Dear NCDE: How Do We Support a Blind American in Paris?

Sun setting on the Louvre in Paris.
Learn how to research accessibility and locate resources in a host community abroad.


We have a blind student registered with our disability services office who plans to study abroad in France during the following academic school year. Our office is working with the university’s study abroad program to facilitate this endeavor. Could you help us locate funding or resources that would assist in making sure the student is fully accommodated while studying in France?


If your student is going to be spending a year abroad in France, I expect that they will be enrolled full-time along with French students, and they will have access to the services available at a local French University. It's likely that among those services will be an office for students with disabilities. Campus France offers a useful article on studying in France as a student with a disability. Local organizations can be great resources for country-specific techniques on thriving as a person with a disability. 

It would be valuable to establish a line of communication with any office for students with disabilities at the host campus. I think you could do this through host country partners. You may also find that disability resource centers can be found through a university's website along with details for how to get in touch. You should expect that even if there is not an office, that there should be an answer to how blind and visually impaired students would be supported.

France joins 162 countries around the world as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and they have also ratified it. Higher education institutions globally have standards to follow just like U.S. institutions. 

Even without a formal facility to create alternative media, books can be adapted using photocopy machines, which are easily available in any office. Fine reader can convert scanned text into a screen reader accessible Word document. If the student has a subscription to book share, they might be able to download some of their readings from there. Ask French blind organizations if there is a Francophone online library service that the student could use. It could be that such a service is not available to foreigners, but it could also be that, like book share, it's available to anybody from around the world who can show that they are blind. Posting flyers around the campus will likely result in a group of willing volunteers who could read to the student as well. 

You might be wondering how you could find blind people's organizations, and you have a few options. If your French is as good as mine, you could load a Google search for "organizations of blind people in France" in English through Google translate to find contact details. Since you are looking for organizations of blind people in France, you could check with the World Blind Union to identify their European French affiliate.

Depending on what your student would require in the way of extra funding, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation might be a viable option especially if this program is part of a plan to become gainfully employed. Social Security may also be a funding option for some students.

These extra resources should help you learn more.

Get more tips on how to research accessibility in specific countries through the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange free Inquiry and Referral Service. 


Justin Harford