No one likes to feel un-informed, especially when having to make arrangements or decisions related to international exchange. Learn now how to be prepared even without knowing who has a disability (or might have their first onset of one overseas).
You can shift from focusing on how to know enough, early enough, to accommodate someone with a disability – why not instead focus on your own ability to put in place good program standards (or verify such standards with those you partner with)? This is more in your control.
This is a growing trend in the international exchange field. Such standards guide the implementation of safety nets for the health, security and safety of all participants. Also it recognizes the need to design programs with flexibility and universal elements that supports the growing diversity of participants.
It’s something you should already be doing – sharing more information with all participants, preparing safety nets for the unexpected, training staff on diversity, and building in elements that broaden options and support.
For example, by prioritizing the implementation of Standards 8 of the Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice on Health, Safety, Security and Risk Management, study abroad programs will be better prepared should a mental health crisis occur abroad. Consider the following questions about each overseas program, regardless of location or duration:
- What plans exist for a mental health-related, medical, or other type of emergency?
- Are mental health providers available at or near the program site?
- If not, how long would it take to get to the closest mental health provider?
- Would a hospital or other medical facility be able to provide temporary support to a student in crisis?
- Do students have consistent access to telephone or reliable email connections so they can maintain contact with support services at home?
- What training do program leaders receive in crisis management? Basic first aid? Recognizing when a student may be in distress? What to do if a student is in distress?
- What is the process of debriefing after a difficult incident has happened? Are there opportunities for program and administrative staff to share experiences and incorporate lessons learned into training and program planning?
The answers to these questions are of interest to all students, not just students with existing mental health-related disabilities. With regard to training, campus or community public health clinics and counseling centers are an excellent resource for information on assisting a student in crisis.
See Also 10 Steps to A Universally-Designed Exchange Program for more ideas on what you can do universally to make programs more suited for all, and not be so restricted by students having to tell you about their disability to get invididual accommodations.