Resource Library

Personal Stories
Ana smiling in front of bookshelves at school library

Flying High to Study in the United States

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!"

Tip Sheets
Wheelchair strapped to the back of a motor scooter.

Wheelchair-Accessible Transportation

With information and an open mind, there are many ways to successfully problem solve transportation issues in any country. Depending on where someone will be living, transportation can vary dramatically. In big cities and even small towns in many countries, taxis, buses and public transport will be wheelchair accessible. Some basic questions about where a participant will be, what is common in that area, and what alternatives exist will help you think through the transportation options.

Tip Sheets
Young girl transfered from wheelchair to bedroom desk to study

Wheelchair Access in Lodging

The living situation for an exchange participant is not just a place to stay, but a way to learn about family, culture and language. Some participants will be better suited to living in a dormitory, while others will thrive in a homestay family. In either case, what's key is finding a place and people who will welcome a participant with a disability into many aspects of life in the new country.

Tip Sheets
Young foreign student with mobility disability talks with an advisor

Knowing What Disability Questions to Ask: Sample Accommodations Forms

Are you advising someone with a disability who is traveling abroad for your volunteer, study or professional program? Do you know what questions to ask to assist them in preparing for travel and living abroad related to their disability?

These access information forms provide starting points to learn more about what may be needed. The advisor guidelines also help know what the individual's responses may mean and what follow-up questions you could ask. Download and adapt these for your own use; it may mean asking fewer questions on the forms and more in face to face conversations.

Personal Stories
Senka smiles during a community garden activity.

A Stubborn Attitude Turns a Chance into an Opportunity

At first glance, Senka Mekic is polite and soft-spoken. But, spend just a few minutes talking with this U.S. Department of State-funded American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) student and you’ll realize first impressions aren’t meant to last. Senka admits, “I’m not just a bit stubborn, I’m very stubborn!”

Personal Stories
Two African women, one a power wheelchair user, in a courtyard.

Video: Mandela Washington Fellow Envisions "Great Things" for Africa

To display captions, play the video in YouTube and click on "CC" button. For transcription with visual description, see below.

"We believe that if we come together, we can do great things," says Muluh Hilda Bih, a journalist and disability rights advocate from Cameroon who is positioning herself as a leader to motivate young Africans with and without disabilities to tackle some of the world's greatest challenges together.

Personal Stories
Ivan and six other FLEX students smiling

Family Reflects on Hosting Students with Disabilities

The Pamperins first learned about Ivan, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) student from Russia, from a youth exchange organization, States’ 4-H, that places students in their area. “Ivan’s name was at the top of the list of incoming international exchange students and we noticed very quickly that he has cerebral palsy (CP).” They had previously hosted a Japanese student who uses a wheelchair.

Tip Sheets
White labador guide dog walks beside its owner

Traveling Internationally with a Guide Dog or Service Animal

You are taking the leap to go abroad and naturally you want to bring along your service animal or guide dog on this adventure. However, you may wonder what arrangements will be needed. Or, if bringing your animal companion is a good idea or not. Feral dogs in the destination country and other considerations on how to keep your guide dog or service animal healthy overseas can help when deciding.

Tip Sheets
A college student with a physical disability gets lifted piggyback up stairs in China while her friends carry up her empty wheelchair

Staying in Control on Stairs

At some point in your international travels, you may come upon a flight of stairs that need scaling, whether out of necessity (e.g. exiting a Parisian metro stop with a broken lift) or sheer desire (mounting the last bit of the Eiffel Tower for an incredible view).  If you will need assistance from others to lift you and your wheelchair, there are some ways to make this tricky situation a little less harrowing.

Tip Sheets
Woman in a manual wheelchair gets assistance down a ramp outside a carved wooden door

Should You Bring a Manual or Power Wheelchair?

For wheelchair users, trying to decide between the portability of a manual chair and the independence of a power chair can be a difficult decision. Some travelers choose to bring both in order to use a power wheelchair as a primary means of mobility while having a back-up manual wheelchair with them just in case.

Tip Sheets
Two exchange participants of diverse backgrounds smile in the camera: A power wheelchair user and a woman of short stature

Charging Your Battery Abroad

When you've just arrived in a foreign country after a long flight, the last thing you want to hear is that there is a glitch with your wheelchair battery. So what do you need to do?

First, know that most countries use electricity at approximately 220 volts/50 hertz, while North America (along with Central America and part of Japan) uses 110 volts/ 60 hertz. If electronic or electrical equipment is used with the wrong voltage, it can be severely damaged, pose a fire or electrocution hazard, or not charge properly.

Tip Sheets
Three people, including the wheelchair user, lean over to check out the axel of her manual wheelchair

10 Ways To Avoid Broken Equipment

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.

Tip Sheets
A man pushes himself in his manual wheelchair with luggage on top his lap at a Swedish train station

Choosing the Right Luggage (Without the Baggage!)

Traveling internationally with a mobility disability may be smoother by choosing luggage that fits you. Try experimenting before making a new luggage purchase to see what is most comfortable to transport on your own or what is best to protect your equipment when others handle it.

Tip Sheets
Two men on each side lift the frame of Susan's wheelchair up a short step

Lifting and Transferring People with Physical Disabilities

Being carried is an uncomfortable experience for many with disabilities, both physically and emotionally. Lifting a person up stairs or around obstacles is not an acceptable alternative to appropriate accessibility measures. Most people prefer to be lifted only as a last resort.

Tip Sheets
a portable ramp with handrails

Inaccessible? Ramp it!

The slope of a ramp should be no greater than 1:12, which is 12 feet (or meters) of horizontal ramp for every 1 foot (or meter) of vertical height. Some people with disabilities can use personal ramps that are shorter and steeper than 1:12. Before building a short ramp to provide access for a person with a disability, discuss whether a steeper ramp would work for that individual.

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