Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

George, Casey

Committee Member

Buckley, Jessica

Committee Member

Hirschy, Amy

Committee Member

Pifer, Meghan

Author's Keywords

Relationship building; institutional work; postsecondary; disability services


Nearly 21% of undergraduate students reported having some type of disability according to the most recent data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) for the 2019-2020 academic year. Changes in federal legislation have increased college access for disabled individuals over time; however, college students with disabilities persist at lower rates compared to their peers without disabilities. At the same time, little is known about the work of postsecondary disability services (DS), which are the primary support services for students with disabilities on college campuses. I addressed this gap in the literature by conducting a qualitative, single case study that used the lens of institutional work to examine how DS directors (n = 6) understood the role of their office within the three interconnected contexts of federal legislation, their professional memberships and experiences, and their organizational setting. Drawing upon participants’ descriptions of how they understood the role of their office within these contexts, I then described the strategies in which DS directors engaged to advance the work of their offices. My study findings suggested that, although DS directors drew specific understandings from each of the three contexts, they relied upon the combination of all three contexts to fully understand the role of their DS office. The study findings also indicated that DS directors engaged in institutional work strategies that aligned with what they understood to be their role and purpose on their college campuses. Particularly, the findings suggested that DS directors preferred more relational forms of institutional work, as opposed to more punitive approaches. In terms of disrupting institutions, DS directors opted for more subtle approaches, working their way into campus spaces and maneuvering within established and expected boundaries. Additionally, findings pointed to the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) as an important source of learning and networking for DS directors. Implications for theory, research, and practice are discussed.