Mika Watanabe

Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Name

Counselor Education and Supervision

Department or School/College

School of Education

Committee Chair

Catherine B. Jenni

Commitee Members

John Sommers-Flanagan, Rita Sommers-Flanagan, Tom Seekins, Melanie Hoell


University of Montana


Research on leaders with disabilities is largely limited in scope to civil rights and disability rights leadership. This qualitative research investigated how individuals with disabilities transformed themselves into leaders in the disability field. This research focuses on the leaders’ perceptions of critical experiences and relationships that influenced them as leaders. A phenomenological approach was used to understand the lived experiences of six leaders with disabilities. Open-ended interviews with recognized leaders who had disabilities were analyzed by examining their narrative statements, resulting in a combined description of their lived experience.

The results of the analysis revealed that these leaders with disabilities made personal connections with others and found groups that were the right fit for them during their college years or immediately subsequent years. Furthermore, the results found the following essential themes: 1) childhood as an influential life experience, 2) commitment, confidence, resilience, and passion in leadership style, and 3) enjoyment of helping others. These themes were not independent of one another, but were intertwined throughout the lives of the six leaders with disabilities.

Through a deeper understanding of leadership development experienced by these leaders with disabilities, this study has implications for practice and further investigation. Higher education and elementary and secondary education can improve leadership skills training and opportunities for students with disabilities. I also recommend several future research topics, including exploring identity development among leaders with disabilities. This dissertation concludes with the recommendation that disabled people should be specifically included in leadership research.



© Copyright 2014 Mika Watanabe