Statistics on U.S. College-Level Study Abroad Students with Disabilities

Wheelchair user in Prague historic square
Significant increase in percentage of students with disabilities in study abroad reported during International Education Week 2017.

The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange shows that among U.S. post-secondary institutions, where the disability status of study abroad students is known, 8.8% of study abroad students had disabilities in 2015/16 (which is up 3.5% from the previous year). This year 341 institutions reported that they had 5,641 U.S. students studying abroad with a disability in 2015/16, compared to 322 institutions reporting 3,831 disabled study abroad students in the previous report.

Students with disabilities typically represent 11% of the student population on U.S. campuses (2014 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics).

Among those institutions that know the specific disability of the study abroad participants, the breakdown is:

  • Learning Disability (34.4%)
  • Mental Disability (27.7%)
  • Chronic Health Disorder (23.2%)*
  • Other Disability (4.9%)
  • Physical Disability (4.4%)
  • Sensory Disability (3.6%)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (1.8%)*

Total (100%)

*new categories

Since the "Other" disability category had grown to 20.7% in the previous year, new disability categories, Chronic Health Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder, were identified and added to the survey in this tenth year of data collection. This may have contributed to more students with disabilities being recognized and counted in the survey to paint a fuller picture of representation. The "Other" disability category decreased to 4.9% this year.

As more students with chronic health conditions (e.g. diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, etc.) are recognized as participating, it is important to ensure inclusion from the start, such as in the negotation of pre-existing condition coverage in group health insurance plans and flexibility in the design of programs.

By using baseline statistics to track progress, it will help institutions to see who is and isn’t going abroad to better address barriers that may be occurring. Learn how to track education abroad students with disabilities in our Related Resources or by downloading the International Educator article under Documents. Surveys are filled out by U.S. institutions annually by mid-March.

More Information

This data is from the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s annual Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, sponsored by U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This is the tenth year IIE collected the disability study abroad data. IIE also heads the Generation Study Abroad initiative which aims to double participation in study abroad by 2020.

For statistics since the first year of collection in 2006/07, see Open Doors Data on U.S. Study Abroad: Students with Disabilities in the Related Links.

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and administered by Mobility International USA, provides free information and referral services to increase the participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in international exchange programs. We are also a Generation Study Abroad committment partner.