With the right information and community resources, placing participants with disabilities in homes with local families can be meaningful and fulfilling for all involved. If host families are an integral part of an exchange program, U.S. organizations must try to provide the same opportunity for participants with disabilities, or offer an equivalent alternative that achieves the same benefit or result.
“Most of these students with disabilities will have a good perspective and will tend to be more mature and less frivolous than students who have not had to fight any battles of self-preservation. Hosting one of these students has the potential of being one of the highlights of a family’s life together and shouldn’t be missed.” Eileen Bradley, who is blind, hosted Dmitri Albert, a Russian student with a visual impairment, through AYUSA
Reach out to families that include a person with a disability.
- These families may be interested in learning about people with disabilities from other countries. They are also likely to have disability-related knowledge and may already have an accessible home. These contacts are a great way to expand your base of host families and to represent the diversity within the country for both participants with and without disabilities.
Contact disability organizations in the community.
- These organizations include independent living centers, disability advocacy groups, rehabilitation centers, Deaf clubs, adaptive sports clubs, special education departments, organizations related to specific disabilities and even businesses that sell adaptive equipment. They can provide valuable contacts and expertise.
Connect with parents who have children with disabilities.
- Parents can provide advice and expertise, especially for host families of international high school students with disabilities. Resources in the U.S. can be found through National Parent Technical Assistance Centers.
Get in touch with host families that have hosted participants with disabilities before.
- Those with past experience can discuss best practices and strategies for including participants with disabilities. They also may be interested in hosting again.
Recognize that any family qualified to be a homestay in your program is a potential match.
- Prepare host families in advance about the possibility of hosting participants with disabilities. When a representative of the exchange program visits the home, also check for accessibility as part of the regular process. With a few initial adaptations and adjustments, a disabled exchange participant may need no more assistance than someone who is not disabled.
“We had no experience hosting students with vision impairments, but it was exciting to give it a try. You don’t really have to have a great deal of special training. If you can get a few people that can help you find a few resources, then you’re ready to go. Our blind Malaysian student was wonderfully adaptive. He was a great deal of fun to have in our house, and he developed a great sense of humor. We had a lot of fun just introducing new activities. His parents had protected him a great deal, and he hadn’t done too many things. The biggest change in him was a confidence to try new things like canoeing.” – Carolyn Clendaniel, a host mother who lives in Alaska.