Disability Rights & Laws in International Contexts

Various written wooden cards hanging
Laws similar to the U.S. may or may not exist in the countries you are considering for your international exchange experience.

Just as access is not perfect in the U.S., access won't be perfect when you are abroad. Laws similar to the U.S. may or may not exist in the countries you are considering for your international exchange experience. It is important to do your research and begin preparing for environmental and cultural differences in how disability is addressed in the country (or countries) you plan to visit. You might be surprised to find that some countries with less protective laws have very open and progressive attitudes toward people with disabilities.

To learn more about disability rights and attitudes in a particular country:

  • Learn about disability rights and anti-discrimination laws that are already in place using resources from DREDF (listed under related links.).
  • Connect with disability rights organizations and networks in the country you plan to visit.
  • Visit the UN Enable website listed in the Related Links section to find out whether the country you plan to visit has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
  • Do not rely solely on reports from non-disabled people who may know a lot about the destination country, but may not be familiar with the disability experience and resources.
  • Read personal stories from travelers with disabilities in the Related Resources.

Below are some questions you can ask to learn more about the protections you may have in a particular country:

  • What types of entities does the law cover? Employers, schools, places of business?
  • Are people with all disabilities entitled to use the law or only certain people with disabilities?
  • Are foreign visitors covered by the law?
  • Does the law allow an individual to file a complaint?
  • If an individual can file a complaint, where is it filed and what is the timeline for investigation?
  • Does an enforcement agency exist that can help a traveler resolve a problem covered by the law?
  • Are there any legal restrictions on medications or service animals?
  • Can a person with a mental health disability be institutionalized against their will?
  • What steps, if any, are covered entities required to take to ensure that discrimination does not occur? Examples could include barrier removal, provision of accommodations, modification of policies or provision of aides and services.

Remember: people with disabilities live in every community in every country all over the world. Disability advocacy organizations and leaders are in every country.

People with disabilities can and do travel to countries with dramatically different levels of protections under the law. As you prepare to travel abroad, it is important to consider your comfort level in addressing potential challenges related to your disability and the resources that a particular country may offer.