Equal Access DENIED: Empowered Voices of Students with Physical Disabilities in New York City Public Schools

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation


Christine Ashby


Accessibility, Disability, Equality, Inclusion, Marginalization, Oppression

Subject Categories



In New York City, of the 435 public high schools, one hundred percent are built for the privileged or temporarily able-bodied population, while only nine percent of those schools are fully accessible to students, teachers, administrators, and parents with mobility-related disabilities. This dissertation explores the self-reported lived experiences of 12 New York City public high school students. Through open-ended interviewing and the technique of mapping, students share their daily route through school as well as their stories of physical and social access and the barriers that they encounter. Areas examined include bus transportation, entering the building, getting around the hallways, using the elevators and accessible bathrooms, participating in classrooms and eating in the cafeteria. Many of the physical barriers in these spaces directly connect to the social barriers that students experience each day. Also explored were the various physical and policy-related obstacles that create an architecture of exclusion in schools, which often works to marginalize, oppress, and stigmatize students with physical disabilities. Finally, I discuss the various methods that students with physical disabilities use to respond to the systems of oppression in school. These include downplaying disability to fit in as “normal,” giving up and not questioning authority/rules, and self-advocacy/self-assertions of independence. Implications for school policy and increasing opportunities for student self-advocacy are discussed as well as recommendations for practice for paraprofessionals, teachers and administrators in schools.


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