Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

10 Steps Toward a Universally Designed Exchange Program

Group of diverse American exchange students smile at the camera
Group of diverse American exchange students smile at the camera

Universal design starts with policies and decisions that benefit not just people with disabilities, but a broad range of diverse participants.

The time put in upfront to rethink what makes a program inclusive benefits more than just participants with disabilities. It also means less need for retrofitting or scrambling to put in place individual accommodations later on. Universal design encourages flexibility and proactive planning, and bonus: you will be protecting yourself from surprises by creating a program that is suited for all.

  1. Train staff and volunteers to answer inquiries about disability and diversity policy and using appropriate and respectful language.
  2. Give lists of accepted participants, if relevant, to equity offices, disability services and counseling centers on campus so they can know and talk with their clients about going abroad.
  3. Create essential requirements sharing more details about the program so everyone can better assess for themselves if it is a good fit or not.
  4. Set up more housing options, such as ground floor, single occupancy, wheelchair accessible, and close to public transportation, so it’s available when needed.
  5. Permit early arrival options to allow time to settle in and work out any unexpected challenges for any participants who may need it.
  6. Offer group insurance coverage that does not exclude pre-existing or mental health conditions or medications coverage, and providing upfront costs for participants to use for counseling, or related appointments that support them in maintaining their health, that can be reimbursed by the participants later.
  7. Connect in advance to local resources, including disability or diverse organizations, peers, and community groups and English-speaking doctors, counselors, and tutors so questions can be directed to people who can more specifically respond.
  8. Set up academic options, if relevant, that have pass and fail coursework, reduced course loads, pre-registration, flexibility in scheduling/breaks, lecture notes available to all participants, and course materials in universally accessible online formats.
  9. Build in funding supports and recognize that diversity brings unexpected or less common requests that may cost, such as sign language interpreters, braille materials, sighted guides, orientation and mobility training, personal assistants, social mentors, assistive technology replacement or repairs, etc.
  10. Check in regularly with participants  whether it be more thorough and repeated communications about health, safety and security resources; availability of Internet and other tools for accessing remote support; or staff checking in more regularly during a program with participants.

This article is part of the AWAY Journal – Champions for Inclusion Issue.

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