Some international education professionals share anecdotes about scrambling to find accessible housing and transportation options when a student unexpectedly showed up to the program site in a wheelchair; others recall students who took them by surprise by exhibiting signs of depression shortly after arriving in their host destination.
Far too often, college and university students with disabilities recall being discouraged from going abroad by faculty leaders or other university staff.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT), for one, is determined to never let this happen, recognizing that greater visibility to the inclusion of people with disabilities in study abroad is one of the most important steps to shifting a campus culture to greater access.
One of those students was Hugo Trevino, who developed his passion for international travel while an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the summer of 2015 I left the creature comforts of Ohio behind for a study-abroad/volunteer program in one of the developing nations in the Caribbean. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I had only a vague idea what to expect. A few things weighed heavily on my mind as I took off from the airport in Cincinnati. I knew I was the first blind student to gain acceptance into my program. Before I applied, another had been denied entry because the administrators didn't believe her orientation and mobility skills were strong enough for her to handle the trip.
Later, the two ran into one of her partner’s friends. Stephanie was walking with her cane, and her partner explained to the friend how and why Stephanie used it. Stephanie was delighted to let her partner do the talking.
“She repeated everything I had just told her. I was so excited—the ripple had started.”
“There’s an undeniable vibe that moves through the air” Justice Shorter ascribes to her temporary home in northern Uganda and Rwanda. “My study abroad experience gave me the chance to encounter that time and time again.”
As a graduate student at SIT Graduate Institute, Justice chose to study on SIT’s Peace & Post Conflict Reconciliation summer program in Uganda and Rwanda to observe how inclusive development can be used to alleviate the effects of poverty while working towards her Master’s in Sustainable Development.
It was typical for Jennifer Smith* to meander through different wards of the nearby hospital in Ghana where she volunteered after the day’s classes. But on one less-than-typical day, in the children’s ward, she saw her post-college plans snap into focus where they had once been hazy.
Yet her experience studying Chinese started much earlier. She was raised in a Chinese orphanage. As a child with scoliosis who used a wheelchair, her future prospects were limited. That all changed after getting adopted by an American family and coming to the United States at the age of eleven. At that point much of her Chinese was lost and replaced with English.
When Ming began to study Chinese independently as a teenager, it was her way of reconnecting with that country that she had left behind.
Smiles spread on the Japanese storekeepers' faces as Jonathon, an obvious foreigner, asks them a question in their language. Jonathon, a University of Iowa graduate student who is spending a semester abroad, loves this interaction with the locals, both for absorbing the culture and practicing his Japanese language skills.
“Do international students get extra time? Is being a non-native English speaker a disability?” This question comes up frequently from international students and disability service offices. At first thought, many offices would easily say “no” and “no." Should it be that easy?
Many academic departments and student service offices may initially assume that issues arise solely from being a non-native English speaker, but it may also mean that a disability is not recognized, and a second look should be given to these students.
The main reason I applied to the YES program to the United States was because I wanted to experience a place where people are different, yet not judged by their differences; a place where my abilities would be seen objectively. My parents were really encouraging because they knew my determination and capacity for overcoming difficulties.
This summer I had the opportunity to study British Government and Politics at Imperial College in London, England. This was a dream come true because ever since childhood, I have always wanted to travel around the world, to see new attractions, to taste new foods, and to be immersed in a new way of life.
Ever since I lost my vision at the age of fifteen, I thought this would be an elusive hope that would never become a reality.
It’s time to think about how you and the program staff can become allies and work together. Hear from Kat Davis, West Campus Relations Manager CET Academic Programs and Christie Johnson, Senior Director, University Relations, Academic Programs International about what they do to make their study abroad programs inclusive and to collaborate with partners and students in the process.