People with disabilities live and travel everywhere these days. By planning creatively, collaborating with others, and being flexible there’s no need to limit yourself to places that are more like home. Your decision may be less about the country where you go, and more about the type or length of program that works for you.
Whether you apply to participate in a volunteer abroad program like the Peace Corps or join a volunteer project abroad, volunteering can dramatically change your life and the lives of those around you. Since many volunteer organizations offer opportunities to work with disability communities overseas, people with disabilities can be valuable role models at these placement sites. As you consider your disability-related needs for a potential volunteer abroad experience, remember that many people with disabilities have successfully coordinated a variety of supports in order thrive in international volunteer settings.
Each year, thousands of American undergraduate and graduate students with and without disabilities travel abroad on international academic exchange programs. These students are brushing up on new languages, advancing their cross-cultural awareness, and building valuable independence - all skills that make a hearty resume for future employment opportunities. You can, too!
It might be going abroad for a high school field trip, volunteering on a church mission trip, or participating in a State Department-sponsored program. You can find a lot of fun programs to see the world and gain new experiences!
Youth with disabilities use these international experiences to help build important skills that make them more competitive for post-secondary employment and education opportunities.
Additionally, participation in international exchange can lead to:
Professional exchanges, such as internships and fellowships, provide opportunities for international visitors to gain career experience or to share their knowledge or skills while living in a particular country. These exchanges can last from a few weeks to a few years.
Americans with disabilities are becoming international explorers through exchange opportunities that include both people with and without disabilities. All U.S.-based international exchange organizations are required to make their programs inclusive of people with disabilities.
Focus on programs that best fit your interests, academic goals, and professional aspirations. These include academic study abroad programs, fellowships, professional development programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities abroad.
The criteria of what makes a place a good fit for someone with a disability is also what makes a place good for someone without a disability. However, for many people with disabilities, this question taps into fundamental issues of rights and personal choice.
You have the right to study in an historic town with cobblestones that make for a bumpy wheelchair ride or a world famous city like Bangkok where the traffic patterns seemingly pose a risk for someone who is blind. People with disabilities live in every community, so there is no “best country”.
Before you begin your search, consider:
- Type of experience. Are you interested in conducting academic research? Service-learning/volunteering? Sharing your expertise with a local community?
- Length of program. Would a short-term program (ranging from a few weeks to a few months) be ideal, or are you interested in a longer-term experience (6-24 months)?