Health and Disability Management Plan for Study Abroad
Lisa Johnson, Assistant Dean for International Study at Smith College, worked with her Disability Services Director to develop a Health and Disability Management form and process to be used with accepted study abroad students before departure.
My experience working at SIT Study Abroad led me to want to create a form that students can complete shortly after Smith College's application process and before going through a program provider's medical approval process. This form is in no way meant to be used from a medical professional's point of view, but rather from a study abroad professional's perspective. I created an initial draft of the form and worked with our Disabilities Services Director to make sure that:
- I was asking the right questions
- I wasn't turning students off to the idea of studying abroad by inadvertently putting up barriers.
Our Disability Services Director let me know that in general, students want to know why I'm asking for this information and that adding context to the questions was important.
The Health and Disability Management Plan Form and overall process is meant to be the student's plan in managing their health/disability issues while they're abroad. I've found that a lot of students are quite successful in managing issues here on campus, but don't really know how things may change for them when they go abroad. I feel it is my job to help them think things through and make sure they have covered all of their bases before:
- A program says that they can't be accommodated or
- They go abroad and are miserable (or worse, end up withdrawing) because their medical/disability issues have not been addressed.
This form is included in a student's approval packet. Students must return the form to our office, but have the option of disclosing information (i.e. there is not penalty if the form is returned blank). I review all of the forms and ask students to come see me for follow up conversations if I feel it's necessary.
I have been having students submit this form for about three semesters now and I feel that is has been quite successful. The majority of the students who I call in for one-to-one conversations have thanked me and said that they didn't even know where to begin in terms of asking questions and/or making sure they can be accommodated while they're abroad.
Some of the common follow up questions/suggestions that I have for students (as a study abroad professional, not a medical health professional) are:
- Have you talked to your program provider/host institution about your health issue?
- If your program provider/host institution says they're able to accommodate you, what exactly does that mean? (here I want students to have specific information rather than a vague "yes" or "no" from the program)
- Have you talked to your health care provider about your study abroad plans? Is she/he aware of the in-country realities of where you will be studying?
- Have you talked with your health care provider about getting a full prescription of your medication? If it's considered an illegal substance, have to discussed this with your health care provider and has he/she had any suggestions?
- What is the vocabulary word for "gluten", "lactose", "bees", 'shellfish" etc. in the country where you will be studying?
- Are you comfortable asking for help? (in the case that a student can't carry her own luggage)
- Is Skyping allowed in China (or other study abroad destination)? (for a student who planned to keep in touch with her mental health care provider)
- Have you talked to your local/state commission for the blind and do they have any resources to offer you (ie: scanning, Kurzweil reading technology, etc.)?
- Are you registered with Smith's Disability Office? You will need to ask for a letter from Smith's Disability Office that documents your accommodations. You should request this letter sooner rather than later - don't leave it for the last minute.
As the form indicates, I do not keep these plans but rather they are returned to the students for their own use. I do not keep notes because it is perceived by our health center that anything written becomes part of a student's medical record. Since this form is not meant to be used for medical treatment, diagnosis or otherwise, we decided that in addition to returning the form to the student, we would not keep anything in writing. For the students with whom I have a one-on-one conversation with, however, I tell them that "now they know that I know" about their health/disability issue, I become another resource for them in case their needs are not being met while they are abroad.
For suggestions or further information contact:
Assistant Dean for International Study
Office for International Study
Northampton, MA 01063
T (413) 585-4929
F (413) 585-4982