What If We Think Someone Has a Disability?

Two people focused on an activity on the table between them
Steps you can take to address issues and move forward towards solutions.

It is a participant’s choice to disclose (or not disclose) a disability. Once a participant has been accepted, you can confidentially inquire with the participant to determine whether he or she may need accommodations during the program related to  mental or physical disabilities. In making disability-related inquiries, you might want to include disability professionals in the conversation too. The individual is protected by the non-discrimination laws if they are perceived as having a disability (even if they did not tell you).

Some individuals may avoid labels or may have never been diagnosed for an existing disability (e.g. someone from outside of the U.S. may be unaware of attention deficit disorder). However, you can still directly address behaviors you observe or expectations the participant shares during advising.

If the individual is experiencing concerns, then trying different alternatives and seeing how he or she responds may be a step without having to formally diagnose, document, and get approval for accommodations. You can also introduce the participant to related disability resources in the community to learn more. Or meeting a peer with a similar disability may help reduce some of the stigma the person may feel. Sometimes it is difficult to tease out if the concerns are disability-related or other transition issues in crossing cultures.

If the participant has a noticeable disability, especially if he or she uses services or equipment, it is okay to say in a confidential setting after admission: “I notice you use a scooter. Is this something you use regularly and plan to bring abroad?” Then find out the participant's experiences traveling abroad previously, how much research he or she has done already by asking specific questions, and share with him or her some useful resources related to planning for international travel with a disability.

A good way to reach a participant indirectly would be to let all participants know about resources/accommodations that are built into the program for anyone to access (e.g. single occupancy room options, counseling contacts, etc.), and if it’s a study abroad program, share lists of accepted participants with disability services and counseling centers so they can know and talk with the students they recognize.