Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Including Participants & Personal Assistants in Your Exchange Program

A woman and her PA in Brazil

How you can assist when your exchange participant needs an assistant.

Although arranging and funding personal assistance services (PAS) for international exchange participants is not required (or only limited to program activities) by the Americans with Disabilities Act, many international exchange providers go beyond the law to ensure that a participant has appropriate services in place, recognizing that:

  • The participant with a disability may encounter environmental barriers or other obstacles on the program that she would not encounter at home.
  • While most people who use PAS have access to funding for these services at home, they rarely carry over when traveling internationally.
  • Having access to appropriate PAS promotes more independent and reliable service for the individual with a disability plus a more positive experience for program staff and other participants.

Steps to Remove Barriers

Identify potential assistants

  • Help connect the participant to independent living centers or other organizations in the host community that provide PAS or referrals.
  • Offer to arrange for volunteers or additional staff to assist the participant with light domestic tasks at home or to provide support during demanding activities or trips, such as lifting or pushing a wheelchair across extreme terrain.
  • Provide a stipend or reduced program fees as an incentive to the assistants.
  • Gently discourage participants from bringing parents if alternatives can be arranged.

Advise on and design for program access

  • Create an environment that is as accessible as possible to allow a person with a disability to be more independent in navigating.
  • Answer the participant’s questions about the overseas experience, such as program schedule, living arrangements, and excursions planned to help the participant to make an informed decision about PAS needs.
  • Require that the PA abide by codes of conduct just as any other participant.

Close funding gaps

U.S. participants who receive funding for PAS through Medicaid or Medicare can’t use that funding once outside the United States. They often will not qualify for similar funding in their destination without being a citizen of that country. The same situation occurs often for individuals coming to the United States.

Additionally, some participants may not have home funding since they rely on family or do not need to use PAS in their accessible home environment. This loss of familial support and the potential increase in inaccessibility abroad, can mean they need to seek funding.

What can you do?

  • Set up a reasonable accommodation or diversity assistance fund in your program budget to help defray the participant’s cost of PAS (or other costs that any diverse participant may need). 
  • Waive the costs of housing, transportation, food, and/or admission fees for the PA or offer to cover the airfare costs.
  • Offer no or low cost loans for the participant to cover payment gaps or work with financial aid office to increase approved funding levels for a student.
  • Negotiate adding coverage for PAS to group insurance policies. If an individual is relying on informal assistance for transfers, for example, this could lead to a potential injury and added cost for the insurer who now has an injury to cover as a result of the lack of usual personal assistance.

Inclusion Spotlight: CIEE has pooled funds for participants with disabilities who require broader services or accommodations on their overseas programs and works jointly with the student’s home institution to cost-share expenses to make coverage possible. This proactive strategy made it possible for Ming Canaday, a wheelchair user, to more easily reach challenging destinations during her CIEE study abroad in China:

“I was assigned two assistants who were in the dorms 24/7 to help me with anything I needed. And when we would go on weekend trips, more helpers were available to lift my wheelchair up flights of stairs or across extreme terrain. During our group trip to Hangzhou, a city known for its beautiful West Lake, I was assigned three assistants on the trip.”

And above all…

Remember that the person with a disability – not his or her PA – is in charge of and responsible for decisions and actions as to what assistance is needed.

This article is part of the International Education Professional Pathway.

Previous: Who Can Assist Me When I Go Abroad

Next: Using Vocational Rehabilitation for a Personal Assistant Abroad

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