Host Families for Participants with Disabilities
Discover strategies for finding homestay families for participants with disabilities.
Living with a host family provides exchange participants with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture and a new language and also to have deeper intercultural experiences. As a result, it is essential for exchange participants with disabilities to have access to the same opportunities to live with host families as their non-disabled peers.
When placing participants with disabilities with host families, international exchange professionals and hosts are often concerned about the following issues:
The needs and abilities of participants with disabilities, and how this will affect the hosts
The accessibility of the homestay, and steps that might need to be taken to provide accommodations for the participant
With the right information and community resources, placing participants with disabilities in homestays can be meaningful and fulfilling for all involved. If homestays are an integral part of an exchange program, U.S. organizations must try to provide the same opportunity for participants with disabilities, or offer an equivalent alternative that achieves the same benefit or result.
Finding Host Families
Study abroad and exchange program coordinators should consider the following tips when providing homestays for participants with disabilities.
Have a formal process in place for including participants with disabilities. A process could include diverse photos or quotes in marketing materials, budgeting for equipment that may be needed, and incorporating other suggestions that follow. This way exchange professionals, programs and host families are prepared to include participants with disabilities.
- Be patient in following the process. Initially it may take more time to locate an appropriate homestay placement for a participant with a disability, but once contacts are formed with disability organizations and families willing to host people with disabilities, the process will become more streamlined.
- Research accessibility features of specific homestays and their neighborhoods. Knowing which locations are accessible ahead of time can make it easier to place participants with disabilities.
- Any family qualified to be a homestay in your program is a potential match for participants with disabilities. Prepare homestay families in advance about the possibility of hosting participants with disabilities. If recruiters and advisors are proactive about including participants with disabilities, homestay families are more likely to be receptive.
- Don’t overemphasize the participant’s disability. Participants with disabilities have unique talents, skills and hopes that should be shared with a host family in addition to important disability and accommodation information. As with other participants, families need to know the participant as a whole person.
- Discuss specific adaptations and accommodations for the participant. Most people who have disabilities are independent in their daily lives. The kinds of adaptations needed by one person might not be necessary for another. With a few initial adaptations and adjustments, a disabled exchange participant may need no more assistance than someone who is not disabled.
- Have a representative of the exchange program visit the home to check for accessibility. This can be done as part of the regular homestay process. It may be helpful to include a person with a disability or consultant who has expertise on the exchange participant’s disability.
- Advisors should involve the disabled participant as much as possible in making homestay accommodations. Participants with disabilities have personal knowledge on their needs and what accommodations work best for them. Some people with disabilities will need assistance with dressing, bathing, chores and other activities. Homestay families are not expected to provide personal care for their guest. If a participant will need extensive assistance, the organization should arrange for a personal assistant to aid the participant. For more information, see our tipsheet on Personal Assistants on International Exchange Programs.
- Communicate with the participants about their ongoing needs. It is important for hosts and professionals to communicate with participants throughout the program. Be aware that inbound participants to the United States, particularly high school students, may not be used to voicing their disability-related needs and advocating for themselves.
The following suggestions are for both exchange professionals and potential host families of participants with disabilities.
Reach out to families that include a person with a disability. These families may be interested in learning about people with disabilities from other countries. They are also likely to have disability-related knowledge and may already have an accessible home for placing students.
- Contact disability organizations in the community. These organizations include independent living centers, disability advocacy groups, rehabilitation centers, Deaf clubs, adaptive sports clubs, special education departments, organizations related to specific disabilities and even businesses that sell adaptive equipment. They can provide valuable contacts and expertise.
- Connect with parents who have children with disabilities. Parents can provide advice and expertise, especially for host families of international high school students with disabilities. Resources in the U.S. can be found through National Parent Technical Assistance Centers. “When you are hosting a student with a disability, just like when you
are a parent of a student with a disability, you need to be assertive. Otherwise things simply are not going to get done.” Read Katharine Royal's blog "Student with Disability is Host Family’s Shining Star."
- Get in touch with exchange professionals and host families that have worked with participants with disabilities before. Those with past experience can discuss best practices and strategies for including participants with disabilities.
- Contact the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. The NCDE can put together specifically tailored responses to your inquiries.To contact us, see NCDE Information and Referral Services.