Whether it’s working within the coffee fields of Costa Rica or teaching English to children in Nepal, volunteers with disabilities have made their presence known as contributory global citizens. It could be said that volunteers with disabilities bring an additional contribution to the international communities where they volunteer, and this is the understanding of ‘inter-dependence’.
Contrary to what many may think, asking for assistance or accommodation when volunteering abroad as a disabled person may positively contribute to the volunteer experience.
When I first discussed going abroad with my family and friends, their first comment was: “That’s wonderful, but how are you going to travel alone in a wheelchair, in a power wheelchair no less?” When I added that my destination was not Canada or Europe, but rather a developing country in South America, this seemed to further solidify their view that it would be impossible for me to travel in a power wheelchair.
“A barrier is of ideas, not of things.” –Mark Caine
I can confidently say that the largest barrier that inhibits people with disabilities from traveling abroad is attitude. In preparation for going abroad, many travelers with disabilities worry and are often overwhelmed by the perceived physical barriers associated with disability, whether it be lack of ramps, lack of Brailled signage, lack of accessible public transport, or communication barriers to getting around.
I first got involved as a homestay host in my city of Akron, Ohio when a fellow member of the National Association of the Physically Handicapped (NAPH) contacted my housemate and asked if we would be interested in hosting someone through Global Ties Akron.
In the past, I have hosted international guests for dinner. Although those occasions were only a couple of hours, our time together was very worthwhile. It was very interesting to talk to doctors from Vietnam and a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, who told us about the services for people with disabilities in their countries.
I’ve gone in a shed, I’ve gone in the forest and I’ve gone in the middle of the desert. I’ve gone on top of a mountain, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone behind a bus.
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.
I have always considered India to be one of the most vibrant and fascinating areas of the world. The idea that I could study in Bangalore seemed like a remote dream to me until I received the Gilman Scholarship. In India, I observed how people deal with poverty and adversity and am attempting to incorporate my findings into conquering my own personal struggles.
It’s a really big transition to go from high school to college, and I really needed a year off from academics to go out and see the world. In high school or college, you are expected to do what people tell you to do; I was suffocating in high school and just needed to get away.
With a gap year it was more about advocating for myself on what I wanted to do based on my needs and what I felt comfortable with. I enjoyed the independence I got during my gap year, and by doing volunteer work, I was accomplishing something and being helpful to those who needed it.
It’s ten at night and I am sitting on the Seawall in Galway, Ireland. With my knees to my chest and my arms wrapped tight around my legs, I crouch on a low stone bench watching the last of the day’s fishermen pack up their coolers and head home. My gaze follows their slow procession as they vanish into the damp night. Then I feel the rain begin to fall.
At a recent study abroad conference over 250 professionals chose to attend our panel session on mental health. Why was there so much interest?
People attended our session largely to find out how to avert or deal with a crisis. After we did our best to relieve some of their uncertainty and shared suggestions for improving the design and preparations of study abroad programs, we had a chance to end with this message:
For every student with a mental health-related disability who experiences a crisis abroad, many more will succeed.
Adapting mobility equipment you use for a new environment and preparing for potential breakdowns and repairs can go a long way towards ensuring a hassle-free, rewarding international experience.
What it Is
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Recipients are awarded up to $5000 (or $8000 including the Critical Need Language Award) to be used toward the cost of study abroad or international internship programs.
By the time Katelyn Parker, a student with cerebral palsy, enrolled at Kirkwood Community College (KCC) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she had already traveled quite a bit. Highlights included mission trips to Zimbabwe and South Africa. These early experiences left her with a passion for international exchange.
More and more students find that community colleges are an affordable way to obtain a college degree. In states like Maryland, disabled students even have the option to seek a tuition waiver on some community college classes. Community colleges realize the value of serving a broad range of students and offering options including technical and general education: two-year and four-year degree programs.
There are a variety of methods to cover the costs of a personal assistant. Disabled travelers may save up money through work-study. A community fundraiser using an online tool like GoFundMe can also be a good way to find funding.
Showing that the international exchange is part of an Individualized Employment Plan (IEP), an exchange participant might get funding from The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for a personal assistant.