“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.
Through the Open Doors® survey compiled annually by the Institute on International Education, we have a general snapshot of how many U.S. college students with disabilities study abroad and their disability types. But until more U.S. higher education institutions respond with these disability statistics, we won't have a complete picture. Your institution is needed to bring the snapshot into greater focus!
To do this, help ensure that your institution responds to the Open Doors® survey, including its two questions about students with disabilities going abroad.
My role as a CIEE cluster leader is to organize enhancement activities that build the leadership and teamwork skills of my students. Last year I had sixteen students in my cluster, two of whom were students with disabilities. Both were studying in the United States on programs sponsored by the U.S Department of State.
There are certain activities that we do every year as a cluster. One of the most memorable of those activities took place in the winter. All sixteen of my students went up to our little cabin, which is what we do every year, to go cross-country skiing.
- Remember the benefits: This experience is an incredible opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and for personal growth.
- Many of your fears will fade away as the unknown becomes known and you become surrounded by new exciting places, tastes, and friends.
- Know that many people with disabilities have successfully traveled to all parts of the world to study or volunteer and more. Learn from their stories in our Resource Library.
- Be realistic about the challenges you may face, as well as open to the possibilities.
Not only should you recognize a good strategy when you see it, but you should take it and replicate it as much as you can. This is what Candace Chenoweth, the Director of Global Education at University of Wisconsin (UW)-Whitewater, sought to do. The Center of Global Education worked to not only increase, but exceed, the representation of multicultural students studying abroad, and then to do the same for students with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students.
Masume Assaf, Director of Global Programs at Pennsylvania State University, recalls what support for international students used to look like in earlier times. In one instance, the disability services office had created a tactile map of the campus on a 6x6 board so that a Japanese blind student could use it to navigate around campus. The former Global Programs Assistant Director at the time also took this student under her wing to support her through the transition of arriving to a new disability culture with new opportunities to be independent.
Two arched windows let light into a new gathering place in the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and its EducationUSA Advising Center. It’s less about the setting and more about what is inside this corner space that matters – new accessible computer stations.
Computers equipped with screen readers and magnifiers, two large monitors, and a desktop magnifier, which will enable students with vision disabilities to have access to test preparation materials and information about U.S. study options.
Rebecca Zeigler Mano, EducationUSA Country Coordinator for Zimbabwe, has always worked to make higher education an option for many marginalized communities. She worked for a few years in the U.S. with high achieving, low income students to make sure they knew about access to higher education and scholarship opportunities. This thread continued when Rebecca started working with EducationUSA-Zimbabwe in 2000 and noticed little access for students with disabilities in local universities.
No two study abroad sites are ever quite the same, whether it's the vibrancy of the host community or the buzz of the host campus. The same can be said for how each country or host university includes and accommodates people with disabilities, as the local policies and resources can vary greatly. As University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC-CH) Study Abroad Advisor for Access, Lori Rezzouk helps foster better access to this vital information, which is key for students with disabilities who want to plan ahead for their adventures.
Tanveer Mansur Syed, from the United Arab Emirates, is one of an estimated 820,000 international students in the United States. He attends George Washington University, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in secondary-education biology.
He’s also legally blind, so his campus experience isn’t quite the same as the average student’s. But thanks to accommodations for the disabled that were mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Syed is able to navigate his campus and the surrounding neighborhood while using innovative tools that help him keep up with his studies.
Karen M. Bauer is the EducationUSA Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) for Middle East and North Africa, based out of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has a passion for international travel and cross-cultural exchange and wants to make sure everyone has the same opportunities she did.
“Growing up, my family always encouraged learning about different people from around the world and fostering cross cultural communication.”
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.
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.