Myths vs Facts: International Students with Disabilities

Woman, who is a wheelchair user, smiles in a classroom with desks and chairs and U.S. map on the wall.
There are many misconceptions about international students with disabilities. Learn the facts.

Myth 1: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only applies to Americans.

FACT: The ADA is a territory based law, which covers everybody who happens to be on U.S. soil. Citizenship does not matter.

Myth 2: There are only a few schools that accept Deaf students in the United States.

FACT: Since U.S. disability rights laws apply to ALL higher education institutions in the United States, deaf students must be accepted anywhere they submit an application and are found to be otherwise qualified. Colleges and universities must provide reasonable accommodations to enable deaf and hard of hearing students to participate equitably in academic and extracurricular activities within the institution. These include American Sign Language Interpreters and speech to text services to facilitate access to communication. All testing centers offering the TOEFL and IELTS English exams must also provide reasonable accommodations, such as an exemption from having to demonstrate oral proficiency for those who are profoundly deaf.

This also applies to students with all types of disabilities. You are not limited to school choices based on your disability.

Myth 3: Students with intellectual disabilities, such as down syndrome, cannot study in the United States.

FACT: There are a growing number of post secondary options including programs that include academic study for students with down syndrome and other kinds of intellectual disabilities. These programs combine academic coursework with practical on-the-job training, and graduates experience employment success rates of between 80% and 90% when they are surveyed.

Myth 4: If you are a student with a disability studying in the U.S., cannot apply for professional internships.

FACT: Students with disabilities may also apply for internships as permitted with their student immigration status. Most reasonable accommodations on-the-job either cost nothing or very little. International students with disabilities may work with their college's disability resource center to identify what they need to be successful in an internship and a strategy for requesting it. Many employers in the United States provide reasonable accommodations to staff and interns with disabilities.

Myth 5: There is too much independence in the United States, so no one will help you when you need it.

FACT: Though American society can be more individualistic than other cultures, people are always willing and able to help. However, Americans will not assume that someone needs help, until that person asks. Sometimes international students with disabilities find that they need less help in the United States than they did at home. This is because many U.S. communities offer accessibility features like curb cuts, accessible pedestrian signals or automatic door openers.

Myth 6: I will get denied if I disclose my disability at any point during the admission process.

FACT: Since all academic institutions in the United States are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is illegal for them to deny admission based on a protected characteristic like disability. Furthermore, many institutions in the United States value the lived experience that comes from having a diverse identity like disability as much as if not more than grades or test scores when deciding who gets accepted.

Myth 7: People with disabilities from low-income backgrounds cannot study in the United States because it is expensive and there is no financial aid.

FACT: While MIUSA does not offer scholarships and other funding opportunities can be competitive, it is not necessarily impossible to study in the United States for students with limited financial resources. Seek out funding from the U.S. government, your home country government, private businesses, colleges that offer funding specifically designed for international students, foundations, and disability organizations.

Myth 8: Reasonable accommodations are prohibitively expensive.

Fact: Most reasonable accommodations cost nothing, and consist of simple adjustments like providing extra time on an exam or rearranging desks. For the academic supports that do have a cost, U.S. colleges will pay without charging the student.


Justin Harford