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Codes of Conduct and Exchange Participants with Disabilities

Reading codes of conduct
Reading codes of conduct

Codes of conduct or behavior agreements are used to ensure that all exchange participants understand and agree to abide by rules and regulations regarding driving, drug/alcohol use, attendance, and more.

Having a disability does not exempt participants from the terms of the code of conduct (sometimes called behavior agreements) or from experiencing consequences for violating the code.

Providing all participants with site-specific information about the services and support available abroad can reduce the likelihood that a participant with a disability will violate a code of conduct.

For example:

  • An alcoholic in recovery is less likely to violate a substance abuse policy if information about alcohol use and recovery groups in the host country is included in site-specific program materials.
  • A participant with disordered eating may have behavior that jeopardizes his/her welfare, a common code of conduct violation, without regular access to his/her therapist at home and/or knowledge of support services in the host country.

If an exchange participant has not requested or has refused accommodation, not having accommodation cannot be used as an excuse for violating a program’s code of conduct.

Though accommodations are not retroactive, program staff may choose to let the individual continue the program without sanctions, if accommodations are put into place.

Reasonable Accommodations

Below are two examples of ways to support participants whose disabilities affect behavior.


  • Some participants may speak out of turn or inappropriately though may be able to suppress their tics – verbal or other – for limited periods of time, such as during an in-class lecture or public event.
  • These same individuals may require a private place in which to release their symptoms after a period of suppression.
  • A reasonable accommodation may be a single-occupancy housing arrangement, permission to leave group functions, or use of a lounge or other private place at specified times throughout the day.

Autism Spectrum

  • Some participants may exhibit atypical or disruptive behavior in a group, and would benefit from a peer mentor to check-in with about missed social cues or group dynamics that were not easily understood.
  • Other accommodations could include reduced course load, private study or living space, and/or noise-reduction headphones to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • A participant who regularly interrupts in-class lectures might benefit from scheduled, private discussions with the instructor during office hours or implementation of a system to allow the student to write several questions down and asking them at a more appropriate Q&A time.

For clearer communication, put into writing the nature of the accommodations and/or support that can or cannot be provided.

Code of Conduct Violations

It is neither ethical nor legal to impose additional requirements, often written in the form of a behavioral contract, on participants who have disclosed a disability but have not violated any policies. However, if any participant, regardless of disability status, is breaking the code of conduct or exhibiting disruptive behavior on a program, a behavioral contract may be appropriate to avoid further disciplinary action. Be careful that you are not asking one person to sign a contract or behavior agreement in advance of violation that you are not asking others to do for reasons of equity and perceived discrimination based on their status.

If your program uses no-harm contracts, these should only be between the participant and a licensed mental health or medical provider who is familiar with appropriate uses for this tool.

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law advises on how to deal fairly and non-punitively with individuals in crisis and how to support those whose mental health issues may be interfering with their academic, extracurricular, or social lives. Bazelon states disciplinary action should be avoided, and disciplinary sentences mitigated, when the offense was the product of depression or other mental health condition. This is especially true when, as a result of treatment or other interventions, the participant is likely to comply with the code of conduct in the future.

Disciplinary rules must, therefore, be non-discriminatory and must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner. For example, you must not discipline a participant for “having hallucinations.” Nor may you punish more severely a person who disturbs others by conversing loudly with an imaginary person than a person who disturbs others by playing loud music.

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