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Publication Date



UM campus only

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Teaching and Learning (Education)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Beth Harry

Second Committee Member

Batya Elbaum

Third Committee Member

Robert F. Moore

Fourth Committee Member

Guerda Nicolas


This qualitative study examined the perceptions of ten immigrant families in regard to the education of their children with disabilities. The purposes were to: (a) explore the role of culturally- based concepts of disability and special education in these families’ involvement in the education of the children with disabilities; (b) determine what factors motivate or hinder families in their collaborations with school personnel and other stakeholders; and (c) document families’ experiences with service providers in, and related to the special education system. The participants were ten immigrant mothers from eight different countries: Angola, Antigua, Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Korea, Jamaica, and Haiti. The mothers’ responses reflected a range of perspectives on having a child with a disability, working with services providers, navigating the special education system, and integrating conflicting cultural perspectives. During the initial phase (i.e., September – November), qualitative interviews were conducted with all ten families focusing mainly on their understandings of the construct of disability and special education, their perspectives on the special education process, and their overall experiences of having a child with a disability. Demographic information was collected, including education level and socio-economic status. In the second phase (i.e., November – January), qualitative interviews were conducted with nine of the ten families focusing specifically on documentation (i.e., IEP, school report, psychological evaluations) and any other forms of communication between families and school personnel. Grounded theory techniques were used to conduct an inductive analysis of the interview data. Results indicated that, although cultural beliefs about disability were an important part of parents’ knowledge base, these beliefs did not play a significant role in the families’ involvement in their children’s education; rather, the experience of responding to their children’s difficulties tended to reshape their views of the construct of disability. Other results also indicated that families’ main concerns were the red tape within the special education process and the lack of humanity in service providers’ attempts to collaborate with them.


immigrant families, special education, construct of disability, red tape, missing humanity, unresponsive system