Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Laura Owens

Committee Members

Maggie Bartlett, Raji Swaminathan, Amy Otis-Wilborn


This dissertation used a qualitative approach to understand the experiences of mothers of children with significant disabilities from diagnosis through age 21. Specifically, the focus of the research was to identify how mothers negotiated access to opportunities to learn and how they involved themselves in the process of education for their child. The researcher used a retrospective phenomenological approach to the qualitative study. The importance of the study was to make a significant contribution to understanding how mothers see the process and how school systems might facilitate bringing mothers in as meaningful partners so that the partnership can improve the quality of educational outcomes for children with significant disabilities. The findings suggest that mothers were challenged to develop and sustain partnerships with school personnel. The mothers all experienced having at least one person who was determined to be their champion; a person who advocated alongside them to access appropriate educational experiences for their children. The mothers felt it a necessity to be fully involved at all stages of their child’s educational experience. Even with all of the mothers having cultural and social capital, they experienced struggle negotiating with school systems. Most of the negotiations started out positive and then transitioned into a struggle with school personnel after starting public education. All of the mothers felt they had to fight for their child to have appropriate access to opportunities to learn at most stages in their child’s K-12 education. The findings provide implications for practice including ways that schools can ensure effective parental collaboration by improving communication to strengthen working relationships.