Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


People with disabilities--Iowa--Social conditions; Interpersonal relations--Iowa; Interpersonal relations; People with disabilities--Social conditions; Iowa; Academic theses;


Over eighty countries are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007), which states "that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers" (p. 1). The United States is not a signatory to the Convention but the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 recognizes disability as "a natural part of the human experience" and one which ensures children's rights to "contribute to society, and experience full integration and inclusion into all aspects of society." This qualitative study examined the complexities involved in the communication and co-construction of meaning between three young people with significant disabilities and those who viewed them as equal partners in the process with interesting stories to tell. However, my interpretive analysis of the data suggests that some of the social contexts where these young people live and the people with whom they had contact sometimes limit the children's opportunities to develop positive reciprocal relationships.

Over an eight month period I entered the homes, neighborhoods, and school environments of three young people with significant disabilities in order to understand how they constructed meaning with other people and developed accepting relationships. I utilized qualitative research methods including participant observation, unstructured interviews and document analysis to create portraiture stories of each of the three primary participants: David, 10-11, diagnosed with autism; Katie, 17-18, diagnosed with Down syndrome; and Marie, 8-9 diagnosed with Rett syndrome. Their stories reveal a struggle with social borders where both communicative partners faced risks before emerging with a sense of local understanding where the young people with significant disabilities were viewed as full-fledged members in reciprocal relationships. Implications for educational contexts and research are discussed.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Special Education

First Advisor

Christopher Kliewer


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Date Original


Object Description

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