Best Practices: Study Abroad and Disability Services Collaborations
Learn how award-winning institutions, Lehigh University and University of Pittsburgh, create collaborative practices between disability support and education abroad offices to better serve students with non-apparent disabilities.
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Cheryl A. Ashcroft, Assistant Dean of Students, Academic Support for Students with Learning Disabilities, and Erica G. Caloiero, Director of the Study Abroad Office, submitted Lehigh University's best practices.
The Office of Academic Support Services strongly encourages students with disabilities to participate in study abroad experiences. Each year, we host a study abroad panel of students with learning disabilities who have previously participated in a study abroad program. These students share their experience with freshmen and sophomores who work through our program. We also provide students with the names of upper class students who have studied in the country that they are interested in exploring.
The Study Abroad Office at Lehigh University offers various program models to meet the different learning styles and physical needs of each individual student who wishes to study abroad. These programs include:
Faculty Led Summer programs (six weeks);
Lehigh approved Direct Enrollment Programs;
Island Programs, which are offered by U.S. based institutions that are familiar with and recognize ADA and Act 504; and
Third Party Provider programs, which are offered by U.S. based educational organizations that coordinate applications and support services with the host university.
The Study Abroad Office and Academic Support Services work closely to make students and families aware of the different types of resources services available overseas. A brochure on Study Abroad Opportunities for Students with Disabilities is available through our office and the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges.
ADVISING AND PRE-DEPARTURE ACTIVITIES
Advising students about program fit, course selection, and personal needs is a collaborative effort shared by both the Study Abroad Office and Academic Support Services. Open communication between both offices ensures a smooth transition for our students. In addition to working closely together on individual student needs, we jointly participate in relevant professional staff development.
Students meets individually with the Study Abroad office to help identify the best program fit in relation to the students’ identified goals and academic needs.
Students are advised to fill out the request for academic accommodations form that is a part of the Study Abroad packet.
After a program has been selected, students meet with the Academic Support Services office to make contact with the host university. At this time the appropriate contact person is identified, the criteria for documentation at the host university is determined, and the appropriate academic accommodations are discussed.
Academic Support Services works closely with students to advise them on course selection and academic department approval procedure.
For our faculty led summer programs, the study abroad office routinely sends the list of applicants who have applied to the program to ensure that the students with disabilities are notified of the appropriate procedures to ensure academic support while abroad. Request for academic accommodations are processed and professors are notified and/or consulted prior to departure.
Students are then given the names of peer mentors with learning disabilities whose challenges and goals are similar.
The Study Abroad Office and Academic Support Services provide multiple opportunities both privately and in small groups to disclose and discuss their academic and personal needs abroad. Topics also include likely differences between home and host universities; including access to services, physical environment, cultural perceptions and stereotypes.
The Study Abroad Office require mandatory pre-departure orientation for all students to discuss information concerning medical and psychological issues; health, safety, and legal issues; culture shock and gender/LGBTQ related topics.
Both the Study Abroad Office and Academic Support Services maintain communication via email with students to provide assistance, as needed. Students are coached on their responsibility to make contact with the appropriate support services entities and to maintain contact throughout the duration of their abroad experience. Students are also coached on balancing their academic and social pursuits, such as: sleep, travel, alcohol consumption, diet, and medications.
The Study Abroad Office offers re-entry programming that includes time for reflection, academic experience, and other relevant experiences. Students are encouraged to privately discuss their experience with respect to their disability and academic accommodations while abroad. Students are encouraged to complete the Study Abroad/Academic Support Survey upon re-entry. Students are invited to become study abroad mentors for other students with learning disabilities.
University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Lynnett Van Slyke, Director, Office Disability Resources and Services, and Carol Larson, Assistant Director for Outreach and Managment for the Study Abroad Office, submitted the University of Pittsburgh's best practices.
Disability Resources and Services and the Office of Study Abroad at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a collaborative case management approach to support students with non-apparent disabilities to participate in study abroad programs. This joint effort has resulted in students with disabilities such as reading disorders, psychiatric disorders, chronic health conditions, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder having a study abroad experience as rewarding as their non-disabled peers.
Can a student with a reading disorder obtain his academic accommodations or access necessary assistive technology in Barcelona?
Will a student with a psychological disorder be able to obtain the services of a psychiatrist in Asia?
These are the kinds of questions that will be asked and must be answered when students with disabilities study abroad.
In a new approach developed at the University of Pittsburgh, staff members from Disability Resources and Services (DRS) and the Office of Study Abroad (SA) are working together with students with disabilities to plan for necessary accommodations and prepare for potential obstacles. With over fifteen students with documented disabilities successfully participating in a study abroad experience in the last two years, both DRS and SA are beginning to think that this team driven case management approach is working.
The program developed out of a recognized need to educate each department about the other. Students with hidden disabilities were often discussing their “accommodation request” to the study abroad advisor. On occasion, the advisor became concerned and confused about the next step, because of the lack of expertise about the field of disability in higher education. Likewise, the disability specialist, lacking in-depth knowledge about the field of study abroad, was unaware of the breadth of opportunities that were available for students with hidden disabilities.
After several impromptu discussions concerning students with non-apparent disabilities who expressed an interest in studying abroad, the offices realized that sharing of information could be an extremely useful tool to help promote the continued inclusion of this underrepresented population in study abroad experiences. Thus the collaborative joint effort was formalized into a prototype.
The approach begins with the disability specialist and the student discussing, in significant detail, the disability or medical condition in order to separate negotiable vs. non-negotiable accommodations. As one can imagine, for a student who has brittle Type I Diabetes, the ability to access insulin is a non-negotiable. However, a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be willing to take his examinations in a standard classroom environment in order to have the opportunity to study in Guam, thus his need for a controlled testing environment could be a “negotiable accommodation”. Alternatively, that same student might not want to participate in a program that does not offer an academic liaison because he recognizes the importance of weekly coaching sessions for his ADHD. Each student’s disability or medical condition is unique.
It is extremely important for the disability specialist to engage the student in an honest evaluation of the disability, what is required to manage it, and potential issues that could occur while abroad. Often times students who are eager to participate in study abroad programs will downplay or over look certain aspects of their condition. Without appropriate planning, a student’s disability could have a negative impact on the study abroad experience.
Another point for consideration for students with hidden disabilities is the potential impact stress can have on a individual’s condition. Students who have never studied abroad may not realize the significant impact that culture shock or language barriers can have on an individual. These types of environmental stressors can trigger an increase in symptoms for students with all types of disabilities, but increased stress levels can be particularly problematic for students with psychological disorders or brain injuries.
A “disability analysis” might reveal that a particular student is better suited for a summer study abroad program that is six weeks in length as opposed to a full term program, or that a student may be better suited for program in which the language barrier is minimal. The comprehensive “disability analysis” prepares the student to discuss his needs with his study abroad advisor. Another fortunate aspect of the case management approach is the ability to share with the student that both offices are working together, for the student.
With an in-depth understanding of the disability information, the study abroad advisor can begin to work closely with external study abroad providers and universities to determine what programs can provide the necessary accommodations. The results of this informational scan are shared with the student and the disability specialist. Involved parties meet to discuss information obtained thus far. This meeting allows all involved to share potential concerns. The team recognizes that a constant commitment to open dialogue and approaching each student on a case -by- case basis will enhance the study abroad experience.
The Office of Study Abroad and Disability Resources and Services are working together to determine if this collaborative case management approach is successful. The offices have secured funding for students with disabilities to study abroad through inclusion in the Sissy Lieberman Scholarship, a fund for underrepresented students to study abroad. Students who receive a financial award are required to keep travel journals and discuss their experiences at an annual luncheon. Accordingly, personal accounts offered by students with hidden disabilities are revealing that the collaborative case management approach being offered at the University of Pittsburgh is improving the study abroad experience.
Read more about UPitt students with disabilities that studied abroad at:
Winners presented as part of a 75-minute concurrent session titled, Educating & Accommodating Students with Visible & Non-Apparent Disabilities Abroad on Friday, May 26, 8-9:15 am at the NAFSA: Association of International Educators National Conference 2006 in Montreal, Canada. An audio CD of the session can be ordered on the