Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Disability and Equity in Education

First Advisor

Dr. Terry Smith

Second Advisor

Dr. Valerie Owen

Third Advisor

Dr. Xiuwen Wu


The purpose of this ethnographic study is to understand the experiences of newly immigrated Chinese students with intellectual disabilities who are in transition programs. In depth interviews were conducted with four students and their families. Quality of life, sense of self, nature of relationships, beliefs about disability, and challenges and opportunities are examined. The study surfaces complex social, cultural, and economic factors that impact students’ experiences. Data indicates that participants’ sense of self are informed largely by negative experiences with others based on perceptions of disability combined with negative experiences of being a new immigrant. They expressed feeling lonely and isolated. Participants identified lack of material and non-material resources as barriers for themselves and their families. Positive connections were found between participants being employed and establishing bonds and interactions with the community. Underlying assumptions about disability surfaced showing participants are often informed by a Social Darwinist view of disability more prevalent in China and encounter social disability rights model in their transition programs. A number of barriers to change, both in social systems and belief systems, were identified along with recommendations.