MIUSA: What was the process to arrange disability accommodations on your study abroad program?
Vicky: There was a lot more negotiating involved than I was expecting. I went on a summer program, and the staff had not previously worked with anyone with a visual impairment. The university that they were working with in Taiwan didn’t want me to go because they were afraid it might harm their good reputation if anything bad happened. I heard a lot of “We’re not sure if they can give you that. That either. What if they can’t do that?”
"I talked with the program staff, the professor going with the students to Taiwan, and also referred them to my counselor at the disabled students’ office at UC Berkeley. Being able to sit down and talk about the concerns that different people had, and how they could be worked around, created a generally encouraging atmosphere."
What were academic accommodations like abroad?
I researched where to find a disabilities department at my university in Taiwan. They had one, but I was referred to a center specifically for visual impairments in another school. This center supplied equipment to students in all the different colleges across Taiwan, and they loaned me the magnification equipment for free.
"They were really excited to have someone with a visual impairment from outside the country."
How did you get around in Taiwan?
Getting around Taiwan was definitely a lot more challenging than in the United States because the sidewalks are broken and neither traffic nor people follow the traffic signals. I mostly traveled either with someone on the program or a Taiwanese student assistant the program hired for me.
What were the disability-related cultural differences you noticed between the U.S. and Taiwan?
On campuses in Taiwan, the students with minor visual impairments usually prefer to hide it. People are willing to help, but they are also not as outgoing about asking you if you need assistance. Telling people what I wanted made a big difference. A lot of people in Taiwan use English, but trying to express myself in Chinese greatly improved my foreign language skills.