All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Robin Lanzi

Advisory Committee Members

Olivio J Clay

Chris Henrich

Maria Hopkins

Bridge Kennedy

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a global and multifaceted impact on public health. The onset of the pandemic has resulted in widespread campus closures and transitions from in-person classes to online learning, further exacerbating the mental health crisis brought about by the pandemic. The effects of federal and state regulations have influenced the psychological well-being and mental health of many, more notably for college students with disabilities or pre-existing conditions. However, COVID-19 research on college students with disabilities or pre-existing conditions is limited and mostly international, thus it is of great importance to address these limitations. This phenomenological study explored the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and educational experiences of college students with disabilities or pre-existing conditions and examined how they coped across the 2020-2021 academic year. To address these aims, thematic analysis of qualitative data collected from the fall 2020 (n=36) and spring 2021 (n=28) semi-structured in-depth interviews was conducted. Findings reveal that college students with disabilities or pre-existing conditions report experiencing compounding stressors (i.e., academic, isolation) that negatively impacted their mental health and education. Moreover, findings shed light on the intersectionality of disability as identities overlapped to produce differing and unique experiences. Although students coped in a variety of ways (i.e., behavioral, relational, mental), many iv shared that stigmatizing barriers kept them from seeking help when needed. Some reported engaging in and utilizing more effective coping strategies in the spring 2021 than those that they used and experienced in the fall 2020. These findings indicate the need for restructuring how disability is perceived and taught within higher education, eschewing an ableist, deficit-oriented, and self-stigmatizing view of disability in favor of one that fosters positive identity development and encourages others to embrace their strengths and values. Additionally, findings may be used to develop inclusive resources that actively work to dismantle the attitudinal and societal barriers that prevent individuals from seeking out resources when needed. As these students begin to return to campus, it is vital that the educational environment they are coming back to is one of acceptance and inclusion of all identities.



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