"American school is so neat," signs Belvion, a Deaf exchange student from Mozambique who communicates using sign language. "They've got libraries and computers and the teachers are great. I'm loving it."
Belvion is one of the many high school students with disabilities who come to the United States every year to live and study on an exchange program. Are you ready to be an exchange student too?
“When l return to Ghana l want to teach people about the disability laws practiced in the United States. l want people with and without disabilities in Ghana to be equal.” - Tijani Bukari
During our youth, what do we think about regarding our country, its citizens, and our own impact on society? Do we even think about these things at all? A strong sense of curiosity about the world led Tijani Bukari, a Deaf student from Ghana, to participate in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Find out which organizations have recruited the most participants with disabilities to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program!
YES Students with Disabilities by Disability Type (2007-2016), as shown on a pie chart.
35% Blind/Low Vision
19% Physical Disability
FLEX Students with Disabilities by Disability Type (2007-2016), as shown on a pie chart.
59% Physical Disability
29% Blind/Low Vision
Total Number of Students by Disability Type (2007-2016)
- 40% Physical Disability
- 32% Blind/ Low Vision
- 25% Deaf/HOH
- 2% Non-apparent
Students with Physical Disabilities
- 37% Cerebral Palsy
- 11% Scoliosis
- 7% Short Stature
- 8% Amputee
- 3% Spina Bifida
- 1% Polio
- 1% Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
- 32% Other
Number of Students with Disabilities by Placement Organization (2007-2016)
Depicted as layers on an image of a pencil.
Percent of Deaf or Blind Students Placed at Specialized Schools vs. Mainstream Schools (2007-2016)
Illustrated by highlighted symbols of students and a schoolhouse
- 50% of students who are Deaf are placed at specialized schools vs. in mainstream public schools
- 25% of students who are blind are placed at specialized schools vs. in mainstream public schools
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programs are competitive, merit-based scholarship programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Over the last ten years, more than 250 students with disabilities from 37 countries have participated these life-changing youth programs.
A line graph showing the total number of FLEX and YES Students with Disabilities, by Year, 2007-2016
Number of FLEX Students with Disabilities, by Year
2007 = 16
2008 = 14
2009 = 12
2010 = 12
2011 = 12
2012 = 14
2013 = 9
2014 = 20
2015 = 11
2016 = 14
At just 16 years old, Ana was so confident that she and her wheelchair would soon be on their way to the U.S., she told practically everyone she knew that she had applied to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Although Ana didn’t make the final selection pool the first time, she tried again a year later.
"When I applied the second time, I didn’t tell anybody except my mom. Most of my family found out that I was going to fly two days before my flight when we had my farewell party. They were shocked!"
Pinar, a Turkish high school student who is blind, received a full scholarship to study abroad on the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. “Of course, my parents were really worried because my safety is important to them. Probably the most important thing!” says Pinar, reflecting on her experience. She lived with an American host family on weekends and stayed on campus at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind during the week.
Melissa Gulledge, CIEE Regional Director from South Carolina, has years of experience placing international exchange students from all over the world with American families, but a last minute decision to host a teenager with a disability led to one of her own family’s most meaningful hosting experiences.
The clock was ticking to match Pinar, a young woman from Turkey who is blind, with a host family and school.
I am 17 years old and an ASSE YES Exchange student from Karachi, Pakistan. I was very excited to get the opportunity to come to the United States of America. This was something that I prayed for and it was like a dream come true.
I am visually impaired and have had very little vision my entire life. In Pakistan, where I attended a school for the blind, there are many challenges and few opportunities for blind people. I’ve learned the opposite is true here in the U.S. What I’ve learned here [in the US] is more than I could possibly write about in a few short paragraphs.