" (p. 151). Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.