Strategies for Including Students with Intellectual Disabilities in International Exchange

Student and teacher look at laptop screen together at table.
Including people with Intellectual Disabilities will help cement your institution's legacy of inclusion and empower all students to demonstrate their potential.

Getting Started

  • Reach out to your campus Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP) and disability services office about funding a Personal Assistant (PA). Learn more about CTPs in our best practices article.
  • Produce plain language versions of program materials.
  • Offer information such as timelines, summaries of key details like people that students will meet, or sites that they will visit, so that they will know what to expect.
  • Make sure that the student (and their PA, if applicable) receive program materials in advance.

Pre-departure Orientation

Pre-departure orientations with plain language, clear examples and involvement from all participants will benefit everyone, including those with ID. Examples of helpful pre-departure materials include:

  • Video demonstrations
  • Role-playing
  • Checklists
  • Clear timelines

Plain Language

Make sure that all written materials are clear and straightforward. Review all written documents to see if there is a way to explain things with less complicated, abstract or elaborate language and vocabulary. Avoid using conjunctions, jargon or acronyms as much as possible.

There are companies that can convert written materials into plain language. However, a person familiar with the content should review the materials after they have been converted to ensure that the information is clear and accurate. See the related links to learn more about plain language.

The most important thing to remember is that one-size-fits-all does not work as well as an individualized approach that takes into account each person’s unique situation.

"[Educators] can implement the supports that each person requires, because intellectual disability is different for each person. For example in my case, I can write and read, but when I have to take notes and pay attention, I can't do it at the same time. That's why it's important to be able to count on accessible material before or after and to have the opportunity to record." - Maria Camila Lozano Ruiz, rights activist from Colombia with an intellectual disability.

Personal Assistance

A participant with an intellectual disability may choose to be accompanied by a personal assistant (PA) as an accommodation for travel and participation in the program. A PA can provide support based on the specific needs of the participant, for example, clarifying information, concepts or directions, or interpreting and navigating new environments and social situations.

Access a discussion on personal assistant services under the related resources to learn more.

Partner with a Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP)

Does your institution have a Comprehensive Transition and Post-Secondary Education Program (CTP)? Reach out to the CTP about offering international exchange programming to their students. Take a look at the best practices for including people with intellectual disabilities under the table of contents to learn more about how you can get in touch with your campus's CTP.


People with intellectual disabilities already take university classes alongside their peers. They volunteer and hold down competitive wage jobs in their communities.

People with intellectual disabilities are curious about the world, want access to international experiences, and have valuable contributions to offer. By identifying and providing the supports that each person requires, making program materials available in plain language, engaging with your institution's CTP and following our 10 tips for a universally designed program, you can successfully ensure that everyone on your campus has access to international exchange.

"My message is that young people with cognitive [disability] can participate and say what they have [to offer]." - Shmuel Kanner, rights activist from Israel with an intellectual disability.