Date of Award

Fall 11-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Andrea Kayne

Second Advisor

Sally Julian

Third Advisor

Donna Kiel


In the past decades, disability service professionals in higher education began adopting the social model of disability as a theoretical and practical framework for creating more inclusive campus environments for students with disabilities who attend colleges and universities in growing numbers. Specifically, in the early 2000s, an international organization of disability service professionals, the Association on Higher Education and Disability, took on a strategic effort to shift the paradigm of disability services toward systematically removing barriers to full participation and transforming disabling environments—away from the prevalent modes of service focusing on the medical model, legal and regulatory compliance, and ad hoc accommodations, which many disability service professionals, scholars, and advocates have come to see as insufficient from the social justice perspective. Using the methodology of qualitative research in the interpretative tradition, this dissertation adds to the literature on the transition to the social model of disability by examining the social phenomenon of leading change as a lived experience of disability service professionals. A phenomenology based on the in-depth interviews with seven participants selected through purposeful sampling, this dissertation, first, offers rich descriptions of the factors that compelled participants to align themselves with the social model of disability and to initiate the efforts to put these ideas into practice, as they found this model to (a) be consistent with their personal and professional values; and (b) offer better solutions for serving students, resulting in greater professional satisfaction and meaning for participants themselves. This analysis also brings to the surface two especially salient themes in the narratives of change: (a) the gradual, iterative, reflective process of changing the followers’ frames of disability services; and (b) the importance, for the leaders, to master the social model of disability and become skillful at articulating the social model of disability ideas when influencing the followers. Implications for transformational leadership in facilitating the paradigm shift are discussed.