Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there has been an increase of students receiving special education services in U.S. public schools in the last 20 years (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Parents are active participants in the educational decision-making process for their children with disabilities, providing Federal laws procedural safeguards for parents to participate in and make decisions concerning their children’s education. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to research the experiences of Spanish-speaking Latina immigrant mothers who have children with disabilities attending public school in California. This study sought to recount the experiences of Spanish-speaking Latina immigrant mothers who attended individualized education plan (IEP) meetings as they interacted with school personnel. With the purpose of answering three main research questions and using a data collection method for a phenomenological study, 12 participants were located through a nonprofit community-based organization and interviewed using eight approved semi-structured interview questions. As a result, 19 themes detailed the Spanish-speaking Latina immigrant mothers’ experiences. The themes identified the participants’ experiences, awareness of, knowledge of, barriers to, and motivation to understand special education and the IEP process. The findings showed ways Spanish-speaking Latina immigrant mothers utilized concepts of self-determination to learn about special education and advocate for their children’s schooling despite the barriers and challenges they faced. It was found that Spanish-speaking Latina immigrant mothers seek education to established programs that educate culturally and linguistically diverse families, and provide necessary resources, and promote independence for their children so they are able to become self-sufficient adults.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Individualized education programs--California; Children with disabilities--Public Schools--California; Hispanic American women

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Reyna Garcia Ramos