Why I Wasn’t Cheering

Cheering stadium crowd
Photo by Ben Stanfield (acaben) Creative Commons 2.0
At a recent event I attended, talk turned to how many young people with disabilities there are in the world and why aren’t more going abroad?

And there are a lot of them, between 180 to 220 million by some estimates – enough to fill the entire country of Brazil, the world’s 5th most populous country.

I polled my colleagues to ask how many of them had recruited a young person with a disability to study abroad. About 25 people raised their hands – almost half -- and they applauded each other’s efforts.

But I wasn’t cheering.

More than half did not raise their hands, and that is the reality we are struggling with today. Where are the disabled youth?

Too few of these smart, capable youth with disabilities are studying abroad or choosing to study in the U.S. Turned away by discrimination, self-selecting out because of their own preconceived ideas of what is possible, and lack of access to an equal education (particularly English language) are a few of the systemic barriers working against our youth with disabilities.

But we can change this starting today, and here’s how:

  • Practice saying not “if”, but “how” to include youth with disabilities
  • Add disability positive pictures and language to your materials and website
  • Build relationships with local schools for kids with disabilities
  • Be an ally and a champion; advocate for the rights of people with disabilities
  • Find out where the youth with disabilities are, and go to them. Be explicit and invite disabled youth into your programs.

I’m ready to celebrate when the percent of youth with disabilities participating in exchange programs achieves the same level as their representation in society.

Read our A World Awaits You publication's issue on Youth with Disabilities Venturing Abroad for more about how to make it possible.



Cerise Roth-Vinson