AWAY Topics - International Disability Organizations Issue
The fifth issue of the NCDE AWAY Topics encourages international disability organizations around the world to share information on U.S. exchange opportunities with their members.
Inside this Issue:
- Disability Culture in the United States
- Editor's Corner
- Five Facts on Funding
- Wanting information about opportunities in the United States?
- Types of Disability Organizations in the United States
- Featured Person: Sefakor Komabu-Pomeyrie
- Online Resources from NCDE
- Did you know...?
- Disability Organization Database
- From the Field
- Publisher's Notes
Coming from Novosibirsk, Russia, Svetlana Vasilyeva was pleasantly surprised about the disability support she found in the United States, “Sometimes I think that Eugene, Oregon where I studied English is my utopia. I have all conditions needed for me to focus on my studying and to get around campus comfortably. I can go to all my classes by myself; all of my class materials have been converted into an accessible format; and I have met many friendly and helpful people.”
Svetlana’s experience in the United States introduced her to a very different concept of what it means to have a disability. While every visitor to the United States will have a different experience related to disability, here are a couple general characteristics of U.S. disability culture:
Individualistic idea of independence – The U.S. culture, in general, is known as being individualistic, and the same can be said of U.S. disability culture. In the United
States, it is assumed that, with tools such as wheelchair ramps, white canes, and screen reading software, people with disabilities are expected to navigate life without the assistance of others (unless it is from a paid professional). People are expected to ask for assistance if they need it, and may consider it rude for another person to assume they need help.
Disability pride and antidiscrimination – There is a long and proud history in the United States of people with disabilities and allies advocating for the right to be included in society. The actions of this movement resulted in strong anti-discrimination laws, but inequity still exists. Today, disability rights activists focus on issues such as improving employment opportunities, inclusive education, and affordable health care.
Formal process for receiving disability-related accommodations – Providing disability-related accommodations in the United States has typically more rules and procedures in contrast to other societies in which people with disabilities are more likely to receive informal support from friends and family or by negotiating directly with faculty or employers. For example, in the United States specific laws, regulations and organizational guidelines regulate what types of accommodations may be provided and how they are requested.
Learn more on this topic by reading the “Cultural Differences and Disability” tipsheet.
Left: A group of women leaders from disability organizations around the world in the United States for a leadership training.
People with disabilities coming to the United States on an international exchange program have much to gain in addition to the typical benefits of education or work experience. Exposure to the U.S. disability culture opens the possibility of what could be different in their country while also sharing perspective about what works well back home. These advantages include gaining confidence that comes from the type of independence expected from people with disabilities in the United States and the experience of living in one of the most accessible countries in the world.
International students with disabilities who received disability services at U.S. universities report higher satisfaction rates than data comparing study abroad in other countries. Yet, only a small percentage of the students choosing the United States for their international education have a disability (4% at the university level, according to the 2010 International Student Barometer). Disability organizations around the world can help to raise this number by promoting international exchange in the United States to their members and working to address barriers such as lack of equal access to education.
This issue of AWAY Topics introduces important information individuals need to know about international exchange in the United States, and our hope is that disability organizations will give the information to everyone they know with a disability. The more that people with disabilities participate in international exchange, the more we can work together to make the world more inclusive!
Chief Operating Officer, Mobility International USA
A high school student from Turkey receives a lesson in using a guide dog for independent mobility.
Five Facts on Funding
- Some opportunities for study, research, or professional development in the United States include full or partial funding. For example, U.S. Department of State exchanges have many fully-funded programs.
- Most scholarships and funded programs encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply, and this includes disability. In the United States, diversity is valued and disability is an important form of diversity.
- People with disabilities coming to the United States for exchange should apply for the same funding opportunities as any other person. U.S.-based scholarships, employers and financial aid offices may not discriminate on the basis of disability.
- If you are hoping to study at a college or university in the United States, contact the financial aid office at the schools where you are applying. They can advise you on sources of financial aid that are unique to the school and scholarships specifically for international students or people with disabilities.
- Check with institutions and the government in your home country for sources of funding. Institutions or government agencies in your country may offer funding (for example, Ministry of Education, U.S. Embassy, national disability organizations, or other sources).
The U.S. Embassy in your country has a list of programs and opportunities on their website. Need more information about coming to the United States specifically for higher education study? Find an EducationUSA center near you. EducationUSA offers a resource library of scholarships to the United States, information on English Testing, and general advising about study in the United States.
Accessible public bus in the United States
Many of the services provided by these organizations are available to every person with a disability, regardless of citizenship.
Educational Services and Disability Offices – U.S. schools are required by law to provide students with disabilities equal access to classes and class materials. Colleges, universities, primary, and secondary schools have staff or offices that work specifically to provide this access.
Independent Living Centers (ILCs) – ILCs in the United States work for the full participation and independence of people with disabilities in U.S. society through advocacy and support services such as providing local information on accessible housing, support groups, assistive technology services, or public transportation. Find ILCs around the United States.
Disability-Specific Organizations – Many organizations existing at local, state, regional and national levels provide information and services to people with specific disabilities. Learning Disabilities Association of America and Lighthouse for the Blind, for example, have many services available to non-U.S. citizens.
Cross-Disability Organizations – There are many cross-disability organizations that represent the interests of all people with disabilities in the United States. For example, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and the American Association of People with Disabilities both advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and full inclusion in society.
Online Sources –Websites like www.disability.gov have lots of information about rights, employment, health care and other topics while others offer a way to connect and share resources with other disabled people.
Find a list of U.S.-based disability organizations through MIUSA’s online database.
Home Country: Ghana
Disability: Physical disability affecting mobility
Institution Attending in the United States: School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute
Tell us about yourself.
I am a Ghanaian by birth and work in Ghana’s eastern region, where I teach French at a junior secondary school. From 2006-2011, I was working in the Ghana Education Service Office – Akwapem South Municipality as the Resource Center Coordinator. I also work with the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled as a volunteer in my village.
Describe your international exchange program.
My main concentration is on Policy Analysis and Advocacy, so my objective for the next two years is to learn how pressing issues are being tackled in the United States. First, I will fulfill my studies at the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont. Next year, I want to intern at disability organizations to learn best practices in the field.
What was the application process like?
The application process of the fellowship I received involves a lot of scrutiny, especially regarding the work you’ve been doing. The reviewers want to know that [applicants] have been working towards their goals on their own. For example, there are so many disabled people where I’m from, and I took it upon myself to mobilize them. The Ghanaian government has established a District Assembly Common Fund (DACF), but in the village, nobody even knew it existed, so nobody was accessing it. I knew the people must organize and apply for it, so I wrote to the media. Those [types of activities] pile up favorably in the selection process.
Did you arrange for disability-related accommodations during your exchange?
My fellowship program really prepared for me. They sent documents about my disability to SIT. They took pictures of my room and bathroom before I even got here so that I could see it. They asked me questions about how I bathe, so that I can use a stool to have a bath. So even before I arrived here, they made life very comfortable for me. Everything was in order. Also, my insurance through the program helped me buy a scooter here, since the campus grounds aren’t always easily accessible.
How will your U.S. experience assist you in your future goals?
There are disabled people in my village, and I can’t forget to help them. I told my disability advisor that I want to do advocacy work through an internship with a disability organization, and to know everything about policy and advocacy. If possible, I’m really searching for people who work to empower [people with disabilities]. While I’m here, I must seize the opportunity to raise awareness about the people back home in order to make change happen in their lives.
Coming to the United States on International Exchange
General information about disability rights in the United States, how to work with a U.S. higher education institution to arrange disability accommodations, types of exchange programs, preparing for the exchange experience, and more.
International Students with Disabilities Accessing Community Resources
A guide for international visitors to the United States who are interested in accessing disability resources in the community.
Blind or Low Vision Visitors to the United States: What You Need to Know
Information and resources for international visitors to the United States who are blind and have low vision. Specific tips for navigating professional, community or academic environments.
English Proficiency Test Arrangements for People with Disabilities
Many U.S. schools require prospective international students to take an English proficiency test such as TOEFL, TSE or others. Find out requirements and tips for getting disability-related accommodation on both secondary and university-level tests.
Insurance Considerations for People with Disabilities
There are some considerations that people with disabilities should be aware of when arranging for health and travel insurance in the United States.
Stories from International Exchange Participants
Read firsthand accounts from people with disabilities around the globe who have participated in international exchange to the United States. Stories include successes and challenges as well as helpful tips.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities, including people who are visiting the United States and are not U.S. citizens. U.S. schools, colleges and exchange programs are not allowed to discriminate against any person because of a disability. As an international visitor, you are protected by the ADA when you are in the United States.
Access a database of organizations around the world that provide services for people with disabilities. If you represent a national or international-level disability organization that is not currently listed in MIUSA’s database, introduce your organization. Use the online form at www.miusa.org/orgsearch/orgform to submit your organization’s contact details, mission, services, and other information.
“In essence the Fellowship program has been both a wake-up call and stepping stone for me. I have constantly been challenged to step up and play a part in making this world a better place for everybody. This is the spirit I will be taking home - a probing concern for the future and the desire to work toward serving others. I also hope to apply the leadership skills I have gained in the U.S. to promote peace and development initiatives within my home community.”
-Samson Ngutwa, a past Humphrey Fellow from Malawi who has an amputated leg and uses a prosthesis
“Before leaving for the United States, I believed people with disabilities could also be smart, but in America, I learned that they can lead an absolutely independent, interesting and useful life. Back in Armenia, I am now trying to establish supportive organizations like a disabled student services office and an accessible transportation service like I used in the United States. My dream is to have these services in Armenia. It is more than a dream, it is my goal and I am doing my best to accomplish it.”
-Armine Ghazaryan, a former Global Undergraduate Exchange Program participant from Armenia who has a visual impairment
“I would like to dedicate my life to disability-related issues. My country is young, and I think people like me who have appropriate education and experience and who are confident in their goals are ready to contribute their best for the development of their country and can really make a change. These two years, while I study at the State University of New York, may determine the course of my whole life!”
-Raufhon Salokhodjaev, a former Muskie Graduate Fellow from Uzbekistan who has cerebral palsy
“During my Fulbright program, I gained significant personal insights about respect and sensitivity for people with disabilities as well as self-confidence and pride in my deafness and a belief that Deaf people can improve their lives if they work hard. I received professional benefits, too, by working with Deaf people, learning about American Deaf culture and developing my [sign language] skills. I went home with a renewed commitment to work in the Deaf community and to encourage human rights for Greek Deaf citizens by working with the governing administration to achieve some of the accommodation ideas I had discovered abroad.”
-Argiroula Zangana, a past Fulbright student from Greece who is Deaf
The four referenced programs are among the different exchange programs sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.
Published by Mobility International USA (MIUSA). Copyright © January 2012. All rights reserved. Articles written by Ashley Bryant and Olivia Hardin. Edited by Cerise Roth-Vinson and Michele Scheib.
The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, and administered by Mobility International USA (MIUSA).
All information enclosed is subject to change without notice. To the best of its ability, MIUSA/NCDE verified the accuracy of the information prior to publication. Although efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, MIUSA/NCDE does not guarantee the accuracy of this informational brief. MIUSA/NCDE cannot be held liable for inaccuracy, misinterpretation or complaints arising from this publication. Any listing of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement. May be reprinted in its entirety for educational purposes only.