Advising People Coming to the USA
Information and guidance on advising people with disabilities to prepare for an international exchange experience in the United States.
- Getting Started: Advising Individuals with Disabilities
- U.S. Laws and International Visitors with Disabilities
- Are all U.S. high schools, colleges and universities accessible to students with disabilities?
- What services are available to secondary and post-secondary students with disabilities in the United States?
- Are international students with disabilities eligible for the same services as U.S. students?
- How do I find out which disability-related services, assistive technologies and/or support are commonly used in the United States?
- How do international students with disabilities request accommodations and services?
- What is disability-related documentation and how is it obtained?
- Are there costs associated with disability-related services?
- What is the process of requesting disability-related accommodations for the TOEFL, GRE, SAT, IELTS, ACT, GMAT and other standardized tests?
- Can applicants to high school exchange programs receive testing accommodations informally for the pre-TOEFL or SLEP?
- Are there scholarships available for international students with disabilities?
- Are there any visa considerations for students with disabilities?
- How can students with disabilities prepare for life in the United States?
- What strategies can be used to find a host family for an international participant with a disability?
- What strategies can be used if U.S. schools are hesitant about hosting an international student with a disability?
- In what extracurricular activities can people with disabilities be involved?
Smita Worah was the first woman with a mobility disability to receive a Fulbright fellowship through the U.S. Educational Foundation in India (USEFI). “As I began to interact with Smita, I thought about some of my own preconceptions of people with disabilities,” says Regional Officer of USEFI’s Eastern India office, Dr. Sunrit Mullick. “Acknowledging these attitudes is half the battle in addressing them. For me, this ultimately helped me to overcome the preconceived ideas I had and to instead devise strategies to help Smita with the logistical challenges she would face in planning her program.” Read more about USEFI’s experience working with Smita Worah at Reflections from the Fulbright Commission in India: Working with a Fulbrighter with a Disability.
Every individual has a right to follow their dreams and ambitions and to decide what challenges they are willing to face and what international experience will best further their academic, professional and personal goals. As you advise someone with a disability regarding international opportunities in the United States, it is important to remember that disability is only one component of an individual’s life experience. Like their non-disabled peers, people with disabilities have talents, skills, goals and abilities. Be respectful and let the individual guide the discussion regarding his or her international interests and disability access needs. Most importantly, be encouraging! People with disabilities sometimes come with their own internal roadblocks and what they need most is encouragement and a knowledgeable adviser with a “can do” attitude. Read Advising Students with Disabilities: A Perspective From Pakistan.
It is important to note that many people with disabilities do not require any accommodations in order to participate fully in their communities. Most people with disabilities own the equipment they need in everyday life and need only minimal assistance from others. Others will need information and resources about the types of assistive technology used in the United States and training on how to use that technology upon arrival in their U.S. host community. It is important to encourage any advisee with a disability to think carefully about their disability-related access needs and to become familiar with expectations for people with disabilities the United States. For insight into U.S. disability culture, see How can students with disabilities prepare for life in the United States? below.
Respectful Disability Language
There is much discussion within disability communities worldwide about appropriate disability language. The words disability and disabled are generally accepted among the disability rights community in the United States, although people with disabilities may choose to use other terms to define themselves. Individuals who are blind, Deaf or who have certain other disabilities may feel that the word “disabled” only applies to those who have mobility disabilities, and may prefer more specific terms. Many people who are Deaf choose to capitalize the word Deaf because it refers to a unique culture, as well as to their disability. Since this is a very personal issue, let the language used by the individual with a disability guide you.
Other language suggestions include:
- Do not sensationalize a disability by saying “afflicted with,” "suffers from," and so on. Instead, say "a person who has," "a person with," etc.
- Say "uses a wheelchair" rather than "confined to a wheelchair."
- Refer to "people without disabilities" or "non-disabled” instead of "normal."
- Approach conversations with "how," not "if," solutions can be found.
Other suggestions and information can be found in the Respectful Disability Language tipsheet.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in education, employment, housing, transportation and other sectors. The ADA protects the rights of all people with disabilities in the United States, both citizens and people from other countries. U.S. international exchange organizations, public high schools, and colleges and universities are not permitted to discriminate against any person based on disability status. Other laws offer specific protections; for example the Air Carriers Access Act protects people with disabilities in air travel, including on foreign-carriers to and from the United States.
The practical implication of the ADA and other laws is that public buildings, such as high schools and college facilities, must be physically accessible to people with disabilities. Secondary and post-secondary institutions are also required to provide disability-related accommodations and services so that students with disabilities have equal access to educational materials and learning. Specific supports and services for students with disabilities are determined on an individualized basis.
Yes. All U.S. public high schools, colleges and universities are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws with regard to accessibility. For colleges and universities, that requirement applies to classroom buildings and other infrastructure, such as housing and dining facilities, as well as print materials and communication. Although colleges and universities are not required to make every classroom accessible, they must change a class location to provide accessibility for a student with a mobility disability. With regard to print materials and communication, all U.S. colleges and universities are required to provide information in alternative formats, upon request, for people who are blind, low vision or have a learning disability and have appropriate communication technology or services in place for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Disability-related accommodations and services are provided to all students with documented disabilities regardless of citizenship.
As with any student, students with disabilities may choose schools based on location, cost, quality of programs and other factors before they consider disability. Because inclusive education is emphasized, there are very few colleges and universities in the United States specifically for people with disabilities. For example, Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. specifically serves people who are Deaf and Landmark College in Vermont serves students who have learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Besides these schools, some schools may be more attractive to people with disabilities, for example, by having excellent physical accessibility, a large community of people with a specific disability, or a reputation for having exceptional services for people with disabilities on campus or in the community. For example, a small campus on flat terrain may be more accessible to someone who uses a wheelchair or a white cane or for those with reduced stamina or increased pain levels than a large campus spread out over many square miles on hilly terrain. Climate may also be a consideration. Students who use a wheelchair, crutches, cane or prosthesis for mobility may find a college or university in a region that experiences a great deal of ice and snow fall less accessible than a college or university in a warm, dry climate.
Whatever school a student chooses, encourage advisees to ask detailed questions about disability services and accessibility on campus so that they can anticipate potential barriers and make an informed choice about where they wish to study.
All colleges and universities provide disability-related services regardless of citizenship, so choose a university based on the grantees’ educational and other interests (e.g. geographic, size of institution). There are no restrictions on what degrees individuals with disabilities can study. Many will choose business, engineering and other popular subjects. Some may have an interest in degrees to work in disability-related fields (download some tips for finding these types of programs).
4. What services are available to secondary and post-secondary students with disabilities in the United States?
U.S. high schools, colleges and universities provide a wide array of disability-related accommodations and services so that students with disabilities have equal access to educational materials and learning. Services include access to sign language interpreters, alternative format classroom materials, alternative testing locations, extra time on tests and homework assignments, and more.
Read more about the Disability Experience in the United States in the A World Awaits You online journal. See Advising International Individuals with Specific Disabilities for more information for more information on available services.
Post-Secondary Accommodations and Services
Although all U.S. colleges and universities provide disability-related accommodations and services, there are many colleges and universities that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide a variety of programs and services to better serve students with disabilities. These include academic advising and tutoring services for students with learning disabilities, assistive technology loan programs, adaptive computer labs, adapted sports programs, disabled student clubs and more. Some colleges and universities are also well known for enrolling a large number of students with a specific type of disability, such as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute for Technology.
If an individual feels she or he would benefit from a wider array of services and programs, it will be necessary to research the various colleges and universities providing these services to determine which best fits the individual’s needs. This research may include connecting with disability communities in the United States to hear firsthand opinions.
Students with disabilities also may find a wider array of services and support at a college or university that has a full disability support services (DSS) office on campus and/or enrolls many students with disabilities. DSS office contact information can usually be found on the college or university website.
The Association on Higher Education and Disability, a membership organization of campus disability services nationwide, provides additional helpful information for students and parents.
Are U.S. colleges and universities required to provide accessible transportation?
U.S. colleges and universities are required by U.S. federal law to ensure that the transportation system they utilize is accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, if a college or university provides transportation to on or off campus locations, they are required to provide such service to people with disabilities. If transportation is not provided to certain locations or at certain times of day, there is no requirement to provide such service to people with disabilities. If an advisee has questions or concerns about transportation, it is important to discuss the issue with the college’s disability support services (DSS) office. The DSS office may be able to make alternative arrangements on a case-by-case basis.
Public transportation is another option for students with and without disabilities. Public transportation must be accessible to riders with disabilities, either on standard buses and rail routes, or through a comparable alternative. In some cases, students may need to show proof of enrollment to qualify for reduced rates or access to alternative transportation services for riders with disabilities. Local disability organizations or government agencies should be available to assist with further information. Note that public transportation may be less widely available in rural areas.
Are U.S. colleges and universities required to provide accessible housing?
Some U.S. colleges and universities do not provide any student or faculty housing. Others offer very limited housing and others still provide a variety of options for all students. If a college or university offers housing, it must ensure that the housing is accessible to students with disabilities. It is very important to communicate a request for disability-related housing accommodations with appropriate college officials well in advance to ensure that accommodations can be arranged in a timely manner. Note that enrolling halfway into the academic year may mean that accessible rooms are already occupied. Common housing accommodations include provision of a single or ground floor room, or a suite to accommodate an attendant. If the individual is residing off-campus, the Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination.
Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws applies to everyone in the United States, both U.S. citizens and people from other countries. Disability-related services and accommodations are provided at no cost to enrolled students with documented disabilities regardless of citizenship. Learn more about the different laws at Are Foreign Exchange Students with Disabilities Covered by U.S. Laws?
Funding for personal aids or services related to a disability, such as someone to assist with housekeeping or repairs to a wheelchair are considered the responsibility of the individual. U.S. students often fund these through federal or state government sources that may not be available to non-citizens, as it is considered public assistance. If students do not have support from their home country, family or sponsored exchange program, other options are discussed in Community Resources for International Students with Disabilities in the United States. More information is also in the section of this tipsheet Are there costs associated with disability-related services?
6. How do I find out which disability-related services, assistive technologies and/or support are commonly used in the United States?
The types of disability-related services, assistive technologies and support used by people with disabilities in the United States may be very different from what people with disabilities use in your country. Encourage your advisee to make a detailed list of daily activities, and to note how any tasks that are affected by his or her disability are accomplished. For example, if the participant receives assistance from a family member at home, what duties does she or he perform, and how, if necessary, will the individual accomplish those tasks in the United States? For ideas on what types of assistive technology or adaptive tools people with disabilities use in the United States see the Assistive Technology and Tools tipsheet.
An accommodation request form can be a useful tool in identifying the disability-related services, assistive technologies and support an individual may need in the United States. These forms may be helpful to school officials in planning ahead for a student’s access needs as well. Sample accommodation request forms are available on the MIUSA website. For post-secondary students and scholars, the disability services office at the college or university to which the individual is applying is another good resource for information about the types of services, technology and support commonly used by students on and off campus.
High School Students
At the high school level, two important laws dictate how accommodations and services are provided to students with disabilities: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws stipulate that all elementary and secondary students with disabilities be provided with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment available. U.S. high school students with disabilities often have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that clearly states their educational goals and access needs.
In some cases, high school exchange students with disabilities will also have an IEP. In other cases, exchange students with disabilities will receive accommodations informally without participating in a formalized IEP process. In either case, it is reasonable for schools to request documentation from a student prior to his or her arrival in the United States or first day of classes in order to expedite the process of arranging accommodations and services. See What is disability-related documentation and how is it obtained? below for more information. Once a high school exchange student with a disability arrives in his or her U.S. host community, the process of arranging accommodations can begin. In many cases, the school district’s special education director or 504 coordinator will work with the student, his or her host family and representatives from the high school exchange organization to arrange accommodations and services.
Post-Secondary Students and Scholars
The ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act delineate different services for students with disabilities in higher education than for secondary students. For example, the IDEA does not apply in higher education and college students do not receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Furthermore, college students are nearly all legal adults so it is the student's responsibility (not parents' or guardians' or professors') to request accommodations.
At many colleges and universities in the United States accommodations are provided to enrolled students with disabilities through a disability support services (DSS) office. Students are welcome to contact the DSS office at the college to which they are applying at any stage during the application process for answers to questions about college-level accommodations. Once a student has been accepted at a U.S. college or university, it is the student’s responsibility to contact the DSS office to discuss the process, time frame and documentation required for requesting accommodations. It is advisable for the student to begin this process before arriving on campus, so the student knows what to expect.
Although accommodations are provided at no cost to the student, DSS office staff may request documentation from the student prior to his or her arrival on campus in order to arrange classroom accommodations and services. Note that post-secondary institutions are not required to conduct or pay for an evaluation or assessment to document a student's disability and need for an academic adjustment, although some institutions do so and/or may assist in identifying an evaluator with a sliding fee scale, bilingual in the student’s native language, or with a background in testing people from other cultures. If a student is having trouble obtaining the documentation required by the school, the student should contact the DSS office to discuss options.
Often, international students will be asked to provide a written report or disability assessment by a qualified diagnostician. For students who are blind or low vision, a school may request a current visual acuity test or functional vision assessment. For Deaf or hard of hearing students, a school may request a recent audiogram. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), for example, requires deaf and hard of hearing applicants to submit a recent audiogram or audiological record form with their application for undergraduate admission.
In all cases, reports should be typed or otherwise legible, translated into English, when possible, and include a specific diagnosis and clear evidence of a disability. Diagnostic reports should include the diagnostician’s name and credentials as well as the dates of testing. Generally, colleges and universities require that diagnostic reports be dated within three years of the student’s request for accommodations. For students whose disabilities are not subject to change, including students who are blind or Deaf, the three year requirement may be waived.
For individuals with learning or mental health-related disabilities, colleges and universities may require a more recent assessment for the determination of appropriate accommodations; however getting these tests conducted once in the United States may be problematic since the tests do not take into account individuals for whom English is not their native language. Documentation cannot be denied solely because the assessment format may be different from that used in the United States. Students having trouble obtaining documentation should contact the DSS office of the school to which they are applying.
Recent changes with the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act restrict overly burdensome documentation requirements, so some disability offices may rely more on observation and a structured interview with the student to determine evidence of a disability and pinpoint the types of accommodations needed. Deciding what documentation is necessary should be rooted in why disability service providers want the information for a particular student. For all students with disabilities, an accommodation request form may be helpful to school officials in planning ahead for a student’s access needs. Sample accommodation request forms are available on the MIUSA website.
Note that college or university faculty/staff do not have the right to access documentation or diagnostic information regarding a student’s disability. Faculty/staff need only know the accommodations that are necessary to provide an equal opportunity for the student.
U.S. high schools, colleges and universities provide a wide array of disability-related services to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational materials and learning, as well as school-sponsored activities, at no cost to students. Institutions are also responsible for ensuring that students have access to facilities and classroom equipment. If physical modifications are needed, such as a raised desk or lowered laboratory table, then the institution is responsible for making those modifications.
Although high schools, colleges and universities are responsible for ensuring that their programs and activities are accessible to students with disabilities, they are not responsible for providing personal aids, such as wheelchairs or eyeglasses, or personal care assistance. In some cases, the distinction between modified equipment for accessibility and personal aids is unclear so it is always best to discuss these issues with the disability support services staff at the school. As noted above, post-secondary institutions are not required to conduct or pay for an evaluation or assessment to document a student's disability and need for an academic adjustment, although some institutions do so.
Personal aids include:
Blind/Low Vision Students
- Purchasing and/or repairing visual aids, such as eyeglasses or monoculars
- Buying and training on personal assistive technology, such as Braille or audio notetakers, adaptive computer software, etc. (although adaptive computer labs are usually available for students to use on campus).
- Hiring people to serve as sighted guides or readers for print materials for non-university-related activities.
- Training on independent living skills, mobility skills with a white cane or acquiring a guide dog (although colleges and universities will provide orientation to the campus).
Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students
- Purchasing and/or repairing hearing aids and related equipment
- Buying and training on personal assistive technology, such as a VideoPhone or TTY
- Sign language interpreters for non-university related activities or events
Students with Mobility Disabilities
- Purchasing, renting or repairing mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or prosthetics
- Hiring people to assist with personal care needs or medical equipment such as hoyer lifts, catheters, etc.
Students with Non-Apparent Disabilities
- Counseling or therapy for a student with a mental health-related disability (although many U.S. colleges and universities provide counseling services on campus)
- Medication or medical equipment, such as insulin, syringes, etc.
Equipment, training or services that are not provided by a program or school may be available at no or low-cost through a community’s disability organizations, faith-based organizations or government agencies. The disability support services office on campus may be able to help identify contacts at these organizations. Note that non-U.S. citizens may not be eligible for some government programs.
Learn more in the tipsheet International Participants with Disabilities and Community Resources. For people who are blind or low vision, refer to our tipsheet Blind Visitors to the United States: What You Need to Know for detailed information.
10. What is the process of requesting disability-related accommodations for the TOEFL, GRE, SAT, IELTS, ACT, GMAT and other standardized tests?
Many important standardized tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Test of Spoken English (TSE), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and others are administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). ETS is committed to serving test takers with disabilities by providing services and reasonable accommodations that are appropriate given the purposes of the tests.
For detailed information, tips and resources on requesting accommodations and preparing for the TOEFL, other English tests, and other standardized tests administered by ETS, see NCDE’s online tipsheet, English Testing Arrangements for People with Disabilities.
ETS also administers the SAT Reasoning Test, SAT Subject Tests, and other tests designed for secondary school students on behalf of the College Board. For information on requesting accommodations and preparing for the standardized tests owned, published and developed by the College Board, refer to Students with Disabilities on the College Board website.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is another test of English language proficiency available at more than 500 testing locations worldwide. Accommodations for test takers with disabilities are available and arranged on a case-by-case basis. For information on requesting accommodations and preparing for the IELTS, refer to IELTS Test Takers-Special Needs.
The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in: Science, English, Mathematics, Reading, and Writing (optional). ACT is committed to serving students with disabilities by providing appropriate accommodations. ACT has established policies regarding documentation of an applicant's disability and the process for requesting accommodations. For details, see ACT Policy for Documentation to Support Requests for Test Accommodations on the ACT.
The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) used by almost 5,000 graduate management programs is administered under standard conditions worldwide by applying the framework of the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act to all applicants. Students must provide documentation of their disabilities, an explanation of how the disabilities prevent them from taking the exam on an equal basis with other test takers under standard conditions, specific accommodation requests, and a rationale for each one. This information is kept confidential and score reports do not say whether a test was take with accommodations. Complete guidelines are available in the GMAT Information Bulletin and the Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities.
11. Can applicants to high school exchange programs receive testing accommodations informally for the pre-TOEFL or SLEP?
Applicants to high school exchange programs are often required to demonstrate English language proficiency by achieving a certain minimum score on a standardized test such as the pre-TOEFL or Secondary Level English Proficiency (SLEP) test. These tests often include listening and reading comprehension sections and questions that require the test taker to describe diagrams or drawings verbally or in writing. These and other portions of the tests may be inaccessible to a test taker who has a hearing, vision or learning disability.
To ensure that test takers with disabilities have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their English language skills, youth exchange organizations commonly provide accommodations informally, bypassing the formal process required for other standardized tests. For example, American Councils for International Education (ACIE) has various agreements with ETS that are only valid for the purpose of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. American Councils has permission to change the pre-TOEFL or SLEP test format or provide the test in Braille, and has agreed that the adapted test will not be used for college entrance purposes.
Informal accommodations for test takers with vision, hearing, learning and other disabilities include:
- Access to an alternative format version of the test (enlarged print or Braille).
- Additional testing time and the assistance of a reader and writer/recorder of answers if an alternative format version of the test is not available.
Several important considerations need to be taken into account in using accommodations in testing or assessment. The accommodations (1) must be appropriate and meet the individual need of the student test taker, (2) should be used in a fair manner to all students, and (3) should not be provided in assessment situations that are specifically for diagnosis of the individual's disability. Read more in Assessment Accommodations for Diverse Learners.
For test takers with vision disabilities: Eliminating portions of the test that involve describing visual information such as diagrams and drawings and substituting these portions with another method of evaluating the applicant’s English language proficiency. For example, a blind or low vision student may be asked to answer an additional essay question using a computer (if she or he uses a computer) or in Braille using a slate and stylus as an alternative to describing a diagram or drawing. If a blind applicant does not know English Braille, it may be more equitable for the student to either dictate their answers in English, or be allowed to write Braille using their primary language. The American Printing House for the Blind has an accessible testing department that produces guides such as "Making Tests Accessible for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guide for Test Publishers, Test Developers, and State Assessment Personnel".
For test takers with hearing disabilities: Eliminating listening comprehension and speaking portions of the test and substituting these portions with additional questions that evaluate the applicant’s reading comprehension and writing skills.
Note that students who use sign language proficiently, either their native sign language or American Sign Language (ASL), typically learn, study and communicate using ASL during their international exchange experience in the United States. For these students, English reading and writing proficiency may be less important than other criteria, such as maturity, flexibility, and their motivation to learn ASL in the United States, in gauging their ability to succeed as international exchange students.
Even students who arrive in the U.S. with minimal or beginning ASL skills can be very successful as most are able to learn ASL quickly in an immersion environment. In order to evaluate the readiness of applicants who are Deaf to participate in an international exchange program, many youth exchange organizations have partnered with Deaf organizations and/or Schools for the Deaf in their home countries. Professionals and educators who are Deaf or have experience in Deaf education may be able to provide insight regarding Deaf applicants’ communication skills, academic strengths and weaknesses, personal qualities, and other criteria.
On the other hand, deaf students who do not use sign language, but who can read, write and/or speak English, have also succeeded in high school exchange programs in the United States. These students may benefit from other types of classroom accommodations, such as note-takers, classrooms equipped with hearing loops, etc. Academic and psychoeducational tests pose challenges for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Test Equity for Deaf and Hard of Hearing can be reviewed on the PePNet website, a clearinghouse for postsecondary students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
Finding funding is a common challenge for any international student who wants to study in the United States. Students with disabilities are not an exception to this, but there are few scholarships specifically available to international students with disabilities. Students with disabilities wishing to study in the U.S. should be encouraged to apply for the same funding opportunities as any other student. In some cases the student may consider highlighting their disability as an asset that provides them with a unique perspective. Many scholarships welcome applicants with disabilities as it increases the diversity of their applicant pool.
While students with disabilities should apply for any scholarship appropriate to their qualifications and goals, limited disability-specific opportunities do exist. Institutions or government agencies from a student’s own country may offer disability-related opportunities such as a scholarship with a special education focus from an entity such as the Ministry of Education.
Many U.S. colleges and universities also offer scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds, including students with disabilities, and specifically for students with disabilities. Once students have narrowed down their choice of schools they should inquire directly about these types of funding opportunities.
For a list of funding sources and ideas on where to start, see the Funding for People Coming to the USA tipsheet. In addition, college and university students should contact the Student Aid Office at the colleges they are considering; they are knowledgeable about the various scholarships and loan programs available and often can provide a list which describes the qualifications and application deadlines required for various loans and scholarships. At some institutions, there may be scholarships targeted at students who add diversity to the student body, including students with disabilities.
Individuals who come to the U.S. on a sponsored program are issued a J-1 visa. J-2 visas are issued to dependents and spouses. However, J-2 visas are not available for other family members who may provide personal assistant services to the J-1 visa holder. Some individuals who require personal assistance have been able to apply for a tourist visa for a family member and extend it as needed. Others have arranged personal assistant services in the U.S. See International Participants with Disabilities and Community Resources for more information.
Another important consideration for J-1 visa holders is the requirement that they have adequate health insurance coverage in the United States, which can be difficult to find and qualify to purchase for those with pre-existing health conditions (usually defined as treatment received for a condition up to 1-2 years before coming to the U.S.). Finding a health insurance policy in one’s home country that also provides coverage in the United States may be best; see Insurance Considerations for Exchange Participants with Disabilities for more information. Additionally, if an individual needs to return to his or her home country periodically for medical care, it is important to be aware of program and visa requirements regarding leaving and reentering the United States.
For individuals who enter the United States on a student visa, it is important to be aware of F-1 non-immigrant regulations with regard to maintaining a full course load of 12 credits for undergraduates, and as many credits as specified by the school for graduate students. Students with chronic illnesses or other disabilities may need to take a reduced course load due to random or cyclical health episodes, an accommodation sometimes provided under U.S. disability laws. However, international students are only allowed 12 months in aggregate of less than full-time status for illness or medical conditions. Although individuals with disabilities can petition for an extension, the process can take several months to complete and entails a fee.
Perceptions about people with disabilities vary widely from country to country. Within each country, including the United States, one will find vast differences of perception based on such factors as socioeconomic level, ethnicity, religion, urban or rural setting, region and type of disability. The diversity of social and cultural views on disability directly influences the degree of stigma or respect experienced by community members with disabilities.
Differences in cultural ideas of disability may also affect the ways that individuals receive the accommodations they need. In some cultures accommodations are provided informally, often by friends or family members. For example, a family member may act as a reader or scribe for an individual who is blind or low vision while classmates may share lecture notes with a student who is Deaf or hard of hearing in lieu of captioning services or a sign language interpreter. In the United States people with disabilities are expected to follow formalized procedures in requesting and receiving accommodations. Friends and family members are not expected to provide accommodations and services in an educational or employment setting. Rather, technology and professionals, such as sign language interpreters, are utilized to provide access. U.S. disability culture also emphasizes individual rights and responsibility, meaning if an individual needs something, they are expected to communicate their needs and advocate for appropriate services and support.
Other Resources:Advising Students with Disabilities: A Perspective From Pakistan
Advising International Individuals with Specific Disabilities.
Note that participants traveling to countries with greater accessibility and disability-related resources may overestimate the support they will need, basing their assessment on what they use at home. Some may be accustomed to relying on personal assistance rather than adaptive equipment or environmental adaptations. If a family member provides assistance to compensate for inaccessibility at home, participants may assume they will need an assistant to fill that role abroad. For example, a blind participant who usually uses a reader may be unfamiliar with the option of using a computer with speech-reading software to read textbooks. Similarly, a student who uses a wheelchair might not be aware that colleges and universities in the United States have disabled student services offices that will assist them to address mobility issues, or that international students can access these services. Students must be made aware of the services and assistance available in the communities they will be going to, as well as the process of accessing these services. Further, they need to know what is expected of them.
For detailed information and guidance on how individuals with disabilities can prepare for a U.S. experience, including health and safety considerations, funding sources, and arranging disability-related accommodations, see Your Disability Rights and Needs in the United States. For disability-specific tips on preparing for a U.S. experience, follow this link to Disability Tipsheets.
15. What strategies can be used to find a host family for an international participant with a disability?
U.S. organizations must try to do everything they can to provide the same opportunity for participants with disabilities, or offer an equivalent alternative that achieves the same benefit or result. The key to successfully including people with disabilities in the homestay experience is to plan to include someone with a disability as a normal part of the process rather than on a case-by-case basis. Any family qualified to be a homestay is a potential match for participants with disabilities.
- Try not to overemphasize the participant’s disability.
- Reassure hosts by identifying the specific accommodations the guest will need and discussing whether necessary adaptations can be made.
- Have a representative of the exchange program visit the home to check for accessibility.
- Involve the disabled participant as much as possible in making homestay accommodations.
Another source of homestays may be those in the community who have family members with disabilities. They may be very interested in learning about a person with a disability from another country and may already have an understanding of disability-related accommodations that may be needed. These contacts are a great way to expand your base of homestay contacts and to represent the diversity within the United States for both disabled and non-disabled students.
To learn more from success stories and to access a checklist for assessing a home, go to Homestays: Finding Host Families for Participants with Disabilities.
16. What strategies can be used if U.S. schools are hesitant about hosting an international student with a disability?
Post Secondary Schools
The admission processes for international students are similar to U.S. students in that they are subject to the non-discrimination requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A qualified student, regardless of where the student is when applying, cannot be refused admissions based on disability or anticipated accommodation needs. Most disability service staff on campus and disability organizations in the community can locate and provide what is needed for the student though it may take time, funds and energy to find a good match for the student in regards to accommodation needs. The student may want to choose schools based on what is already available on campus and in the community. See Advising International Individuals with Specific Disabilities for more information.
High School Exchanges
The same reason that school districts choose to host high school exchange students in general – cross-cultural experience for their students, talents exchange students contribute to the school, belief in sharing U.S. opportunities with students from other nations – should be the focus of reasons to host exchange students with disabilities.
To allay cost concerns that may come with disability-related accommodations, an accurate understanding of the student’s needs would be best so assumptions are avoided. As a general rule, if a student does need Braille, accessible transportation, sign language interpreters or other typically more expensive accommodations, areas that are already set up to provide these services may be the most receptive or a better match.
Even if a school doesn’t have anyone with a disability, the school can still be a positive placement for an exchange student with a disability. If the student is on a federally funded exchange program, the student may have a stipend as part of her scholarship and some funding support for disability-related accommodations if needed, such as for a laptop computer and adaptive software on loan. Community resources and donations may also be found. Read the following articles for examples:
- A U.S. Community Rallies Support for a High School Exchange Student
- Accommodations for High School Students with Disabilities Interested in Studying in the United States
- Finding a Host for a High School Foreign Exchange Student who is Blind
U.S. school districts need to be aware of U.S. federal discrimination laws that help ensure the educational rights of international students with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) policy advises that a school cannot outright refuse to provide special education services to a foreign exchange student that has been accepted into the program. Equally important, and before that point is even reached, no school can simply state that foreign students with disabilities are ineligible for placement at the school. While no high school or school district can be forced to take part in a foreign exchange program, once the decision to participate has been made, the high school or district cannot use discriminatory criteria or operate the program in a discriminatory manner.
The Americans with Disabilities Act extends beyond the academic realm to areas of public accommodation such as restaurants, recreation centers, cultural events, non-profit and community programs, theatres, national parks, and more. Therefore, people with disabilities are involved in the wide range of sports, cultural, and recreational activities in U.S. communities. Read some of the Fun Activities in the Host Community that some high school exchange students with disabilities have participated in. To learn about disability organizations in the United States that might provide leadership or recreational activities, go to: Links to Online Directories of Disability Organizations Worldwide.
Although efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, MIUSA/NCDE cannot be held liable for inaccuracy, misinterpretation or complaints arising from these listings. Mention of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement by MIUSA/NCDE. Please advise NCDE of any inaccuracies you may find.