Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

Glenn G. Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daphne D. Thomas, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen J. Thornton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer R. Wolgemuth, Ph.D.


disabled students, distance education, phenomenology, qualitative research


Distance education has the potential to offer a meaningful alternative for students with disabilities. Colleges and universities have opportunities to provide quality online courses to students with disabilities; yet data show these students may often choose to discontinue higher education pursuits. Little is currently known about how students with disabilities experience the distance learning environment or how institutions of higher education. This phenomenological study focuses on the quality of the learning experiences and learner satisfaction of students with disabilities in distance education courses.

The purpose of this study is to investigate 1) how online learning is experienced by students with disabilities, 2) what factors facilitate or inhibit their online learning, and 3) how what instructors do to facilitate online learning is perceived by students with various disabilities. This study examines how students with various disabilities assess the quality of distance education coursework in terms of three constructs: course interaction, structure, and support.

Data was gathered via interviews with consenting participants who had affirmatively responded to a study participation solicitation email and completed a brief survey.

Sadly, discussions of topics related to students with disabilities experiences are still rare in the distance education literature. These interview data suggest that, despite having many tasks to which they must attend, more training for instructors is needed on how to work with students with disabilities. The Offices of Students with Disabilities Services and instructors should develop a way to work together, rather than separately, in a proactive rather than reactive fashion, to better serve the needs of students with disabilities. Further research in this area may allow students with disabilities with online courses in higher education to become more vocal about their needs from their individual perspectives and in their own words, and pave the way for improving the quality of the online learning environment for them.