Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Susan Talburt

Second Advisor

Deron Boyles

Third Advisor

Richard Lakes

Fourth Advisor

Toni Strieker


There has been an increasing number of students with learning disabilities attending colleges and universities over the past two decades. As a result of federal legislation, institutions of higher education are required through an office of student support services to provide accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities in order to receive federal monies. This semi-structured interview-based qualitative study seeks to understand how four higher education students with disabilities make the choice to “come out” as possessing a learning disability in order to seek academic assistance from the office of student support services. The foundation for this inquiry emerges out of the differences between the medical and social models of disabilities. The framework for the medical model places the individual with a disability as needing to be cured in order to have a normal life, while the social model of disabilities focuses on how society is constructed around able-bodied individuals without substantive consideration for individual differences – specifically disabilities. The data collected were analyzed using a cross-interview analysis of participants’ responses to interview questions. Because little research has been conducted in this content area, the research focused on themes relating to the stigma of disability labels, the choice to come out as possessing a disability, the role of the academic resource center to obtain accommodations and modifications, and the meaning of success for higher education students with disabilities. The stigma associated with possessing a disability while attending an institution of higher education can place additional anxiety on individuals who decide to come out as possessing a disability. The significance of this research to the fields of higher education and disability studies is to gain a better understanding of how the stigma that is associated with students with disabilities affects the manner in which they choose to access student support services and identify themselves as possessing a learning disability. By making the choice to be identified as possessing a disability, students can access academic accommodations and modifications to support academic success, yet the same choice has the potential to have a negative social consequence of being socially labeled as an othered individual. The outcomes for this research study can inform policies and practices relating to the self-identification that students with disabilities must adhere to in order to obtain accommodations and modifications.