Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

David Allsopp


disability studies, higher education, lived experience, phenomenology


The concept of liminality describes the experiences of individuals who live "between and betwixt" as a result of their indeterminate status in society. This concept seems appropriate to describe the experiences of people who live with vision loss, because we simultaneously belong to two social or cultural groups. On the one hand we must navigate the mainstream society in which we live day to day, which we are often able to do with the vision we have left. On the other hand, our disability sets us apart from that mainstream society. This idea of living in "between and betwixt" the worlds of the blind and the sighted was the personal challenge that motivated me to pursue this autobiographic research through a heuristic framework. With heuristic research, the researcher is involved in the study as a first participant or co-researcher.

The purpose of this heuristic research study was to describe and explain the graduate school experiences of a selected group of graduate students who have visual disabilities in order to help me better understand my own experiences and identity as a graduate student with a visual disability. My exploratory questions that guided this study were:

1. How do I, as a student with a visual disability, perceive and describe my social and academic experiences in graduate school?

2. How do other graduate students who have visual disabilities perceive and describe their social and academic experiences in graduate school?

3. What barriers and challenges do we as graduate students with visual disabilities encounter in graduate school?

4. What factors empower us as students with visual disabilities to achieve success in graduate school?

Employing heuristic research methods, I conducted responsive interviews with three purposefully selected co-researchers who also provided related documents for my review. Alternating periods of immersion and incubation, I examined the data in order to develop an individual depiction for each co-researcher, a group depiction, a detailed portrait of one of the co-researchers, and a creative synthesis that expressed my emerging self-understanding through an artistic approach. This creative synthesis captures my improved appreciation for my liminal status as something to be celebrated rather than overcome.

Analysis of the data yielded a number of common barriers or challenges faced by the co-researchers. These included a continuing lack of accessibility for both instructional materials and online content management systems, as well as feelings of social isolation, especially in relation to their non-disabled peers. To overcome these challenges, the co-researchers relied on the supportive relationships of their family members, their major professors and other staff within their departments. The co-researchers' personal characteristics of perseverance, resilience and resourcefulness also played a key role in their success, as did their ability to reframe their disabilities into a positive aspect of their lives. This reframing of their disabilities, along with their personal strengths, allowed the co-researchers to emerge as powerful advocates for themselves over the course of their graduate studies.