Many best practices for including people with disabilities start with making sure funds are available for disability-related accommodations in the international exchange program.
“If I expect the program to fully include me, then I need to provide them with as much information as possible," says Betsy Valnes, who has a brain injury and has participated in several overseas programs. "In my experience, people are more understanding about my need to excuse myself for a while if they know my reasons for fatigue."
Help smooth the transition abroad for by implementing these inclusive ideas into the structure of a group exchange program. These tips, adapted from Autism Network International, can benefit exchange participants who are on the autism spectrum as well as those who are neurotypical.
Will you be welcoming an autistic exchange student or participant on your program for the first time? Great! Brush up on your understanding of neurological differences, respectful language and related lingo so you can advise your participant with confidence.
Through the use of a variety of accommodations, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals participate fully in a variety of international exchange experiences. No individual is completely alike - the accommodations that prove useful for one individual may not be relevant to others due to variations in hearing levels, identity, and communication preferences. When immersed in a new culture, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals can struggle with new accents, languages, and listening environments. Learn some of the most commonly used accommodations.
Although disability-related accommodations and services are provided at no cost to the student, disability office staff may request documentation from the student prior to his or her arrival on campus in order to arrange them. Often, international students to the U.S. will be asked to provide a written report or disability assessment by a qualified diagnostician. For students who are blind or low vision, a school may request a current visual acuity test or functional vision assessment. For Deaf or hard of hearing students, a school may request a recent audiogram.
A qualified student, regardless of where the student is living when applying, cannot be refused admissions based on disability or anticipated accommodation needs.
Most disability service staff on campus or in the school district and disability organizations in the community can locate and provide what is needed for the student though it may take time, funds, and energy to find a good match for the student in regards to accommodation needs. The student may want to choose schools based on what is already available on campus and in the community.
You need to access the same information as everyone else who is on your exchange program or when navigating your new adventures overseas. The differences from home may mean you need to learn contracted Braille or specialized symbols specific to a foreign language.
What technology is preferred or needed depends on previous training or the type and amount of visual content that is being accessed. Computer proficiency is expected for a variety of tasks, and by using adaptive software, such as audio screen-readers, standard computers can be made much more accessible. Accessing books and other printed materials in an accessible format also can be done using braille-related technology or magnifying equipment, some of which are portable.
The time put in upfront to rethink what makes a program inclusive benefits more than just participants with disabilities. It also means less need for retrofitting or scrambling to put in place individual accommodations later on. Universal design encourages flexibility and proactive planning, and bonus: you will be protecting yourself from surprises by creating a program that is suited for all.
Some international programs make it a policy to include a confidential health history and clearance form signed by a medical provider and/or an accommodation request form in the acceptance packet sent to each participant. These forms encourage the individual to talk with the medical provider about what is needed while on the program, and allows participants the option to disclose disability information and request accommodations they may require while abroad with the program staff.
To encourage participants to disclose a disability, exchange providers must take steps to create a welcoming, supportive, judgment-free environment. Your office should be upfront regarding the use of medical and disability related information that may otherwise be confidential or private.
The person with a disability wants information and answers to questions that directly relate to their situation, BUT:
You want more people with disabilities in your international programs but they are not applying! What can you do to encourage more participation? Here's 10 ways to boost interest and ensure they not only apply but make it through the process to participate.
Conversations about an exchange participant's disability and/or disability-related accommodations should be done in a confidential setting. Only information from those conversations should be shared with others when they have a need to know.
Do not be surprised if disabled participants do not require any accommodations. Many people with disabilities own the equipment they need for everyday life and will only need minimal assistance from others. Remember that each individual participant will have a unique approach to his or her own disability.
Recognize that finding reasonable adaptations is a process of negotiation between exchange coordinators and the participant; the goal of both is to ensure that participant has an accessible, and hopefully successful, international experience.