Robert Samuel Kimmel Ed.D. Proposal Defense: “Centering the Voices of Graduates to Shape Self-Advocacy in Special Education Transition Programs: A Qualitative Study”
ABSTRACT: Adults with disabilities are disproportionately 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 in federally funded schools are accountable for delivering quality transition services, including self-advocacy instruction, to prepare students for adulthood. The majority of current research and evidencebased practices for self-advocacy are very narrow, prioritizing the IEP process and school setting as the primary vehicle for self-advocacy development. The ineffective nature of these practices is amplified when examining how current research and practice privilege the perspectives of professionals that often do not have working knowledge of what students experience after they graduate. These practices also lack a means to determine long-term effects after intervention ends, leaving self-advocacy outcomes in adulthood under-researched and under-theorized. Specifically, there is 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.
This research study explores the self-advocacy experiences of graduates with disabilities, to gain a deeper understanding of their unique challenges as they age and the self-advocacy skills or knowledge they found most useful in adulthood. Four core research questions guide this study:
1. What are the self-advocacy challenges graduates experience after leaving school and were they prepared to meet those challenges?
2. What self-advocacy skills or information did graduates report needing during selfadvocacy challenges?
3. How do graduates report they learned the skills or information needed during these challenges?
4. What self-advocacy skills of information do graduates believe is the most important to learn?
Utilizing a qualitative phenomenological approach, I will conduct two interviews with eight to12 adults with disabilities that have graduated from high school and are between the ages of 22 and 50. Drawing on the tenets of Disability Studies in Education and the Life Course Approach, I will explore participants’ perceptions of self-advocacy experiences from when they left school to the current day,. Each participant will be asked to share the skills or knowledge necessary for their self-advocacy challenges and, if they had the skills and knowledge, where and how they were learned. Finally, participants will be asked to describe their perceptions of the most important skills and knowledge to teach students in transition programs.
The findings from this study will provide the opportunity for educators, administrators, and researchers to hear directly from graduates on their unique lived experiences, thus elevating disability voice. Patterns, themes, and information shared by participants will inform new selfadvocacy curriculum topics or the reprioritization of existing self-advocacy efforts. Finally, the role of graduates will serve as an iterative resource for outcome data as well as continued program improvement.
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