The United States has been providing federally mandated educational access to children with disabilities for more than 35 years. During this relatively short period of time, the quality of education for children with physical, mental, emotional, and genetic challenges has been enhanced exponentially. Through federal legislation and nationwide litigation, formal structures have been created to ensure that the nation's 7.1 million students with special needs receive a free and appropriate public education. Despite these remarkable achievements, special education is impacted by social, cultural, and economic disparities that continue to plague education in the United States. One inherent inequality in special education is the pronounced barrier minority parents face in terms of their ability to fully participate in the process of determining the most appropriate education for their child. These barriers are associated with linguistic diversity, socio-economic challenges, access to information and limited social, cultural and economic capital. These limitations can negatively impact the offer of a free and appropriate public education, and may also be counterproductive to special education legislation which champions parent involvement. Advocacy is one approach to breaking down these barriers. On as large a scale as federal special education legislation, whose legacy is grounded in advocacy, to the intimate individualized education team meetings, advocacy has proven itself to be a catalyst for varying degrees of access and change.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational leadership, administration, and policy; Children with disabilities -- Education; Children of minorities -- Education; Individualized education programs -- United States

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Barner, Robert R.;