It is important to know your rights, your responsibilities, and what is guiding the current practices of study abroad programs. There are good reasons for providing accommodations but you also need to look at the entire program to gauge accessibility and be clear and realistic about what programs can deliver.
What if your major is International Studies or your degree requires you to take classes overseas? How can you study abroad during your college experience, and pay for your personal assistant while traveling? These questions were always lingering in the background waiting to be answered for Xuan Troung, a student at North Carolina State University who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. To find the answers, she turned to her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor.
Alexandra Futty has always been determined to not lead a “small life.” As a senior in high school she raised $10,000 and convinced her parents and Catholic school to allow her take a half year to go on a cultural exchange to India. “I grew up in a small town in Ohio that was very homogenous, very working class, very white, very Christian. And my whole life I have straddled the place between the sighted and non-sighted. I always felt this strong sensation that there was a larger world than what I experienced.”
Alexandra’s explorations continued as a senior in college when she went to Trinidad for two months to do independent research for her undergraduate thesis. After graduation, she spent a year in Trinidad on a Fulbright Student scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
The humid heat in Malaysia, lack of air conditioning, and cold showers made adjusting to the first four days of her study abroad program difficult for Stephanie, a student from University of South Florida. She also had to get used to wearing long skirts and pants in the heat, as is customary for women in this predominantly Muslim country.“I have depression paired with anxiety and once I got there, it spiked. I don’t know what it was. Leaving a lot of the luxury that you take for granted played a part. It was like the realization that you are definitely not home.”
Then by the fifth day, it all changed. The experiences she had been exposed to in Malaysia began to make the journey worth it, despite some discomforts. She had put in place different strategies to make adjusting to living abroad easier: journaling her feelings, maintaining her medication, and finding a way to connect by Internet back home.
When Alahna Keil, who has cerebral palsy, enrolled in Luther College in Iowa, located an hour away from her home in Wisconsin, the idea of studying abroad seemed far from her mind. She was apprehensive about the possibility of study abroad both for academic and physical reasons. Then something changed. She learned of 3-week programs for the January term break. The length seemed manageable, the four academic credits useful, and the faculty supportive – it ended up being a perfect opportunity. By her sophomore year, Alahna was on her way to China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
This AWAY issue introduces you to U.S. college and university students with disabilities who have successfully studied abroad in other countries and the strategies that were influential in their success.
Ripple Effects: Travelers with Disabilities Abroad is our first podcast brought to you by Mobility International USA, where we listen to vivid stories from people with disabilities going abroad and the positive impact these experiences have on shifting ideas of what is possible.
In Siberia, Russia, I teach blind and low vision people how to use a computer, so they can continue with their education. We have many different educational challenges for people with disabilities in my country. I know this situation very well because I have been blind since birth. I studied in a boarding school, and earned two higher education degrees.
From her host community of Spokane, Washington, Polina beams as she recalls the highlights of her academic year on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.
“I’m fully enjoying my time here! I have everything I need: a great host family, people who care about me and have been supporting me from the very first day I met them, a school with good teachers, and new friends.”
But like many high school students who consider studying abroad, Polina wasn’t always so sure her experience would be a positive one.
Empower Partnerships created 19 teams, each a triad: A U.S. organization matched with two partner organizations from another country, one disability-led and the other committed to disability inclusion.
U.S. representatives first traveled to their partners’ home countries to gain an understanding of disability access and inclusion in their communities.
Inclusive classrooms. Empowered self-advocates. Independent living. Media-savvy activists. Accessible health services. Adapted sports. Access to Justice. English literacy. Protection from violence. All these accomplishments -- and more -- are the results of a new model for partnership and professional international exchange, involving 57 organizations from 20 countries, including the U.S.
In a village five hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya, with no electricity or running water, Tara Wickey, who has muscular dystrophy, was studying abroad for her graduate degree in Public Service Management at DePaul University. While there, Tara observed the ways in which Kenyans are responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the government and non-governmental levels. “It was difficult and quite a culture shock. It made me appreciate and acknowledge all the developed world comforts I had come to take advantage of.”
Whether trekking through dense jungles or scaling tall temples, traversing over tough terrain is sometimes necessary on our international adventures. Scroll through our photo slideshow to see how other intrepid travelers with mobility disabilities have forged ahead on their international paths - by tractor, by piggyback, and even by yak!
Erinn Snoeyink, who is blind, majored in Spanish at Hope College and was anxious to find opportunities to immerse herself in the language and become more proficient. She quickly found the first opportunity by studying abroad in Seville, Spain, but this was definitely not her last. The food, culture, language, and overall experience kept her wanting to return for more.
If you travel more than once, this will help you be more independent the second time.