Students in wheelchairs and their teachers: Perceptions of a visual cue of disability

Christine M Sauer, Marquette University


In this study I examined teacher perceptions regarding their students in wheelchairs. My research questions were as follows: (1) How does a visual cue of disability affect teacher perceptions of their students in wheelchairs? (2) How does the teacher's perceptions compare to how a student with a visual cue of disability sees him or herself? (3) What are the perceptions of the students regarding these same teachers? And (4) Does the teacher's perceptions of a student in a wheelchair cause harm to that student? Utilizing qualitative methods I completed in-depth interviews with four student participants and eight teachers (two teachers per student). Additionally I completed classroom observations over the course of an eight week period. Theme analysis was used to search for relationships among domains and to consider how they are linked to the culture of disability. After considering my participants as individual cases, I examined the cases collectively to identify similarities and differences across the domains. Going beyond this initial analysis of domains, I discovered the conceptual interconnectedness that my participants use (Spradley, 1979, p.185). Five themes emerged from the data. They were as follows: (1) Students in wheelchairs see themselves as being just like any other student and expect to be treated as such; (2) Teachers (unconsciously) perceive the student in a wheelchair as being different than their other students and are uncomfortable about their presence in the classroom; (3) As a result of their discomfort, teachers react to students in wheelchairs in a pattern of behavior that may be categorized; (4) Most of these patterns of behaviors cause harm to the student; and (5) Schools are not as accessible to students in wheelchairs as they might think. After the data were analyzed, during which I completed both a single and cross-case analysis, I explored the transferability of my study and the policy implications that arise from it.

Recommended Citation

Sauer, Christine M, "Students in wheelchairs and their teachers: Perceptions of a visual cue of disability" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3184686.