There are many unknowns when preparing for an exchange experience in another country, especially when it comes to figuring out how you'll get what you need to be independent. Getting from place to place, taking care of yourself, and getting assistance when needed are all part of the equation.
Not sure whether you will need personal assistance services (PAS) during your international experience or not? Ask yourself these questions to help inform your decision.
- Do you use PAS at home? If you're accustomed to using PAS at home through a professional or through a friend or family member, you may require the same or additional support while abroad.
- How accessible is the city where you will live? Even if you don't use PAS at home, consider using them if you will be traveling to an area that is less accessible by your standards. Factor in things like old buildings with lots of stairs, paved streets vs. cobblestone or dirt roads, noisy and over-stimulating public spaces, and even the weather. If you use PAS at home but plan to travel to a place with greater accessibility, it may be that you won't need to rely on PAS as often or at all. Your international exchange provider will be able to help address these questions, but also connect with other people with disabilities who live there or who have traveled there to get the inside scoop.
- Will you have the time and energy needed to do everything for yourself? International experiences are exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting! Even if you manage all of your daily life activities at home on your own, a PA might be a welcome accommodation while living abroad due to big changes in your daily schedule and the pace of your exchange program.
- How do people with disabilities receive PAS in the host country? In some countries, assistive technology is used more widely, reducing the need for PAS. In others, there is more reliance on human resources, which are provided by professionals, family members, or others depending on the host culture and other factors.
- What will your living arrangements be?
- Host Family - Be careful not to make assumptions about what your host family will help you with. You may also find a host with a family member with disability so their home may be more adapted for independent access or you could share PA services.
- Dormitory - Often, students living in campus housing or dorms have access to university cafeterias, reducing the need to cook or clean up. In some countries, dorms also come with housekeeping and laundry services. As with host families, don't make assumptions abut what your roommate will assist you with.
- Hotel - Though much more expensive, staying at a hotel sometimes offers more standard accessibility, close proximity to restaurants, housekeeping and laundry service (for a fee). This could be a good option if you're going on a short-term program.
- Youth hostel - While this is a very affordable option, it is typically group-oriented with shared sleeping, irregular schedules, and a noisy environment.
- Living on your own - If you choose a program where you will need to find your own housing, consider your abilities and the host environment, location, and culture carefully. You may need to investigate if modifications can be made for improved access.