The Perceptions and Goals of Special Education Advocacy Trainees

  • Samantha E. GoldmanEmail author
  • Meghan M. Burke
  • Maria P. Mello


Although the field of special education advocacy is growing, little is known about the perceptions and goals of individuals who participate in advocacy trainings. It is important to understand why individuals want advocacy training to design more effective programs and determine whether training meets participant expectations. In this study, we evaluated the perceptions of 142 participants who completed the Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP), a special education advocacy training. Using participants’ responses to open-ended questions on the VAP application, we examined the perceptions of caregivers and professionals to understand their motivations for becoming advocates, their plans for using their newfound knowledge and skills, and their perceptions of the attributes of special education advocates. Findings indicated some key differences between caregivers and professionals in their reasons for becoming advocates and plans for using their newfound knowledge and skills. Participants wanted to become special education advocates to help their own child (if they were caregivers) and to help others. Participants planned to use their newfound knowledge and skills to advocate and to provide service to the community at three levels depending on their role: school, community, and state/national. Finally, regardless of role, participants perceived warmth, competence, and grit to be necessary attributes of successful advocates. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


Advocacy Caregivers Professionals Special education Disability 



The authors thank Dr. Robert Hodapp and Elise McMillan for their ongoing support of the VAP. We would also like to thank the VAP participants who completed the training and have dedicated countless hours to advocating for families of students with disabilities. Additionally, we thank Dr. Kathleen Kyzar for her helpful suggestions in developing our theoretical background for this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


Support for this research was provided by the Office of Special Education Programs Grant for Leadership Training in High-Need Students with Severe Disabilities/ Autism (H325D100010). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Office of Special Education Programs and one should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

During the time period in which they collected the data used in this study, two of the authors were completing a graduate program with funding from the Office of Special Education Programs Grant for Leadership Training in High-Need Students with Severe Disabilities/Autism (grant #H325D100010).

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

A waiver of informed consent was approved by the university Institutional Review Board because the research involved no more than minimal risk to the subjects, the waiver did not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects, and the study did not involve procedures for which written consent is normally involved outside the research context. Participants provided consent by answering ‘yes’ to a question regarding participation in research and providing an electronic signature by typing their name.

Conflict of Interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationAssumption CollegeWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Special EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  3. 3.Department of Education SpecialtiesSt. John’s UniversityQueensUSA

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