Perseus McDaniel, who is Deaf, was accepted into a study abroad program in Florence, Italy to study literature and creative writing. He planned and organized his trip, which included funding from the state of Washington for two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to join him.
I always thought that in order to travel to another country, I would have to live abroad for a long time, or that I would have to have a lot of friends go with me. After visiting my university's Global Center, I learned that there are many different programs to choose from. The group trip to teach in Jamaica over spring break seemed like the best fit for me because it wouldn't interrupt my schoolwork, and the idea of traveling with a group of people was much more comfortable than traveling alone.
Most international exchange participants are issued a J-1 or F-1 visa in order to enter the United States. Most of the rules and regulations for visas are the same for participants with or without disabilities, but there are also some additional considerations that people with disabilities should know. Find out how visa regulations may be impacted by a chronic illness, a pre-existing health condition, or personal assistance.
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.
While I was excited about the opportunity to go abroad to Costa Rica on an exchange program, as a disabled person I worried about how my experience getting on and off the plane would be.
I learned quickly that airline personnel don’t always know what to do when it comes to helping to transfer a person with a disability. Although they may have received formal training, it is different having to help in a real situation. Each person with a disability is different, and what may work for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another. Here are four tips that have worked for me:
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.
A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.
She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the summer of 2018, Shea Megale, a woman with spinal muscular atrophy type II who uses a power chair, participated in the first-ever Czech Republic filmmaking program organized by Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).
Whether you want to find personal services, get your equipment repaired, or try adaptive sports, find what you need in your host community.