Screening: Implications for Students with Disabilities in Education Abroad
Identifying the limitations of screening and shifting efforts towards programmatic solutions for inclusion of all students in education abroad programs.
- Why is applicant screening an issue in the education abroad field?
- What factors are being considered in the screening process, and how is screening conducted?
- How can we develop a screening system that will eliminate behavioral and mental health-related incidents on education abroad programs?
- How can we screen applicants with disabilities appropriately for participation without discriminating based solely on disability status?
- What should we include in confidential health history and medical clearance forms?
- What if we think a student will not be successful on the program s/he has chosen?
- How do our screening practices affect the way students disclose their disabilities to our office?
- How can we better prepare all students and overseas staff to anticipate and manage mental health-related issues abroad?
- Do participant codes of conduct affect the participation of students with disabilities?
- What if a student has a history of behavior issues?
- What can I talk with students about pre-departure and can I require students to sign behavioral contracts before departure, and send them home if they break the contract abroad?
- Can I require a student with a disability who is abroad and facing disciplinary action to sign a behavioral contract?
As efforts to internationalize U.S. campuses grow, education abroad professionals often feel pressured to send all students abroad. International educators, however, are exploring more and more when they can say “no,” “maybe not there” or “maybe not now” to students they feel are underprepared to go abroad or when the host sites lack the capacity to receive diverse students. The urge to deny access to students with disabilities may stem from risk assessments (“What if that person slips and falls?”), paternalistic feelings (“We don’t want to set a student up for failure”) and/or concerns about liability (“If we attempt to provide mental health services abroad, but can’t do it right, then we become liable”). Uncertainty around the issue of liability is common and the opinions vary.
While screening happens to students with all types of disabilities, it has emerged most recently related to students with mental health-related and autism spectrum disabilities. Motivations for this type of screening are often rooted in past negative experiences with students in crisis and/or the belief that screening students will prevent or reduce behavioral and mental health-related incidents on education abroad programs.
For field faculty and staff, a student in crisis can cause a significant strain on a program. Field staff are often asked to wear many hats while coordinating an education abroad program, such as academic adviser, professor, logistical coordinator, resident adviser, cultural guide, homestay coordinator and personal counselor. A student in crisis may have difficulties that impact all of these areas, and the staff/faculty may find themselves dedicating so much time to the crisis that other areas of the program suffer. Most field staff are concerned about the health and safety of all students and may feel disproportionately distracted from their responsibility to other students while responding to a student with mental health or social-behavioral concerns. Other field staff may feel they lack the knowledge to assist. Feelings of frustration, inadequate resources to ‘fix’ the problem and exhaustion from the mental and physical energy needed to manage the issues that arise are common. U.S.-based staff may also have negative past experiences handling difficult support issues, including fielding phone calls from distraught field staff, parents or students, working intensely with a student with a mental health issue having difficulties on a program, or processing an early return. Sometimes, after these negative experiences occur there is little debriefing done to turn the lessons learned into strategies for improved program design and staff training.
As mentioned above screening has become a hot button issue in part because of responses to previous negative experiences, a desire to prevent further incidences, and a lack of adequate resources to develop support systems for staff and students. The risk with screening lies in the possibility that otherwise eligible students with certain backgrounds or characteristics will be erroneously profiled and/or screened out.
Screening varies among education abroad providers, and in many cases is not directly related to written policy. Among other things, students may be subjected to screening based on a specific diagnosis, the severity of a condition, or the length of time a person with a specific condition has been stable. Any or all of these may be considered in the context of the destination or structure of the program on which the student is planning to go. In the absence of research or appropriate staff training, these determinations may be based on past experiences with program participants or an informal assessment of the individual’s ability to meet essential functions of the program requirements. They could also be based on stereotypes and bias.
Increasingly, reputable and established education abroad programs are consulting with mental health professionals, general counsel, risk managers, disability advocacy groups, disability support services offices on campus, and alumni with disabilities to better understand the issues. However, for offices with less resources or staff new to thinking about these issues, the fine line between screening students appropriately and imposing discriminatory criteria can be easily misinterpreted to the detriment of the program’s goals and the student.
How can we develop a screening system that will eliminate behavioral and mental health-related incidents on education abroad programs?
It is extremely difficult to predict which students, if any, will experience a mental health-related or behavioral issue while abroad, either related to the stressors associated with study abroad, or not. For some students, a problem may manifest for the first time while abroad. Academic research is needed to determine how screening students out of a program based on the existence of a mental health-related or autism spectrum condition will affect numbers of incidents of crisis on a given program.
A diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression, while cited frequently in the Forum on Education Abroad’s incident report database, is not enough to justify ‘screen out’ or ‘profiling’ procedures. The database notes a mixture of disclosure and non-disclosure of pre-existing conditions before the program, and does not note whether the anxiety or depression presented for the first time due to the incident. One could also argue that those incidents indicate a lack of preparedness on the part of education abroad programs to support students abroad, rather than the inherent risk of sending individuals with anxiety or depression on an overseas program.
It is also impossible to screen out students with an existing mental health-related or other non-apparent disability who exercise their right not to disclose, either out of fear of discrimination or a desire to keep their condition private. Students may also experience a mental health condition for the first time while abroad. In this context, it is critical that all students receive site-specific pre-departure information about support services available in the host country, and that overseas staff are trained to recognize and support students having difficulty abroad.
How can we screen applicants with disabilities appropriately for participation without discriminating based solely on disability status?
Non-discrimination laws exist in the United States to prevent individuals from imposing their subjective views on protected groups. With regard to institutions based in the U.S. that receive federal financial assistance, specifically, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 stipulates:
“No otherwise qualified person with a [disability] in the United States shall, solely by reason of [disability], be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Under the provisions of Section 504, colleges and universities may not:
- Limit the admission of otherwise qualified students with disabilities*
- Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether an applicant has a disability
- Exclude an otherwise qualified student with a disability from any course of study
- Provide less financial assistance to students with disabilities than is provided to other students
- Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against a student with a disability
- Establish rules and policies that have the effect of limiting participation of students with disabilities in educational programs or activities"
*Someone is considered otherwise qualified if, with or without reasonable accommodation, they meet the same standards – academic, professional, technical, and behavioral standards – as do other people.
Regardless of whether or not it is known to education abroad staff that an applicant has a disability or a history of disability, she or he should be screened for admission based on the same, non-disability-related criteria as any other applicant. Ethical guidelines also exist to prohibit discrimination against students with disabilities and to promote best practices in education abroad. With regarding to students with disabilities, specifically, The Forum on Education Abroad’s Code of Ethics states, “Institutions, provider organizations and programs should not unlawfully discriminate in employment or admissions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, age, ancestry, familial status, or on any other basis. They should maintain and make available an explicit written non-discrimination policy.” Education abroad offices and staff are further instructed to “assist students in understanding what reasonable accommodations can be provided for students with special needs.”
However, education abroad providers need to take into consideration that the student is applying for a program that will take place overseas and may or may not have similar laws or accommodations abroad that a student may need. As explained an article by Silvia Yee in Rights and Responsibilities: A Guide to National and International Disability Related Laws for International Exchange Organizations and Participants (2nd Edition), “An organization can require qualifications that are genuinely necessary for participation in the overseas program. However, a decision on this point must be made reasonably and soundly, free of stereotypes and unsupported biases. The organization’s medical officers or staff cannot simply ‘feel’ that the applicant’s disability may cause a problem abroad. Placement decisions about a candidate with a disability must be supported by sound medical reasoning and factual information. The mere fact of a disability or history of treatment, without more details, and in place of a careful consideration of an applicant’s other relevant information – academic achievement, language skills, life skills and travel experience – may be deemed unjustified and discriminatory.” For example, relying on a past incident involving an individual with a mental health disability who was disruptive or had to be sent home does not justify discriminating en masse against students with similar disabilities. Non-discrimination laws require that individuals be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Ideally, questions on one’s medical history should be directly related to the critical academic and technical standards and capabilities required for participation in the program of overseas study for which entry is sought. The focus then changes from mandating medical disclosure for the sake of disclosure, to assisting the applicant to make a thorough and fair self-evaluation of whether she has, or can acquire, the qualities that the university or exchange program considers necessary for a successful overseas experience in a particular country.
This does not mean that the university or exchange program must leave the evaluation of whether a student with a disability is qualified to travel overseas and take part in overseas study entirely up to the student. It does mean that the faculty or program evaluation must take all factors into account, including the student’s own assessment of his or her capacity to successfully participate in the program without a legal right to receive those physical accommodations, auxiliary aids, and/or program modifications that she or he has come to rely on while studying in the United States.*
*Taken from a memo to Mobility International USA from Silvia Yee of DREDF in September 2010.
Some international programs make it a policy to include a confidential health history and clearance form signed by a medical provider and/or an accommodation request form in the acceptance packet sent to each participant. These forms encourage the individual to talk with the medical provider about what is needed while on the program, and allows participants the option to disclose disability information and request accommodations they may require while abroad with the program staff.
Organizations should make it clear that disability information is kept confidential and is requested for the purpose of arranging accommodations or services.
How are confidential medical forms gathered?
Here’s some key guidelines to follow:
- The same form should be given to ALL participants.
- It should be connected with essential requirements of the overseas program.
- It should be separate from and given after the application.
- Usually the form is a requirement after selection when the participant is considered “conditionally accepted”.
- The form cannot be significantly more laborious for those with mental health conditions or other disabled participants to complete.
One example of how a provider who offers programs in all parts of the world including very remote areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America might briefly explain essential requirements: "The type of program can vary – some include physically demanding components. All participants will be fully active in the culture. Many will live with a family for a protracted period of time in varying conditions of sanitation and proximity to Western-style health facilities and psychological services."
What message should the medical form be sending?
The form should explain that the information is needed so the program staff can:
safely and quickly in case of an emergency abroad,
- Determine if can
the individual can meet essential requirements or needs a different or deferred program,
- Arrange for in-country supports as needed,
- Inform participants about conditions abroad related to their medications, treatment or overall health.
What messages are participants looking for when reading the medical forms?
1) If I disclose a mental health disability could I still be cleared to go (e.g. do I trust there’s not a blanket bias)?
- Example: On a clearance form to be filled out by medical provider or psychiatrist it shows three ways with stipulations that someone can be cleared:
1)If in opinion of practitioner, the condition is under control
2)Have a treatment plan in place for abroad (if currently being treated)
3)Have been stable on medications for a reasonable period.
2) How will my information be assessed (e.g. what do you mean by stable)?
- Example: Definition of Stable: You must be in a state where any changes in symptoms are not foreseen or expected.
- Example: Assessment of individual’s ability to meet essential requirements of the program includes these indicators of stability: 1) Individual does not rely on counseling for daily functioning, 2) Stable on medications, 3) Length of time since inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment.
- Example: This information will be kept confidential and will be provided to our in country director and program staff as necessary in case of an emergency.
4) Will I have input on if I can meet the essential requirements of program?
- Example: A staff member may contact individual participants to discuss program realities and to clarify expectations for our program staff and for the student.
- Example: The form shares information about mailing or getting medications abroad for the participant to consider and talks about how there may be fewer local resources to help individual manage potential triggers abroad. It may mention how pre-existing conditions can be intensified by living in different culture and the need to anticipate how new environment and stresses abroad will impact health.
Sample medical history and accommodation request forms can be found on study abroad providers websites, such asand University of California System Education Abroad Programs and .
"Prior to my research in Tanzania, study abroad staff encouraged me to travel to places where accessibility would not be challenging, such as the U.K. and Canada, but programs in these countries did not match my goals....Most of the resistance I encountered came from people who saw my disability as an impossible barrier to travel in a developing country, whereas I just saw it as a challenge. [Now that I've been to Tanzania], virtually all of the apprehension I had about traveling as someone with a disability evaporated and I feel very strongly about encouraging others like me to do it." - Rachel Garaghty, a researcher who has a form of Muscular Dystrophy.
College level accommodation is about access and equal opportunity; it is not a guarantee of success. A student who is blind may want to attend a program in a location with uneven roads crowded with traffic and a student with autism may choose a faculty program where fieldwork interactions and group debriefing is part of the structure.
As a program provider, your ideal role is to let the student know about the specific program and what type of assistance is available (i.e., describe the roads objectively and accurately or provide examples of cultural norms and ways of living in a particular community). Given detailed, descriptive (with less emphasis on interpretive or evaluative) information about a program site, and with the support and guidance of family, friends and/or a medical professional to make an informed choice about participation, most students will self-select out of a situation for which they may not be ready.
After all, the student is the largest stakeholder in his or her success. Others may make a different decision and may or may not encounter difficulties abroad. The same is true for students without disabilities. For more information on asking for medical documentation and how to utilize submitted medical forms in making study abroad participation decisions, see Legal Updates.
Ideally, every student who requires accommodation abroad will disclose his/her disability in advance, providing ample time for U.S.-based staff, the student, and the hosting institution to address any concerns and arrange accommodations. To encourage students to disclose a disability, it is incumbent upon education abroad providers to make students feel welcome to disclose in a supportive, judgment-free environment. Your office should also be upfront regarding the use of medical and disability related information that may otherwise be confidential or private.
Education abroad providers should clearly include their policy and procedure for disclosure in several different places. Ideal places include in a welcome letter for accepted students, in pre-departure materials, on medical and housing forms, and in orientation sessions. A form for disclosing a disability and/or requesting accommodations should be available with other pre-departure materials on the program website or in the program office. Avoid asking for disability-related information on forms exclusively designed to collect medical or health information. Many students with disabilities are very healthy and choose not to list their disability on a health conditions form, but may choose to disclose it on a housing form for practical reasons such as requesting wide doorways that can accommodate a wheelchair. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, see Disability Disclosure and Study Abroad: Understanding the Issues.
Many students will not disclose a mental health-related or other disability regardless of how and where this information is requested. Some students may feel uncertain about the attitude or approach an education abroad office or provider has about disability inclusion or the treatment they may experience from other students or overseas hosts. For many students, fear of discrimination prevents them from disclosing their disability until it is absolutely necessary, or not at all. If students learn that other students were denied participation or were discriminated against while abroad because they disclosed mental health, medications or other conditions, they may decide not to disclose and also may choose not to ask about support available at the program location. On the other hand, if alumni with disabilities are invited to share their positive experiences through peer advising or online stories, this would send out a different message. Read some student quotes on the tipsheet Disclosure: When and Why to Disclose a Disability for an International Exchange Program.
It is important to note that many students with mental health-related and other non-apparent disabilities successfully manage their needs privately and may find that existing options for all participants, such as choosing single occupancy dormitory rooms or taking a reduced course load abroad, may satisfy any disability-related needs. For student perspectives on disclosure visit "Let's Talk about Your Disability: Issues of Disclosure" in the AWAY Journal: Non-Apparent Disabilities issue.
Still, once arriving at a program site, some students may find that the same resources they relied on at home are not available, or are different from what they are used to. For students who receive formal accommodations at their home institutions, those same accommodations may be necessary abroad. For all of these reasons, it is critical that education abroad providers make available as much pre-departure information about the program site as possible to all students and plan ahead to support students experiencing a mental health-related issue at the program site.
How can we better prepare all students and overseas staff to anticipate and manage mental health-related issues abroad?
Program providers have a legitimate interest in and responsibility for ensuring that students have a safe and successful overseas experience. Many institutions have developed best practices for operating their programs in a non-discriminatory manner while assisting all students to make informed choices about their participation, request accommodations, and plan for contingencies, whether they disclose a disability, or not.
These education abroad providers place an emphasis on giving students information and resources with regard to mental health services abroad and invest in field staff training to manage the emergent mental health-related needs of any student, including those who may experience a mental health-related issue for the first time while abroad.
- Share a list of accepted participants with the disability support services office, learning resource, and counseling center on campus so advisers in those offices are aware if one of their students is going abroad. While these offices cannot disclose to education abroad advisers which students on the list have a disability for reasons of student privacy, they can initiate conversations with the students and encourage their disclosure as needed to make arrangements. If students do disclose to the education abroad office, continue to involve these other offices who work with the students in follow-up discussions to plan for support for the student. Be clear upfront with the student on what information (e.g. accommodation requests vs. diagnosis information) will be shared and with whom on the program (e.g. host families, faculty leaders, resident directors, etc.) so the student knows points of contact if he or she has concerns while abroad. An example of what could be discussed can be found in Health and Disability Management Plan for Study Abroad.
- Invite campus or community public health clinics and counseling centers to become involved in pre-departure orientation activities concerning counseling, medication, health, and stress reduction strategies. These professionals can address the common misconception by some participants that being overseas will reduce physical, emotional, and mental-health related concerns they have at home, and help students recognize that some of what they may experience overseas may be part of the intercultural adjustment cycle (sometimes called “culture shock”), that it is common to all education abroad participants and isn’t necessarily attributable to a mental health-related diagnosis. Other advice and questions for students to consider can be found in and linked from Mental Health Considerations for International Exchange Participants.
- Research and include information about mental health-related resources that are available for all students in the host country, such as counselors and support groups, in site-specific pre-departure materials, and during any on-site orientations. Make this information available on your website. Even if not all students use the resources it is good for them to know they are available. If the program will be in an area with limited mental health resources, identify other possibilities for students to consider. Examples include remote access to the campus counseling center or their personal counselor, hospitals or clinics available in an emergency, and encouraging students to develop a detailed plan (e.g. identified therapist in host country; emergency contact person for communication in case of continued problems, etc.) with their personal provider. It is important to train staff to be available for students and communicate this to all participants. Staff should not be expected to act as counselors, but early awareness of how to identify students in need can help staff assess whether the need is escalating before it becomes a crisis situation.
- Take a forward-thinking approach to support all students abroad through broader medical insurance coverage, such as when one international exchange organization discovered that more than 50% of the mental health-related incidents occurring on-site involved students who failed to disclose that they were being treated for mental health issues before departure. Due to repeated requests by on-site resident directors and institutions, the organization began offering $10,000 mental health benefits to all participants as a supplement to their insurance plan to provide more resources and choices to students managing mental health issues overseas. The option to seek out and utilize professional counseling services also relieved resident staff from being put in the position of being the sole providers of advice and guidance to students. While there were some limitations to this, the resident directors’ feedback was positive and they saw the need to empower students with multiple sources of support as well, including identifying several counseling options at the host site and home university, and fronting therapy costs for students as needed and billing them later.
- Invest in overseas staff and/or faculty training to recognize and support a student experiencing a mental health-related issue, whether related to an existing diagnosis or condition, or manifesting for the first time. Efforts to screen out students with disabilities can be a projection of fears and assumptions regarding mental health conditions. For every student with a mental health-related disability who experiences a crisis abroad, many more will succeed, supporting their academic and personal goals in the process. In an effort to uphold the highest ethical standards in education abroad, many education abroad providers are turning the focus from screening students to investing in overseas staff/faculty training and program planning to ensure the safety of all students. Not only does this strategy satisfy ethical obligations to operate programs in a non-discriminatory manner, but may also reduce the uncertainty and stress of reacting to a situation for which programs leaders feel less prepared.
By prioritizing the implementation of Standards 8 of the Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice on Health, Safety, Security and Risk Management, programs will be better prepared should a mental health crisis occur abroad. Consider the following questions about each overseas program, regardless of location or duration:
- What plans exist for a mental health-related, medical, or other type of emergency?
- Are mental health providers available at or near the program site?
- If not, how long would it take to get to the closest mental health provider?
- Would a hospital or other medical facility be able to provide temporary support to a student in crisis?
- Do students have consistent access to telephone or reliable email connections so they can maintain contact with support services at home?
- What training do program leaders receive in crisis management? Basic first aid? Recognizing when a student may be in distress? What to do if a student is in distress?
- What is the process of debriefing after a difficult incident has happened? Are there opportunities for program and administrative staff to share experiences and incorporate lessons learned into training and program planning?
The answers to these questions are of interest to all students, not just students with existing mental health-related disabilities. With regard to training, campus or community public health clinics and counseling centers are an excellent resource for information on assisting a student in crisis. The resources and tips in Mental Health and Education Abroad Bibliography, and NAFSA's online publication Best Practices in Addressing Mental Health Issues Affecting Education Abroad Participants have many other helpful ideas for finding local resources and preparing staff.
Participant codes of conduct serve an important role on all types of international exchange programs, from education abroad to the Peace Corps. Codes of conduct ensure that all participants understand and agree to abide by rules and regulations regarding driving, drug/alcohol use, attendance, and more, to the benefit of all participants and the overall program. Codes of conduct are so important that the Forum on Education Abroad specifically instructs education abroad organizations and institutions “to maintain easily accessible, written codes of student conduct. Students should be made aware of and be directed to such codes early in the program selection/application process.”
In most cases, participant codes of conduct do not adversely affect the participation of students with disabilities in education abroad programs, including students with mental, neurological, developmental or learning disabilities. Having a disability also does not exempt students from the terms of the code of conduct or from experiencing consequences for violating the code. Adhering to program rules and codes of conduct are typically understood as a required element that all students must meet. It is consistent with current higher education practices.
Providing all participants with site-specific information about the services and support available abroad may reduce the likelihood that a participant with a disability will violate a code of conduct. For example, a participant who is also an alcoholic in recovery is less likely to violate a substance abuse policy if information about alcohol use and recovery groups in the host country is included in site-specific program materials.
Regardless of disability, a student on academic or judicial probation at the time they are scheduled to go abroad is subject to the education abroad program’s code of conduct policies. Some education abroad providers may not admit a student on probation, while others may admit the student but require that the probation continue as if the student were on campus. However, a past incident of inappropriate or disruptive behavior can be a weak predictor of how a student will perform on an education abroad program, particularly if appropriate and reasonable accommodations are provided. Students with disabilities who have been on probation, accepted consequences, and are now past any probationary period, should not be subject to preemptive probationary measures.
In some cases, a participant’s disability may directly affect his/her ability to abide by the terms of a student agreement or participant code of conduct without accommodation. For example, a participant with a condition on the autism spectrum, without accommodation, may exhibit atypical or disruptive classroom behavior. A participant with a neuropsychiatric disability such as Tourette Syndrome may speak out of turn in a classroom or speak out inappropriately in a public setting. A participant with disordered eating may exhibit behavior that jeopardizes his/her welfare, a common code of conduct violation. If a student has not requested or has refused accommodation, not having accommodation cannot be used as an excuse for violating a program’s code of conduct. Though accommodations are not retroactive, program staff may choose to let the student continue the program without sanctions, if accommodations are put into place.
An individual is considered otherwise qualified for a program if, with or without reasonable accommodation, they meet the same standards – academic, professional, technical, and behavioral standards – as do other people. So what are reasonable accommodations for students whose disabilities affect behavior? Accommodations and adjustments for such students may include:
- Some individuals with Tourette Syndrome are able to suppress their tics – verbal or other – for limited periods of time, such as during an in-class lecture or public event. These same individuals may require a private place in which to release their symptoms after a period of suppression. A reasonable accommodation may be a single-occupancy housing arrangement, permission to leave group functions, or use of a lounge or other private place at specified times throughout the day.
- A participant with an autism spectrum disorder who exhibits disruptive classroom behavior may benefit from a reduced course load, a peer mentor to check-in with about missed social cues or group dynamics that were not easily understood, private study or living space, and/or noise-reduction headphones to reduce stress and anxiety. In some cases, enlisting the support of overseas faculty or administrators also can be helpful in addressing specific behaviors deemed disruptive. For example, a reasonable accommodation for a participant who regularly interrupts in-class lectures might be scheduled, private discussions with the instructor during office hours or implementation of a system to allow the student to write several questions down and asking them at a more appropriate Q&A time.
- A participant with disordered eating may require regular access to his/her therapist in the United States via a satellite phone or reliable Internet connection and/or English-speaking support services in the host country. While education abroad providers are not required to provide counseling services, they should assist the participant to identify counseling services in the host country and/or help find ways for the student to connect to a U.S.-based counselor as appropriate.
For detailed information about providing accommodations to students who disclose a specific disability and planning ahead for students with disabilities on international exchange programs, see Autism Spectrum / Asperger Syndrome and International Exchange, and Medications and International Travel.
What can I talk with students about pre-departure and can I get them to sign behavioral contracts before departure, and send them home if they break the contract abroad?
While it is reasonable to expect all education abroad participants to abide by a participant code of conduct, with or without reasonable accommodation, it is neither ethical nor legal to impose additional requirements, often written in the form of a behavioral contract, on participants with disabilities who have not violated any policies.
Imposing a behavioral contract on a study abroad student or requiring accommodations because they disclosed a disability, rather than in response to an actual incident after a violation of the code of conduct, may indicate that the education abroad provider is imposing rules and policies that have the effect of limiting participation of students with disabilities in educational programs or activities. Avoid policies and procedures that are administered to one group or class of individuals but not to all students.
So-called behavioral contracts, including no-harm contracts, single out students with disabilities for different treatment due to assumptions or fears about disability, liability concerns, or other considerations. In the case of no-harm contracts, specifically, there is little evidence that they are effective in deterring an individual from harming him/herself or contemplating suicide, nor do they provide legal protection for an education abroad provider. If an organization chooses to utilize no-harm contracts for students, these contracts should only be between the student and a licensed mental health or medical provider who is familiar with appropriate uses for this tool.
Education abroad providers are encouraged to talk with students about support that is needed or if they have thought about coping mechanisms for issues that may arise, whether or not the student identifies as having a disability. The tipsheets in the previous answer offer questions to consider and links to accommodation forms to fill out with the student. For clearer communication, the education abroad provider can put into writing the nature of the accommodations and/or support that can or cannot be provided. While it is not a contract that is signed, it is a support plan that documents what had been discussed with the student regarding his or her needs and program participation. Access Abroad has examples of forms and letters on its website, as well as advising suggestions. An advising process for participants with non-apparent disabilities that the University of Pittsburgh has used can be read about in its Best Practices: Study Abroad and Disability Services Collaborations. Also refer to the tipsheets mentioned in the previous question “How can we better prepare all students and overseas staff to anticipate and manage mental health-related issues abroad?”
Can I require a student with a disability who is abroad and facing disciplinary action to sign a behavioral contract?
If any education abroad student, regardless of disability status, is breaking the code of conduct or exhibiting disruptive behavior on a program, a behavioral contract may be appropriate to avoid further disciplinary action. For students with disabilities, assess if any reasonable accommodations are needed (and desired) by the student to have equal opportunity to fulfill the behavioral contract.
For some students with mental health-related, neurological or developmental disabilities, code of conduct issues or violations may stem from atypical, though not disruptive, behaviors or mere disability-related social misunderstandings. To reduce the incidence of these issues, some institutions are developing web-based tutorials, guides and orientations for all students which cover not only the pillars of their policies, but also provide scenarios and role plays that help students apply those principles in typical classroom and on-campus settings. Similar tools may prove highly useful in helping all students prepare to immerse in a new culture on an overseas program. Examples* could include:
Question 1: Students are only expected to comply with the Student Code of Conduct while on a University campus.
Outstanding! Conduct, either on or off-campus, that is determined to impair, interfere, or obstruct the opportunities of others to learn or that disrupts the mission, processes, or orderly functions of the University can be deemed misconduct and subject to appropriate disciplinary action. This can include any off-site learning team meetings or University-related business.
Nice try, [first name], but conduct, either on or off-campus, that is determined to impair, interfere, or obstruct the opportunities of others to learn or that disrupts the mission, processes, or orderly functions of the University can be deemed misconduct and subject to appropriate disciplinary action. This can include any off-site learning team meetings or University-related business.
Question 2 Scenario: During a conversation with her finance and academic counselors, a student becomes upset that she is not receiving the service and communication she needs to be successful. In her frustration, the student threatens to teach her counselors a lesson.
This would be considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.
Marvelous! Actions, oral statements, and written statements which threaten or violate the personal safety of any member of the faculty, staff, or other students are considered violations of the Student Code of Conduct. Rather than shout threats to her counselors, the student could instead escalate her concerns to a University manager.
Excellent try, [first name], but actions, oral statements, and written statements which threaten or violate the personal safety of any member of the faculty, staff, or other students are considered violations of the Student Code of Conduct. Rather than shout threats to her counselors, the student could instead escalate her concerns to a University manager.
*Thanks to Jenna Johnson, ADA Compliance Officer, Apollo Group, Inc. in Phoenix, Arizona for these examples.
In an effort to promote non-discriminatory, non-punitive approaches to students in crisis on college and university campuses, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law developed a collection of guiding principles for how to deal fairly and non-punitively with students in crisis and how to support those whose mental health issues may be interfering with their academic, extracurricular or social lives.
According to Bazelon Center senior staff attorney, Karen Bower, “Too often colleges and universities respond to students with mental illnesses in punitive ways, requiring them to leave or evicting them from school-sponsored housing. Such punitive measures discourage students from seeking help and isolate them from social and professional supports at a time of crisis, increasing the risk of harm.”
The Bazelon Center policy includes approaches to various situations and examples of accommodations that institutions can make to enable such students to continue their education successfully. Although written with students on U.S. campuses in mind, many of the issues and accommodations identified in the Bazelon Center policy are applicable to students on education abroad programs. See Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities for more information.