To encourage participants to disclose a disability, exchange providers must take steps to create a welcoming, supportive, judgment-free environment. Your office should be upfront regarding the use of medical and disability related information that may otherwise be confidential or private.
The person with a disability wants information and answers to questions that directly relate to their situation, BUT:
- May not think to ask you since it's not clear any accommodations will be needed or there's a perception accommodations will be the same abroad
- Doubts you have any knowledge or expertise about their disability: “What would you know about disability anyway?” (If you do know - share this!)
- Wants to find out more about the program without having to disclose they have a disability that might require acccommodations:
- He or she may assume a separate request process would get complicated or fear that plans you put in place may restrict his or her independence, rather than empower it.
- In some cases, the participant may minimize his or her disability to fit in, or it just is not talked about or undiagnosed in the participant's home country.
You are thinking:
- “The participant doesn’t understand how different it is overseas!” It might mean fewer resources than they are used to, or it might mean available support services they have never had access to in their home country.
- You are used to adjusting to international differences; the individual with the disability is used to adjusting to inaccessible situations and experiences of discrimination.
- You want them to disclose their disability so you can talk about it openly and plan for how to best support their access in the program.
Here are ten ways you can get started to create a culture of disclosure and trust.
10 Step Approach to Encouraging Disclosure and Building Trust
- Include welcoming language and images or stories of alumni with disabilities on your website and mention disability in your non-discrimination and diversity statements, so a person feels safe to disclose.
- Train recruitment and advising staff and volunteers on how to respond to inquiries about disability policy and how to use appropriate and respectful language.
- Use an advising checklist for people to mark what they want to discuss, including diverse identity topics, such as disability. Listen to concerns and respond with encouragement and a "can do" attitude to find out more if you do not know how to answer some questions.
- Put a confidential medical history form online to be completed by every accepted participant and reduce the number of questions that they must answer. Have medical/disability practictioners do the reviewing. Also have a code of conduct form for all participants to sign about expected behavior on the program.
- Explain why it might be beneficial to disclose, such as having someone in-country that will know about any possible complications in an emergency situation, finding out about support available on the program, and increasing the understanding among program staff of questions they have about behavior or routine.
- Share how you will use the information about medical and disability-related history (i.e. who is going to see the information, why, and what restrictions there are on use of the information.)
- Provide how to request reasonable accommodations and the process in determining what can be arranged – you post this in many different places such as your website, welcome letter for accepted students, pre-departure materials, medical and housing forms, and in orientation sessions.
- Invite disability and counseling presenters to orientations and other workshops you have for all US and international exchange participants, so they are aware of resources.
- Offer disability-related scholarships where as part of the awards, students must meet once before, during and after the experience to talk about their expectations and experiences.
- Revise how and where you ask for information since someone may not self-identify as a person with a disability or they may not see their disability as a medical or health issue. Also if it's a study abroad program, students may not need academic accommodations, but if you ask them what they use daily at home, they may have a need to disclose on a housing form.
By creating many opportunities to disclose and transparency on what will happen next when they do, this may increase your success. However, no matter how many more steps you add, it doesn’t increase your control in obtaining information. Participants still do not have to disclose.
See Related Resources to learn other steps that you can do to make a universally designed program without even needing to know someone has a disability.