Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

Johanna Lasonen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Hatten, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Victor M. Hernandez-Gantes, Ph.D.


artificial intelligence, assistive technology, disability-related stress, dis(ease)ability theory, social model of disability, students with disabilities


In today’s world, the attainment of higher education impacts the acquisition of competitive employment and, thus, quality of life. As a group, persons with disabilities continually fall behind others in such academic progress, requiring new efforts to support their earning of advanced credentials. Though highly beneficial for these individuals, obtaining a degree comes with elevated levels of stress. As enrollment of students with disabilities grows in all formats of higher education, those involved must understand the stress endured by these students and how to diminish it. Theories speculate that technology, such as intelligent virtual assistants, may be a viable tool for reducing such stress, thus increasing the completion of higher education by these individuals. A qualitative approach informed by three instruments—a questionnaire, an interview, and a journal entry—was utilized to examine this philosophy, focusing on the features used and for what purposes, the experiences had, and how this technology is used to mitigate disability-related stress. The research found that virtual assistants may assist in reducing the barriers and stress that often deter individuals with visual impairments from acquiring higher education, whether online or face-to-face. This technology was shown to increase the independence, autonomy, and social integration of these individuals while decreasing limitations. The fields of education and technology may use this evidence to optimize such benefits, thus increasing the use of virtual assistants by students with visual impairments and, subsequently, increasing their attainment of higher education and competitive employment.