Zambrano, A. (2016). The experience of student with disabilities in higher education (Publication No. 10118771) [Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Stanislaus]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.


Zambrano, A. (2016). The experience of student with disabilities in higher education (Publication No. 10118771) [Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Stanislaus]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.


California State University, Stanislaus; free and open-access at CSUStan webpage:


Attention problem; Emotional/Behavioral disability; Extended time; Learning disabilities; Physical disability; Postsecondary; Specialized setting; U.S. context



This qualitative descriptive study inquired, in part, about barriers for postsecondary students with disabilities to accessing higher education, and academic accommodations provided to attend to the barriers. This summary emphasizes accommodations relevant to course exams: exam proctor at a separate, specialized setting, extended time, and frequent breaks.


A purposive sample of postsecondary students with disabilities was sought, according to the researcher, to ensure multiple perspectives of participants' educational experiences. Eight student participants completed interviews, including three with mobility impairments, two with learning disabilities, two with mental health ("psychological") disabilities, and one with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Two of the nine were pursuing degrees at the masters level; one other had ceased being a bachelor level student. An educator, a staff member at the Disability Resource Services (DRS) office, also participated in an interview. All but one of the student participants was registered with the DRS office at a higher education institution in the Central Valley of California. The researcher provided additional demographic details about the participants, and the student body of the higher education institution as well.

Dependent Variable

The researcher collected data including transcripts of semi-structured interviews, audio recordings of participants telling stories, and observational field notes. Validity of the development of major and minor themes, and their credibility, was triangulated based on multiple data sources and member checking (with participants).


This summary emphasizes the study's findings related to educational access, focused on the perceptions of postsecondary students with disabilities about academic accommodations relevant to their course exams. Seven of the eight students reported having made use of exam accommodations; one student had not registered with the Disability Resource Services office, and did not receive accommodations. The researcher found few similarities in experience across postsecondary students with various disabilities, and concluded that participants' different disabilities indicated three different ways of understanding challenges in postsecondary education, based on physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and disorders. These groupings yield different primary barriers: barriers in the physical environment, and effecting physical fatigue; barriers pertaining to the nature of the instructional material and learning conditions and requiring organizational and cognitive skills; and learning environment barriers and triggers requiring management of emotional crises. Perceptions of students with disabilities were reported, reflecting about themselves as learners and the university as their teachers. The students viewed themselves as capable, and with neither lesser nor elevated status or importance in comparison to their peers without disabilities. Further, they sensed from peers and faculty members lack of acceptance of them and limited awareness or understanding of them as learners, beyond the legal framework of their rights to have access. And without this understanding, the students observed little institutional communication about accessibility and accommodations information, particularly outside of (and except from) the DRS office. Recommendations for action in postsecondary institutions were offered, and future research directions were suggested.