Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Second Advisor

Wenfan Yan

Third Advisor

Kristin Murphy


Disparity in the identification of educational disabilities among minority populations has been of great concern throughout the history of special education in the United States. The literature has suggested that there is disparity between how parents of special education students and teachers define, conceptualize, and incorporate their understandings of disability into the team process, which directly impacts students’ eligibility for special education services. The purpose of this study was to understand how parents and teachers from different sociocultural backgrounds conceptualize and define disability. In particular, the study pursued the following research questions: (1) How do parents and special education teachers of students who have been designated as having disabilities conceptualize the meaning of educational disability? (2) How might these meanings differ for parents and special education teachers from different sociocultural backgrounds? (3) How is disproportionality produced through the interactions of these conceptualizations and the team process? Through a social constructivist lens, grounded in the social model of disability and cultural theory, this phenomenological study drew on parent and teacher interviews to explore cross-cultural understandings of disability and how these conceptualizations interacted in the team process to shape eligibility outcomes. The findings offer insights into how disability is produced through the team process, with potentially disproportionate outcomes for minoritized populations. The findings also have important implications for developing culturally relevant pedagogies to support special education team members in the future.


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