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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Research Paper Analysis


  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Statement of The Problem
  • What Went Wrong?
  • Deficiencies in The Evidence
  • Significance
  • Audiences
  • Research Question
  • Organization
  • Theoretical Framework
    • Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure
    • Pre-Entry Attributes
      • Goals/Commitments
      • Institutional Experiences
    • Personal And Normative Integrations
      • Goals/Commitments
    • Validating Tinto’s Theory
    • Applying The Framework
    • Pre-Entry Attributes
      • Goals And Commitments
      • Institutional Experiences
    • Personal/Normative Integrations
      • Goals And Commitments
  • Conclusion

Chapter 1: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require colleges/universities to provide access/support services such as American Sign Language interpreters ensuring that deaf students have full and equal participation in academic and social systems of college.  Since the enactment of the law in 1990, a number of colleges/universities offering access/support services are rising. Concurrently, the enrollment of deaf students in mainstream postsecondary institutions has also increased dramatically, (Richardson, Marschark, Sarchet, & Sapere, 2010). It is reported that 468,000 deaf students enroll in colleges/universities per year, (Schroedel, Watson, & Ashmore, 2003).  Despite the increase and the availability of access/support services in higher education, deaf students struggle to attain a goal of completing a degree but eventually withdraw from college bare hands, (Boutin, 2008; Lang, 2002; Richardson et al., 2010, Smith, 2004; Stinson & Walter, 1997). The attrition rate is alarmingly high as Stinson & Walter (1997) report that 75 percent of all deaf students in higher education fail even with access/support services being provided. As compared to hearing students, the withdrawal rate of deaf students in 4-year colleges/universities was 140 percent higher, (Myers & Taylor, 2000).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Research Paper Analysis

What went Wrong?

The literature does not provide a definitive answer but probable factors that explain the failure rate. The probable factors identified in the literature are pre-entry attributes, academic and social interactions, and access to support services.  Pre-entry attributes are communication preferences, educational experiences, academic and social skills and goals/commitments. Not all deaf students share a similar communication preference or mode of communication (American Sign Language, aural/oral communication or signing systems such as Signed Exact English) but each student’s preference is based on his/her biological variables and cultural exposure, (Myers & Taylor, 2000). A mode of communication affects deaf students’ ability to communicate and socialize with other members of the postsecondary institution, (Stinson & Walter, 1997).  Deaf students’ educational experiences vary widely in that some attend a residential school, some attend day (non-residential) school and/or mainstream school while some attend a mainstream school on a full-time basis, (Myers & Taylor, 2000).  Several studies found a great variation in deaf students’ academic and social skills, (Albertini, Kelly, & Matchett, 2001; Stinson & Walter, 1997) and the variation had an effect on deaf students’ academic and social integrations.  Stinson & Walter (1997) found that deaf students being committed to a goal of completing a degree are more likely to persist till graduation than those without a commitment. When deaf students begun their social and academic interactions, some challenges emerged and they were participation, cultural differences, teacher’s lack of sensitivity/understanding about communication needs, isolation, and effect of access to support services, (English, 1993; Foster & Elliott, 1986; Foster & Brown, 1988; Foster & Brown, 1991; Foster, Long, & Snell, 1999; Lang 2002; Long, Stinson, Saur, & Liu, 1993; Menchel, 1995; Saur, Layne, Hurley, & Opton, 1986; Saur, Popp-Stone, & Hurley-Lawrence, 1987).  Several studies reported that access services such as sign language interpreters did not warrant full and equal access, (Foster et al., 1999; Lang, 2002; Marschark, Sapere, Convertino, & Seewagen, 2005; Stinson & Walter, 1997; Walter & DeCaro, 1986). The problems with accessing services are time lag in receiving information as well as delivering information and qualifications of interpreters such as language proficiency, experiences, and content knowledge. In addition, colleges/universities hold a notion that providing access/support services makes deaf students equal to hearing their peers in all aspects of college life. This makes it difficult for deaf students make a case that they are deprived of access due to poor-quality services, (Lang, 2002; Foster et al., 1999; Walter & DeCaro, 1986).

Deficiencies in the Evidence

There are several noticeable deficiencies in the literature that need to be addressed.   First, most studies of deaf students are concerned about persistence or withdrawal. Sample deaf students are from the same institution, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).  NTID is one of the colleges of Rochester Institute of Technology and has a relatively large population of deaf students.  NTID is also well prepared to accommodate deaf students of diverse backgrounds and needs.  Thus, the findings based on NTID students’ experience cannot make a generalized statement about deaf students who attend a mainstream school with a relatively small population of deafened students.  Secondly, most studies target a whole group of deaf students regardless of their diverse backgrounds (e.g. Their identity, language preference, and experiences) instead of a homogeneous group. A group of deaf students who use American Sign Language as their native language and share a similar cultural identity, has different needs and experiences from a group of hard of hearing students who use oral/aural communication as their primary mode of communication and view themselves as a part of the hearing world. To build an accurate picture of what went wrong, it is important to sample a homogeneous group.  Thirdly, it appears that a very few studies primarily examine the effect of access of support services (in particular, sign language interpreters) on deaf students’ process of persistence or withdrawal.  There are more than 2,300 mainstream post secondary institutions in the U.S serving deaf students and they only enroll 10 or fewer deaf students, (Smith, 2004).  It is essential to gain a better understanding of the magnitude of the impact of access/support services because they may offer a key clue to the “what went wrong” question.


The attrition rate of deaf students is significant because it affects deaf people’s future employment.  Failing to obtain a Bachelor’s degree makes it more difficult for deaf people to find a job with a decent or equal earning. Some may end up asking their government for financial assistances such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In 2009, the economic reality of the deaf population in the U.S. did not seem optimistic.  More than 1.4 million deaf people were employed full-time though out the year and this is almost 20 percent less than that of hearing people, (Erikson and von Schrader, 2010). Deaf people earned 50 cents for every dollar their hearing counterparts made, (Erikson and von Schrader, 2010).  Worse yet, the U.S. Department of Education (2006) reported that, “over a lifetime, an individual with a bachelor’s degree will earn an average of $2.1 million – nearly twice as much as a worker with only a high school diploma” (as cited in Albertini, Kelly, & Matchett, 2011, p. 1).  Approximately 430,000 or 11.5 percent of deaf people were recipients of SSI, (Erikson and von Schrader, 2010).

If no corrective actions are undertaken to address the attrition of deaf students in higher education, the economic outlook for deaf people will only get worse. Without a bachelor’s degree, deaf people may be increasingly unemployed, suffer a wide gap in their relative earnings and increase their dependence on the government benefits, in particular, SSI.


            This study will benefit college/university officials, deaf students and researchers in the field of higher education with a focus on deaf students. College/university officials develop a better understanding after learning about the experiences of deaf students with support services. They use their understanding to develop a corrective action to retain deaf students. This is what benefits deaf students. They are also given an opportunity to have their voice heard. Because there are a few researchers who have seen the impact of support services, it is the researchers hope that his study will help other researchers realize that more research is needed for the relationship between support services and persistence.

Research Question

The problem of practice raises two exploratory questions in order to gain a better understanding of the Deaf students’ life experiences of a particular phenomenon. The questions are as follows:

  1. How do Deaf students in mainstream college settings experience academic access services?
  2. How do Deaf students in mainstream college settings experience social access services?

Before the researcher explains the rationale behinds the questions, it is important to understand the distinction between access services and support services and the inclusion of “Deaf” with a capital D. Access services are offered for those who seek a communication access (American Sign Language interpreters, CARTs, or F.M. Systems) for their academic and social activities.  Support services, on the other hand, provide tutoring, counseling and academic advising. The inclusion of “Deaf” with a capital D is important. The researcher’s study targets Deaf students whose native language is American Sign Language (ASL) and have a cultural identity. Those deaf students who do not use ASL will not be included in this study because they have completely different needs and experiences. It is important to include “mainstream college settings” in the question because the setting is where most Deaf students use access services.

The questions are centered on process, not outcome. The questions are designed to magnify a particular phenomenon to better understand the process of experiencing academic and social access services. The process occurs when a Deaf student first uses access services such as an ASL interpreter in the classroom to learn or to interact with his/her instructor or peers (academic context) or when a Deaf student participates in extracurricular activities or social events using access services (social context). This process is relevant because Deaf students’ academic and social experiences are dependent on the effectiveness of access services as indicated in the literature.  One study reveals that access services do not warrant full and equal access and many colleges and universities do not realize this, (Foster, Long, & Snell, 1999).  Thus, it is important to explore how Deaf students’ academic and social experiences take shape through access services.


This document is organized in a way to build a clear and sound plan for a study. The plan first establishes and elaborates a theoretical framework that the study uses as a lens. Once the framework is established, an investigation into the literature on deaf college student takes place. The literature review builds a clear picture of what has been researched and what has not been researched. Following the review, the researcher introduces a research design.  The design shows how the problem of practice will be studied.

Theoretical Framework

Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure

The researcher employs the Vincent Tinto’s theory of student departure as a lens to examine the problem of practice being explored.

Tinto’s theory draws on three different works – Emile Durkheim’s suicide theory (1961), William Spady’s (1970) application of Durkheim’s theory of students’ departure, and Arnold Van Geenep’s (196) rites of passage – to develop a theory of students’ departure (Tinto, 1993).  In Durkheim’s work, suicide is considered more likely when a person struggles to integrate and foster relationships within a community. In order to be a part of the community, Durkheim suggested two forms of integration: social and intellectual, (Tinto, 1993).  Spady extended Durkheim’s theory to student persistence in college. Students may consider withdrawal if they are unable to integrate into the community of the college, (Tinto, 1993). Tinto turned to Van Gennep’s work that examined the movement of individuals from a membership group to another group or from a status to another status. Van Gennep identified three stages – separation, transition, and incorporation – and Tinto incorporated these into his theory, (Tinto, 1993).  Separation occurs when the student separates from his or her communities (e.g. Family and high school), transition occurs when the student leaves the society of the high school and enters the society of the college, and incorporation occurs when the student is fully integrated into the college community, (Tinto, 1993).   Tinto combined all three works to develop a theory of student departure.

The Tinto’s explanatory framework is centered on “the longitudinal process of departure as it occurs within an institution of higher education” (Tinto, 1993, p. 112).  The longitudinal process of departure begins when the student enters the institution and ends when the student exits the institution with or without a degree. It is important to note that the model primarily focuses on those students who depart voluntarily, not those who are dismissed involuntarily.  Within the longitudinal process of departure, there is a process of interactions among individuals within the institution, (Tinto, 1993, p. 113).  The individuals are students, faculty, staff and other members of the institution and they interact at different levels on a daily basis. The process of interactions has a significant bearing on the student’s persistence.  “… One must view college drop out as the outcome of a longitudinal process of interactions between the individual and the institution…” (Tinto, 1975, p. 103). Tinto identified six components within the longitudinal process of interactions and they are pre-attributes, goals or commitments, institutional experiences, personal or normative integrations, goals or commitments and outcomes (See Appendix A). All components are interactive and interdependent in a way that one or several parts are influenced by one or several other parts.

Pre-entry Attributes

The first component of the interactive process is pre-entry attributes. Students come to the institution with a wide range of personal attributes.  Such attributes consist of personal attributes (e.g., sex, race, disability), family background (e.g., social status and parental education), skills and abilities (e.g., academic and social), prior educational experience (e.g., grade point average), dispositions (e.g., motivation, intellectual, social, and political preferences), and financial resources, (Tinto, 1993). The student’s personal attributes have a potential effect on his or her goals and the process of interaction with the members of the institution.  Tinto (1993) cautions that pre-entry attributes do not guarantee persistence or departure but do affect the process of persisting or departure. For instance, some studies find that those students with high academic proficiency (academic skills/abilities) are more likely to attain a higher G.P.A than those with low academic proficiency. This may help in the process of persistence but do not predict the outcome – degree completion or withdrawal.

  • Goals/Commitments

The second component of the process is goals/commitments.  Tinto (1993) also includes intentions and motivation in the component. A student establishes a goal based on his/her intentions to attain a degree or to obtain a specific occupation.  It is common that most students are uncertain about their occupational goals but it is not a concern as long as they are able to choose a path by the end of the first year, (Tinto, 1993).  The student’s goal(s) have an impact on the process of persistence.  “Generally speaking, the higher the level of one’s educational or occupational goals, the greater the likelihood of college completion” (Tinto, 1993, p. 38).  Commitments reflect the student’s willingness to put time and effort in attaining his/her goal(s).  There are three types of commitment: goal, institutional and external, (Tinto, 1993). The student who is committed to educational and/or occupational goals has a goal commitment. The student who is committed to attain an educational goal(s) within a particular institution in which s/he enrolls has an institutional commitment. The student who is committed to occupational or familial needs has an external commitment. These commitments are important to understand because they indicate the student’s level of commitment towards the attainment of degree completion. The student’s level of commitment could become an important part of either the process of persistence or the process of departing, (Tinto, 1993).

  • Institutional Experiences

            The third component of the process is institutional experiences.  Students develop their institutional experience as they begin the process of interactions within academic and social systems of the institution. Each system has formal and informal environments.

The formal academic system is where the institution puts the students’ intellectual abilities and academic skills to the test. For example, students have to learn and understand classroom lectures, do assignments and take tests. These activities demand and evaluate their intellectual abilities and academic skills.  The informal academic system is where students have an opportunity to interact with their instructors outside the classroom. Tinto (1993) explains that interactions in the formal and informal academic system could have a significant impact on the process of persisting due to congruence or incongruence. Congruence occurs when there is a match between the institution’s academic demands and the student’s skills and abilities. On the other hand, a mismatch results in incongruence.

In the formal social system, the institution offers social opportunities for students to socialize with their peers or other members of the institution. Such social opportunities are extracurricular activities consisting of sports, student body government, or other college-sponsored events. In the informal social system, students offer interactive opportunities either on-campus or off-campus. As the academic system, the student’s interactive experience arising from the formal and informal social system could affect his/her process of persistence due to congruence/incongruence. The student would have a positive interactive experience if his/her social values, preferences and behavior styles were similar to that of the members within the institution.

As indicated above, the process of interactions with the members within both systems could produce either positive or negative institutional experience. The student’s institutional experience could either facilitate or hinder his/her process of academic and social integrations.

Personal and Normative Integrations

The fourth component of the process is personal and normative integrations. Successful academic and social integrations are as a result of positive institutional experiences. Positive institutional experiences are a result of congruence between the student’s skills, values and interests and the institution’s demands, values and interests in both academic and social systems, (Tinto, 1993). It is possible that the student persists if one aspect of integration (academic or social) is achieved but Tinto (1993) finds achieving of academic integration to be more important than social integration. Nevertheless, if the student is integrated into both academic and social systems, it almost warrants that s/he persists till degree completion, (Tinto, 1993).

  • Goals/Commitments

The fifth component of the process is goals/commitments. While it is similar to the second component, goals/commitments, the difference is that, at this stage, students may alter their goals/commitments by strengthening or weakening their commitments depending on their institutional experiences. Tinto (1993) finds that those who have a high level of positive interaction are more likely to persist till degree completion because their interactive experiences make their goals and commitments strongest, (p. 116).  External commitments become important at this stage because students live off-campus and commute to college. Also, the student participates in external communities such as internships, jobs and volunteers, (Tinto, 1993).  External commitments could alter the student’s goals/commitments and eventually affect the student’s process of persistence.

  • Outcomes

There are two outcomes – persistence till degree completion or departure without a degree. The outcome is contingent upon what rises out of the process of interactions between the student and members of the institution.

Validating Tinto’s Theory

            Terenzini and Pascarella (1980) examined six studies that used Tinto’s model for validation of Tinto’s work. The researchers found that Tinto’s model was useful for examining the dynamics of college withdrawal. All constructs except pre-entry attributes within the model were significant when observing the process of persisting or departure. The studies were unable to predict one’s persistence based on their background traits but cautioned that one’s background traits were important as they could influence the students’ interactive experiences.

Applying the Framework

Tinto’s model, as described above, is applicable to the problem of practice being studied. The model affords an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the problem that Deaf students have experienced by examining their experiences with the process of interactions within the institution. In this section, the researcher will explain how the model will be used in his study.

Pre-Entry Attributes

            Deaf students’ pre-entry attributes will be considered as they have an impact on their process of departing. Deaf students’ backgrounds are widely diverse in terms of educational experiences, academic skills, personal identity and communication preferences, (Stinson, Scherer, & Walter, 1987).  While Tinto does not mention communication preferences, it is an important attribute for deaf students because not all deaf students share a similar communication mode, language, or sign systems. Some uses American Sign Language, some uses sign systems such as Signed Exact English and some use oral method. This variation affects the types of access services that the institution must provide to ensure equal access and it also affects how deaf students interact with their hearing peers and instructors.

Another important attribute to consider is personal identity. One cannot assume that all deaf students share a similar identity just because of their deafness. Some students embrace a Deaf culture as a part of their identity and some do not embrace it and see themselves as a part of the hearing culture. This distinction could have an impact on their interactions with hearing students, teachers and other members of the institution.

In this study, the researcher targets Deaf students who use ASL and embrace the Deaf culture as a part of their identity. These pre-entry attributes will be considered when Deaf students’ experiences are being explored.

  • Goals and Commitments

Boutin (2008), identified little research on Deaf students’ goals/commitments. It is necessary to know what goals and commitments Deaf students have prior to entry and after the end of the first year. It would be relevant for this study if it is found that Deaf students alter their initial goals/commitments during the process of interaction within the institution. Such an alternation may help understand the Deaf students’ interactive experience and could be related to ASL interpreters.

  • Institutional Experiences

This component is the primary interest of the study because it is when the deaf students begin their interactions with their peers, faculty, staff and other members within the academic and social systems. The process of interactions is what produces institutional experiences and the experiences are what the researcher wants to explore. When deaf students begin their process of interactions, they will need ASL interpreting service because their native language is ASL and most members of the mainstream institution do not know ASL.  ASL interpreting services does not only provide them access to communication between them and other members of the institution, but also give them the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, skills, interests and values. Also, ASL interpreting service makes it possible for deaf students to learn about the institution’s intellectual demands, interests and values. This is important because, according to Tinto (1993), in order to have a positive institutional experience, there has to be congruence between the student’s academic skills/abilities, interests and values and the institution’s intellectual demands, interests and values. ASL interpreting services does not warrant congruence but make it possible for both deaf students and the institution to interact and exchange information. It is possible that deaf students experience incongruence even with access services and it has to do with a mismatch between their personal attributes and the institution’s characteristics. A lack of or limited access to services could result in incongruence because of limited communication between the student and the institution.

While a provision of ASL interpreting service has an effect on deaf students’ institutional experience, there is another aspect of ASL interpreting service that has a potential effect – quality of interpreting. One study indicated that providing ASL interpreting service does not necessarily mean that the Deaf students gain full and equal access to communication, (Stinson et al., 1987).  Colleges/universities have to hire qualified interpreters who have a formal training in ASL interpretation and are proficient in ASL. Some colleges/universities do not understand what a qualified interpreter means and they may end up hiring interpreters with limited experience with interpreting or limited proficiency in ASL. This has a significant impact on Deaf

Personal/Normative Integrations

            This component is the outcome of the student’s institutional experiences. A positive institutional experience facilitates the process of academic and social integrations while a negative institutional experience hinders it. Those students with negative institutional experiences are more likely to withdraw because they are unable to fit into the college life, (Tinto, 1993). Because the study focuses on what produces academic and social experiences (process) rather than the outcome, the researcher will not explore this component as extensively as other components.

  • Goals and Commitments

Students may alter their goals and commitments based on their institutional experiences, academic/social integrations, and external commitments. For the study, the researcher will explore whether Deaf students’ institutional experiences alter their goals and commitments.

  • Outcome

There is a body of literature examining both the deaf students who voluntarily withdraw from college and the deaf students who persist till they graduate. Given that the problem of practice focuses on 75 percent of deaf students who departed without finishing a degree, the researcher is interested in exploring the process of departure that deaf students experience.


The Tinto’s model is an application framework for this study because it is an explanatory and interactive-based model. This study is centered on Deaf students’ interactive experience in a mainstream setting. With Tinto’s framework, the researcher will examine six constructs of the interactive process and how they shape Deaf students’ experience of academic and social participations within the institution. This examination leads to a better understanding of the phenomenon that Deaf students experienced.

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