Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Your Rights and Responsibilities While Studying in the U.S.

A young Pakistani man in a suit stands in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
A young Pakistani man in a suit stands in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Ten facts that every disabled visitor to the U.S. should know

In recent U.S. history, disability rights activists have fought to ensure that every person with a disability may have the opportunity to live up to his or her full potential. While you are in the U.S., you will benefit from the same disability rights possessed by U.S. citizens with disabilities, and you will also be expected to fulfill certain responsibilities.

Your Rights

1. Your rights are protected under U.S. disability laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are U.S. laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination. As an international visitor, you will be protected by these laws when you are in the United States.

2. You have a right to equal opportunities. In the United States, people with disabilities have the right to participate in the same opportunities as people who do not have disabilities. This is called mainstreaming. All schools, exchange organizations, and businesses are responsible for making their programs open and accessible to people with disabilities by removing barriers and providing disability-related accommodations.

3. You have a right to equal access. Programs must make every effort to remove barriers for people with disabilities by providing services known as “reasonable accommodations” when requested. Examples of reasonable accommodations include extra test-taking time, wheelchair accessible buildings and facilities, captioning, sign language interpreters, note takers, or Braille documents. Not all people with disabilities use accommodations.

4. You have a right to live independently. U.S. disability culture values self-advocacy. This means asking for assistance when you want it, being firm when you do not want it, and making your own decisions about your life.

5. You have a right to privacy. You are not required to disclose (discuss) your disability with anyone else, including schools or exchange programs, if you do not wish to do so. However, you may not be able to receive any formal disability accommodations if you do not provide documentation (proof) of your disability-related needs, such as a medical form or letter from your doctor.

Your Responsibilities

1. You are responsible for meeting the program’s eligibility requirements. It is against the law for programs and institutions to exclude someone based on disability alone. However, people with disabilities must make sure that they meet any other eligibility requirements, such as English proficiency, test scores, professional experience, and so on. You cannot be denied acceptance because of concerns about risk or their ability to accommodate you.

2. You are responsible for self-advocating. U.S. disability culture emphasizes individual responsibility, which means you are expected to communicate your needs and advocate for appropriate services and support if or when you need something.

3. You are responsible for requesting accommodations properly. You are not required to ask your exchange program or school for disability accommodations if you don’t want them or need them. However, if you do, you need to follow the rules. This may include providing proof of your disability and necessary accommodations, meeting deadlines, and following other steps or policies.

4. You are responsible for completing the program’s essential requirements. With or without a disability, all program participants must meet the expectations of the program, completing assignments, and other components of the international exchange. In some cases, it may be okay to arrange substitutions or adaptations if you have a disability, but clarify this with the program coordinators in advance.

5. You are responsible for your personal disability-related or health needs. The international exchange program or host school must ensure that you have fair and equal access to the program. Beyond that, you will likely be responsible for any disability-related services or assistive devices you use in your free time and life outside of the exchange or study program. A program cannot ask you to pay for a sign language interpreter or ramp, for example, but you are responsible for equipment repairs and personal assistants for example.

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