Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Costs & Legal Obligations

Group of colleagues in discussion

One of the most common questions is “What do I legally need to do?” Usually the underlying concern is about costs.

Many exchange advisors assume that accommodating people with disabilities in their programs will be prohibitively expensive. In fact, many accommodations are cost-free or quite inexpensive. The key to finding low-cost solutions is to foster open communication with the exchange participant and to think broadly about the possibilities and resources available to the organization and the participant.

Sometimes it’s easy enough to accommodate someone by finding volunteers, bringing along resources, or using accessible services abroad. Then it’s just a matter of if these will be effectively and safely provided to meet inclusion needs. 

Other times the necessary cost of a sign language interpreter, personal assistant, or accessible transportation,provokes the question: What am I obligated to provide?

Here are a few quick guidelines below to ensure program compliance. For more indepth information download the legal files in the Documents section.

Inside the United States

All aspects of an international exchange program that take place on U.S. soil are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and in some cases Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and other non-discrimination laws that cover flights and housing. People coming to the United States from abroad are also covered under these U.S. laws regardless of citizenship. For example:

  • If the application and/or programmatic process for a program take place in the U.S., applicants/participants cannot be discriminated against due to disability.
  • If any part of a program, such as orientations and classes, takes place in the U.S., these services must be accessible to participants with disabilities.
  • U.S. offices and/or organizations that provide information on international exchange programs must be accessible in their communications and meeting locations.
  • Programs or activities receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of disability, or deny services on the basis of disability unless it can be shown that it is undue financial burden, direct threat to health of safety of others, or changes the essential requirements of the program.

Outside the United States

People with disabilities are subject to, and protected by, the laws of the host country. Many countries have laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities, though not all countries effectively enforce these laws. It is best to connect with disability advocacy groups in the host country to best understand how to access these laws.

The National Council on Disability 2013 Report

Advises the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on the extent to which U.S. disability laws apply overseas. It concluded that “The extraterritorial application of American disability rights laws is essential to ensuring that Americans with disabilities can travel, live, and work anywhere they want to in the world. One example that illustrates the importance of these laws applying abroad occurs when an American with a disability encounters an emergency in a foreign country and needs to be able to access the U.S. embassy in the country.”

The National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) 2012 Notes

Recommends that U.S. colleges and universities conduct their study abroad programs as if both the ADA and Section 504 apply. This policy will both mitigate potential legal risks and also result in greater access to study abroad programs for students with both mental and physical disabilities. Specifically, there are significant mission-related, image-related, and practical considerations that favor proceeding as if disability non-discrimination laws apply to study abroad programs.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) 2010 Memo

Suggests that U.S. schools or universities and exchange providers must take some proactive steps to encourage their overseas program partners and organizations to provide physical and program modifications, auxiliary aids, and other accommodations. Also, a U.S. university or school or exchange provider that is being asked to host an international student with a disability cannot use the fact that the foreign student is not yet on American soil to somehow immunize itself against being subject to federal law.

To find out about how to fund accommodations see Related Resources.

This article is part of the International Education Professional Pathway.

Previous: Reasonable Accommodations and Budgeting for Inclusion

Next: Finding the Funding to Meet Obligations

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