“Women are women. If you serve women, you need to serve all women, and you should always expect to have disabled women and girls. This is non-negotiable.” These words, shared by senior-level MADRE staff by the end of the training, reflected a clear and bold shift in thinking had taken place, especially for an organization where most staff had very limited or no prior experience with disability rights issues.
Sitting at my desk on a freezing cold February day, while working at the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center, I clicked on a website link for the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, which took me to the webpage of a nonprofit I had not yet heard of, a disability-led NGO called Mobility International USA (MIUSA). I decided to make myself a note to take a closer look through MIUSA’s website and resources to see what kind of work they do.
By Lydia Shula, Program Manager
My eyes dart around the room, while my fingers jump between laptop keys, camera clicks and my translation headset. There are papers with words posted all over the walls, visually shouting in both Vietnamese and English: ‘access’, ‘justice’, ‘ dignity’, ‘enforcement’, ‘autonomy’. Up on a screen, paused mid-play, is a video of Linh, a leading force in the Deaf rights movement, signing in front of a blue backdrop with text displayed to his right.
MIUSA’s in-country partner, Action to the Community Development Center (ACDC), convened 30 leaders with and without disabilities in Hanoi in May/June 2018 for an intensive five-day Training of Trainers (TOT), conducted by a RightsNow! training team of U.S and Vietnamese experts.
The future is accessible! That is the expectation as more people with disabilities - the world’s largest minority community - continue to enter mainstream spaces, assume leadership positions, and identify and advocate for full inclusion. Education abroad serves to create a pipeline of emerging leaders with disabilities equipped with the global competencies necessary to further social justice at a greater scale.
Wondering how to enhance your college experience by traveling to another country? Students with different types of disabilities - including those with physical, sensory, chronic health, learning, and intellectual disabilities - have been everywhere and anywhere to earn credit while gaining unique experiences.
MIUSA staff will exhibit at the virtual Disabled and Proud conference to share resources from the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange on how college students with disabilities can access international exchange.
As international educators, we can effect changes big and small to support students who think study abroad is out of reach. Attendees of the NAFSA Region I conference are invited to join MIUSA staff and others at the NAFSA Region I conference for the session:
“Is it Accessible?”: (Re)Designing Education Abroad with a Disability Lens
Wednesday, October 17
8:30 AM - 9:45 AM
Location: Oak 1
Some international education professionals share anecdotes about scrambling to find accessible housing and transportation options when a student unexpectedly showed up to the program site in a wheelchair; others recall students who took them by surprise by exhibiting signs of depression shortly after arriving in their host destination.
Cara*, a UTEP student with a mental health-related disability, could have given up on her dream of studying European art abroad on an expedition to Rome when the faculty leader expressed doubts about whether she could bring her service dog. Instead she sought advice from the university’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS).
When she did, CASS staff sprang into action.
International students and scholars with disabilities can often find what they need at their U.S. colleges and universities. Do a bit of research to find out if your U.S. college or university offers these ten offices or departments, which can work with you to make sure that you have full access to everything you do at school, whether it's taking a test or participating in a club or event.
The champions for inclusive international experiences are out there—and you’re likely among them! Find out how a national project is bringing them together and building their capacity as change-makers.
It’s not always easy being a champion for disability inclusion in international education. However, finding allies can make all the difference for driving change at our own institutions and organizations. It can lead to building the critical mass needed to make a lasting impact in the field.
That’s the idea behind many higher education institutions’ forward-thinking approach to ensuring that no disabled student is denied the opportunity to study abroad due to the costs of facilitating access.
Far too often, college and university students with disabilities recall being discouraged from going abroad by faculty leaders or other university staff.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT), for one, is determined to never let this happen, recognizing that greater visibility to the inclusion of people with disabilities in study abroad is one of the most important steps to shifting a campus culture to greater access.
One of those students was Hugo Trevino, who developed his passion for international travel while an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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