English Language Learning in the United States
Learn how to study English in America or online from this guide for students with disabilities.
"I work for an organization that promotes disability rights around the world. I want to learn English so I can communicate with our English-speaking partner organizations."
- Assia from Algeria, who has a physical disability. Read Assia's story.
English language (ESL) programs attract people worldwide who want to improve their English for their career or studies. Learning English in the United States is a great way for people with disabilities to experience American culture while gaining valuable English skills.
Finding the Right Program
People with disabilities have many options for studying English in the United States because ESL programs in the United States are required to make their programs accessible to people with and without disabilities.
Some teachers may have had experience teaching ESL students with disabilities or it may be the first time having a student with a disability in their class. (Teachers who want tips for teaching English to a student with a disability in their classroom should visit our tipsheet for ESL teachers.)
When searching for ESL programs in the United States, it is important to first decide what is most important to you. You could decide based on where in the United States you want to live, how much you can afford, or the size of the school where you want to study.
- ESL Study Programs: Picking the Ideal School is a short guide on making the decision where to study.
- EducationUSA has
a guide to studying English in the United States, including researching
program options, financing your studies, applying for a visa, and more.
ESL Program Search:
- Language Course Finder has an excellent search engine as well as study guides on finding scholarships and language certificates.
- Intensive English USA has a search engine that can search by region, in case you want to study in a certain part of the country.
- Study in the USA search engine allows you to search within a number of categories, such as size of school or type of program.
ESL Programs Designed for Deaf Students:
- Gallaudet University's English Language Institute
- Ohlone College's English Language Institute
- Austin Community College's Deaf English Program
- Harriet Fulbright College's Deaf ESL Program
U.S. laws protect people with disabilities, including people in the U.S. who are not citizens, from discrimination when applying to ESL programs, degree programs, and scholarships.
When applying, a student may disclose a disability and request accommodations, such as an application in braille, but the school or ESL program is not allowed to deny a student based on disability status alone.
"[In the U.S.] I can go to all my classes by myself, all of my class materials have been converted into an accessible format, and I have met many friendly and helpful people. I'm very happy here!"
- Svetlana [left], an ESL student from Russia who is blind. Watch a video about how Svetlana accesses her English studies.
As soon as you are accepted into a program, contact the disability support person or other staff to begin planning any disability-related support you will need in your classes or student activities. Ask if you will need to provide documentation (proof) of your disability in order to receive services. The disability support person may also be able to share information such as disability-friendly campus maps, disabled student clubs, accessible transportation and more.
Learn more about:
- Campus services for students with disabilities
- Disability-related laws, services, and culture in the United States
- Common disability topics such as insurance, traveling with a personal assistant, and bringing medications
- Finding funding for your ESL program.
Practice your English before you arrive in the United States, using these free ESL websites:
- ABC English: This website, available in English and Spanish, offers free grammar help, language lessons, reading comprehension tests, a forum, and more.
- Dave's ESL Cafe: Dave's ESL Cafe has a wealth of resources links for ESL students and teachers.
- English Daily: This website includes TOEFL vocabulary practice, grammar lessons and exercises, transcripts from movies, ear training, and sections on slang, idioms, and proverbs.
- ESL Resource Center: The ESL Resource Center features lessons and exercises, resources and links, and information and tools for learners and teachers of English.
- Exam English: This website has a number of TOEFL and IELTS practice tests to prepare for taking the English proficiency tests. Learn about disability-related accommodations on the English Testing Arrangements for People with Disabilities tipsheet.
- In2English: This is a free, interactive English learning website for Chinese professionals, teachers, parents and their children. It provides help with English study, IELTS tests and studying abroad. Online English language units improve English speaking, listening, writing and communication skills. The site also uses English games, music, stories and activities for Business, Working, Teaching and Living.
- Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP):
IDDP offers a six-month virtual English language proficiency course
that is open to the public on an application and fee basis. Students
planning to enter into IDPP's public policy program may be eligible to
take the English course for free.
- Learn English Feel Good: This website offers ESL practice through grammar and vocabulary tests, video and audio exercises, and specific ESL lessons for travelers.
- Matador Abroad: This travel website article "30 Free Online Resources for Teaching and Learning English" offers reviews of many resources on ESL grammar, vocabulary, games, speaking, listening, reading, writing, and more.
- Voice of America Learning English:
Satellite TV, radio and website for people around the world to improve
their listening, pronunciation and understanding of American life and
world news. The short sentences, limited vocabulary and slow pace of
speaking make it easy to understand. Internet and TV users can also
listen to programs on the Special English Web site while reading the
Distance ESL Programs for Students who are Blind
Thanks to Brian Ridge for his help in compiling these resources. He lived in South Korea as an exchange student and ESL teacher. He has a master's degree in Student Development Administration from Seattle University with an interest in international education and students with disabilities.