Preparing Information about Your Accommodation Needs
Recognize that the exchange professionals you are working with may not already be familiar with certain types of accommodations, disability resources, or a country’s level of accessibility. With thorough research and effective communication of this information, you are more likely to build a positive presence, address potential negative stereotypes related to your disability, and get the access and services you need.
Contact disability organizations in your destination country and/or city.
They'll likely have the most up-to-date information on resources, accommodations, and systems in place to support people with disabilities and may help inform your ideas on what you'll need to be independent in that country and local community. We can make suggestions or search online and download Disability Organization Links for finding lists of international chapters.
Connect with other people with disabilities who have already traveled to your destination country.
You can gain valuable insight from experiences of peers with disabilities who have already experienced life in the country you plan to travel to. If you don't know anybody, check our stories in our Resource Library or ask us to make suggestions for people to connect with. See Related Links for traveler websites on international and disability travel.
Determine what accommodations you absolutely need and what accommodations you prefer to have.
What is absolutely essential for your successful participation in a program will be a little different from accommodations that provide basic convenience. For example, you might typically use a power wheelchair, but find that a manual wheelchair works more effectively when encountering small steps and other barriers during a short-term international exchange program.
Consider alternative strategies or accommodations that might provide similar benefit to you.
Given that some accommodations may simply not be available in a particular country, be prepared to suggest and/or try out alternative strategies or ways of doing things.
Figure out all existing resources you may be able to apply towards accommodations.
For instance, are you receiving Social Security benefits or Vocational Rehabilitation funding? Or, did you receive a scholarship that can be applied to an international exchange program? Being able to show that you already have resources may give you more leverage in acquiring the full range of accommodations for an international exchange program.
“To prepare, I did extensive research on my own, as well as with coordinators of the program to arrange the accommodations that I need. As with all new adventures, it has been interesting to work through this process together with them, and it has been a new learning experience for everyone.” Lauren Presutti, who uses a power wheelchair, studied abroad in Australia.
When negotiating accommodations, be sure to get the conversation started with the exchange professionals supporting your program of choice as early as possible. If you can't meet in person, try to find other ways to get face-to-face time, such as Google Chat, Skype or OoVoo. Make sure you have the following information:
- Your goals and interests
- Information about your disability and how it impacts your daily skills
- Detailed accommodation information (see tips listed above)
- Past experiences, if any, with international exchange or travel
- Your ideas of where you plan to go
During the meeting with an exchange professional, you should be able to get the following information:
- Program/country details (housing, transportation, funding, other logistics)
- Program allies and contacts in the U.S. and the host country or countries
- Accommodations that may already be available
The more the exchange program can be characterized as an American program, the more likely the participant has enforceable rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The more a specific, requested accommodation is within the control of the U.S. institution and is “readily achievable” for the university, the stronger your case for getting such an accommodation.