DISSERTATION DEFENSE ANNOUNCEMENT Ed.D. Program: Robert Samuel Kimmel “Centering the Voices of Graduates to Shape Self-Advocacy in Special Education Transition Programs: A Qualitative Study”

10:00 am - 11:30 am

Adults with disabilities are more likely than their non-disabled peers to struggle with self-advocacy after graduating from school, as they are less likely to have the skills or knowledge necessary to communicate their needs, access services, or exercise their rights in communities and workplaces. Special Education transition programs are accountable for delivering quality transition services, including self-advocacy instruction, but current research and practice are very narrow, privilege the perspectives of professionals, and have no measure of the effects of interventions over time, leaving self-advocacy outcomes in adulthood under-researched and under-theorized. Specifically, a dearth of literature that centers the voices of graduates as a critical resource to understand what self-advocacy skills and knowledge are most relevant for graduates after they leave high school exists.

In the current study, I used a qualitative phenomenological approach to answer the following research questions: (1) What are the self-advocacy challenges graduates experience after leaving school, and do they report being prepared to meet those challenges? (2) What selfadvocacy skills or information did graduates report needing during self-advocacy challenges? (3) How did graduates report they learned the skills or information needed during these challenges? (4) What self-advocacy skills or information did graduates believe is most important to learn?

Results revealed themes and subthemes related to the self-advocacy challenges of participants in adulthood. The challenges highlighted the Realities of Living with a Disability (Theme 1) and the Emotional Burden (Theme 2) experienced during self-advocacy. Participants shared they felt Unprepared to Advocate (Theme 3) when they graduated from high school.

Participants reported how they addressed self-advocacy challenges by demonstrating Strong Self-Awareness (Theme 4), communicating in ways that Make Others Take Me Seriously (Theme 5), and Building a Strong Support System (Theme 6). Further, participants shared that becoming better self-advocates required Many Modes of Learning (Theme 7) and Stepping Into Leadership Roles (Theme 8), both being formative ways participants learned how to advocate for themselves and others. Space to Fail, Try, and Grow (Theme 9) were also common attributions needed to evolve as a self-advocate.

Lastly, all of the participants shared what they would have wanted in school for themselves and made recommendations for Transition Programs that were directly informed by their lived experience. The results can inform future Special Education researchers, administrators, and teachers of Transition Programs that the lived experiences shared by adults with disabilities are the keystone to build around to create effective and relevant self-advocacy instruction in schools.

Keywords: special education, self-advocacy, disability, transition, graduates, lived experience, life course approach, disability studies

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