What if your major is International Studies or your degree requires you to take classes overseas? How can you study abroad during your college experience, and pay for your personal assistant while traveling? These questions were always lingering in the background waiting to be answered for Xuan Troung, a student at North Carolina State University who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. To find the answers, she turned to her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor.
Lucas Nadólskis walked into the EducationUSA advising center in Sao Paulo, Brazil to start the process of applying to universities in the United States. This was a longtime dream for Lucas, and he was determined to make it happen.
Lucas is blind and realized that traditional universities in Brazil would not accept him because they did not have the infrastructure to support blind and low vision students.
In the United States, the vast majority of secondary students with disabilities are mainstreamed in inclusive high schools per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). First passed in 1975, the IDEA is a powerful landmark civil rights law that guarantees access to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate to every child with a disability.
It used to be that the majority of blind and low vision exchange students were placed in schools for the blind in the United States. That is no longer the case. Experienced exchange professionals know that there is no one size fits all approach to placing these talented students in U.S. high schools.
In the United States, the vast majority of secondary students with disabilities are mainstreamed in public high schools.
Youth with disabilities participate in high school exchange programs in the U.S. every year. Although many international students with disabilities will need few, if any, disability-related accommodations in the United States, others will need services and support to participate fully in their host schools. Students may receive services and support informally or through an IEP or 504 plan.
Luljeta Koshi has been recruiting students for the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Bosnia since 2008. In this interview, Koshi shares her perspective on the vital importance of disability inclusion in youth exchange programs and best practices for recruiting students with disabilities for these opportunities.
What has been your experience recruiting students with disabilities?
Rules and regulations that work for the majority of participants may need to be adjusted slightly to foster participation by participants with disabilities. Depending on the culture, some issues that may seem inconsequential, such as "Personal assistants are the responsibility of the individual to provide," can become rigid barriers. Changing these situations takes common sense and diplomacy. Sometimes a reasonable modification of policy will allow a participant with disabilities to fully engage in the program.
With information and an open mind, there are many ways to successfully problem solve transportation issues in any country. Depending on where someone will be living, transportation can vary dramatically. In big cities and even small towns in many countries, taxis, buses and public transport will be wheelchair accessible. Some basic questions about where a participant will be, what is common in that area, and what alternatives exist will help you think through the transportation options.
The living situation for an exchange participant is not just a place to stay, but a way to learn about family, culture and language. Some participants will be better suited to living in a dormitory, while others will thrive in a homestay family. In either case, what's key is finding a place and people who will welcome a participant with a disability into many aspects of life in the new country.
Are you advising someone with a disability who is traveling abroad for your volunteer, study or professional program? Do you know what questions to ask to assist them in preparing for travel and living abroad related to their disability?
These access information forms provide starting points to learn more about what may be needed. The advisor guidelines also help know what the individual's responses may mean and what follow-up questions you could ask. Download and adapt these for your own use; it may mean asking fewer questions on the forms and more in face to face conversations.
A year after I started working as an educational adviser at the Fulbright Commission in Austria, I realized that I had not to the best of my knowledge encountered a single Austrian student who had any type of disability, not even a minor learning disability. A few weeks later, while tabling at a higher education fair in Vienna, I noticed a group of deaf students standing along the periphery of the room.
You are not imagining it! The majority of disabled international students who arrive on U.S. campuses, and Americans with disabilities who study abroad, have non-apparent disabilities. Download this infographic to learn other characteristics and statistics about this population.
Do you know what to put in place at your program site to be best prepared? Can you match up the list of disabilities with the list of program accommodations? View the accessible PDF under Documents for a designed version of the lists.
Alyssa Hillary, an Autistic student blogging about her study abroad experience in China, is having a successful time but the initial reaction from the overseas university would have made one think that was not possible.
“[Chinese administrators] said people like me shouldn’t go to college, and they tried to get the program to un-accept me, and they tried to have me sent home.”
Are you trending up or down with these changes that long-established education abroad programs are spearheading and other types of international exchanges could tap into?