Budgeting for Inclusion
Many organizations are concerned about the cost of making programs accessible to people with disabilities, so incorporating a "disability accommodation" line item into every project and administrative budget is the most reliable way to ensure that resources are at hand.
Cutting-edge international exchange organizations weave diversity into the design of their programs by including individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences as participants, volunteers, staff and host families.
The investment of financial resources represents a critical benchmark of an organization’s commitment toward diversity. By investing wisely in the full participation of individuals with disabilities, international exchange organizations take powerful steps toward reaching diversity goals.
Budgeting for the inclusion of people with disabilities should be an integral part of overall budgets. Effective budget planners anticipate all of the expenses necessary to assure a successful program: participant costs, travel, equipment, office space and supplies, salaries and benefits, accounting and insurance. Costs associated with making programs accessible for people with disabilities need to be just as proactively incorporated into budgets, ensuring that people with disabilities will be able to contribute fully to the goals of the program.
Costs of Reasonable Accommodation
Many organizations voice concern about the cost of making programs accessible to people with disabilities, but most disability accommodations can be made easily and inexpensively. Surveys from the Job Accommodations network of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, show that 50% of measures taken to facilitate disability-related accommodations incur no financial cost, 30% cost under $500 and only 10% cost over $1,000. The median cost is $240, based on these employment surveys. Furthermore, tax incentives are available to organizations that use funds to comply with disability rights laws. For example, a federal tax credit of up to $5,000 is available for qualifying businesses to make architectural adaptations, acquire equipment and provide services such as sign language interpreters. A federal tax deduction of up to $15,000 is available for qualifying businesses to make architectural or transportation adaptations. Contact the ADA hotline at (800) 514-0301 or the IRS at (888) 775-7474, for Publication 334 Tax Guide for Small Businesses and Form 8826 Disabled Access Credit for further information.
Creative Budgeting Strategies
Incorporating a “disability accommodation” line item into every program and administrative budget is the most reliable way to ensure that funds are available to include people with disabilities. Since specific arrangements will vary depending on the number of people with disabilities and types of disability, Mobility International USA (MIUSA) recommends using a percentage formula to predict disability accommodation expenses in budget requests. MIUSA has found that allocating 5-10% of the program budget to disability accommodation is adequate for meeting most disability-related accommodation needs. MIUSA also recommends incorporating a disability accommodation line item of 1-5% of overall administrative costs into the organization’s administrative budget to provide accommodations to staff and interns with disabilities when hired. If any of these budgeted funds remain unused at the end of the year, they may often transfer to other programs.
In addition to incorporating a disability accommodation line item, organizations can create a supplemental fund, dedicated to specific expenses such as personal assistants or for general costs related to disability accommodations. Service clubs, foundations, corporations and private donors interested in reaching underrepresented groups often respond positively to appeals for donations earmarked for program accessibility.
Contributions could also come from earmarking a percentage of participant fees to the fund, thus ensuring that each participant shares in the costs of making the project inclusive. Of course, whenever possible, it is always easier to include these funds in original budget requests rather than relying on possible outside funding.
Sharing the costs of disability accommodations among offices, organizations and institutions is another creative strategy for ensuring that programs are inclusive of people with disabilities. One university made the cost of sending sign language interpreters abroad more manageable when two Deaf students attended the same faculty-led program and could use the same two interpreters. Separate institutions could take the same approach when each has a student who is Deaf participating in the same program.
Sharing costs sometimes involves accessing services and equipment already pooled at overseas institutions or community organizations. For example, a host university in England provided a study abroad student with the computer she needed in order to install the enlarging software she brought with her. The same student ordered the alternative format textbooks that she would need from the free national service in the United States before her departure. Vocational Rehabilitation funds covered tuition, housing, fees and books for her academic year abroad program just as it had when she was enrolled at her home university.
When procuring funds for scholarships, it may be useful to allocate at least one scholarship specifically for participants with disabilities. Often, people with disabilities choose not to apply for international exchange programs because they assume that they will not have access to the accommodations that they need. A targeted scholarship allows potential participants with disabilities to see that the sponsoring education abroad program welcomes them and that participation is not just for their non-disabled peers.
Another possible advantage to offering scholarships for people with disabilities is that participants with non-apparent disabilities may be motivated to disclose their disability to program staff in advance in order to qualify for the scholarship. Early information about a participant’s disability gives staff more time to plan for needed services or accommodations and helps to prevent situations in which a participant’s disability-related needs surface only after arrival in the destination country.
Individuals with disabilities sometimes are responsible for costs that may deter them from going abroad, in particular the cost of personal assistance. In fact, one of the most significant barriers for some people with disabilities seeking to participate in international exchange is a lack of resources for personal assistance. Personal assistants for daily living support are generally not included in the ADA’s definition of reasonable accommodation, except when the assistant is needed in order to make inaccessible sites or situations accessible. Moreover, while traveling abroad, participants with disabilities may not be eligible for the funding that they normally receive from state agencies or other sources at home to pay for personal aids and other necessary services.
Organizations that are committed to providing inclusive programs may need to use creative strategies to make personal assistants available to individuals who need assistance in order to fully participate in a program. Targeted scholarships are one such strategy.
Budgeting for the inclusion of people with disabilities is a proactive goal that all organizations committed to diversity can embrace. With funding established, international exchange organizations will be able to respond positively and creatively when outreach efforts pay off and an outstanding disabled participant, job applicant, volunteer or homestay host comes knocking at the door.
The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) is committed to collaborating with international exchange offices and organizations to assure the full and equal participation of people with disabilities in international exchange. For further information on making programs inclusive of people with disabilities, please contact NCDE. If you require information about the ADA or other disability law, or about employing people with disabilities, please see the Rights and Responsibilities booklet.
Transferring Disability-Related Financial Assistance Overseas
Education-abroad organizations or offices may not be aware of disability-related funding that may be available to people with disabilities. Tapping into these sources can supplement the financial costs of study abroad. The Social Security Administration, which monitors the allotments of some of these funds, recognizes the importance of international exchange for young people with disabilities and has identified options for including study abroad as a component of an individual’s education and preparation for employment. Some people with disabilities are eligible for assistance under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program if they meet criteria for disability, income and available resources. The Social Security Handbook states:
“A student of any age may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits while temporarily outside the U.S. for the purpose
of conducting studies that are not available in the United States,
are sponsored by an educational institution in the United States,
and are designed to enhance the student’s ability to engage in gainful
employment. Such a student must have been eligible to receive
an SSI benefit for the month preceding the first full month outside
the United States.”
Some people with disabilities have found international exchange experiences to have a direct impact on their employability. As one person stated: “I put my Mexico and Russia exchange experiences on my resume and it worked–I got a job at an independent living center and I actually work with Deaf people from different countries who are living in the United States.”
To continue to receive SSI for up to one year while in an education abroad program, the individual with a disability must ensure that the following criteria are met:
- The international exchange course of study is not available in the United States.
- The education abroad program is sponsored by a school in the United States.
- Participation is critical to the student’s educational and vocational success.
- The student is eligible for SSI one month immediately prior to leaving home.
- The student will earn academic credits towards a high school or college degree.
The individual with the disability will need to work with his or her transition or benefits specialist to arrange to continue SSI payments while abroad.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR) funding is another source of funding available to some individuals with disabilities. VR clients can propose ways to include education abroad opportunities in their VR plan. “There is no federal regulation that prohibits the funding of an international program as part of a student’s vocational rehabilitation plan,” reports Mary Davis, Rehabilitation Program Specialist at the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) of the United States Department of Education, the federal agency that oversees the state level Vocational Rehabilitation Services. “Each state has flexibility in the nature and scope of what activities they cover, but cost alone can never be the only reason to deny a particular program.” She adds, however, that “there does need to be a clear link between the international activity and the individual’s vocational objective.” Suggested steps to successfully guide students with disabilities through this process include:
- Identify education abroad programs related to their degree program.
- Bring information to their VR counselor’s attention on an education abroad program that is required or supports their educational/vocational goal.
- Request VR support in a letter to the VR counselor, which includes information about the program.
- Clearly state how the experience will enhance their educational and vocational goals.
- List all study abroad program expenses (consider any disability accommodation expenses).
- Include how much the student is able to contribute financially toward the expenses.
If VR has already approved funding for tuition, books, fees, personal assistant, adaptive equipment or a note taker for the student in a U.S. institution, it may be possible to use those funds to cover the same costs while studying abroad. Study abroad expenses that VR has funded include:
- Tuition, books and supplies for a student with a visual impairment to study for a semester in the Czech Republic and Greece.
- Personal assistant wages when needed by a student with a mobility disability to spend a summer session studying in Scotland.
- Tuition and room/board for a student who is Deaf to study Spanish for one semester in Costa Rica, and for one month of summer school in Mexico.
- The program fee for a student who is blind to participate in a summer educational program in Costa Rica.
- Rental of a golf cart for transportation for a student using a wheelchair
on a large university campus in Australia.
Northern Illinois University’s International Programs Office has had several students who utilized their VR funding while studying abroad. Recommendations for a successful collaboration with VR include: work cooperatively with the staff at the financial aid and the VR offices; implement a process that ensures that all parties involved receive the information necessary to approve the appropriate funding; and, provide the VR counselor with the financial aid office’s breakdown of study abroad program expenses three to five months before the program begins.
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.