Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership

First Advisor

Pauline Leonard


The idea of full membership (FM) for students with disabilities (SWD) originated with the 1975 Education for all Handicapped Children Act which required equal educational access for these students. Full membership has evolved from mainstreaming to focusing on acceptance and belonging in a school community where all stakeholders have a voice and the culture is reflective of these values and beliefs. Despite American public education policy, there appears to be minimal progress for SWD in gaining FM. This phenomenological qualitative study was conducted to gain insight into the perceptions and lived experiences of teachers. Comparing two high schools in the southern region of the United States, through face-to-face interviews with five general and nine special education teachers, the author explored how scripts of disability inform teacher practices and what systemic barriers may be in place that impede FM for SWD. The findings in this study provided evidence that teachers agreed on the importance of FM. Parental involvement is a vital component for successful implementation. Unexpectedly, a lack of exposure to disabilities during formative years and special education teacher perceptions tended to limit FM opportunities due to focusing on scripts of disability. Challenges needing to be addressed include educator mindset toward the abilities of SWD and access to FM opportunities. Methods to overcoming FM barriers and value-laden actions include professional learning communities, collaborative practices, and continuous sustained professional development that reflects on self-beliefs and practices. Additional research is needed in the areas of lack of exposure to others with disabilities and teacher perceptions of the role they play in FM opportunities for SWD.