Mobility International USA is always looking for surveys or research in the disability or international education fields that have the potential to shine a light on the participation and experiences of people with disabilities in international exchange. If surveys ask both "Do you have a disability?" and "Did you [study, volunteer, intern, teach, research] abroad?," then we do our best to request and report on the data, so we can all learn more from the findings.
Melissa Gulledge, CIEE Regional Director from South Carolina, has years of experience placing international exchange students from all over the world with American families, but a last minute decision to host a teenager with a disability led to one of her own family’s most meaningful hosting experiences.
The clock was ticking to match Pinar, a young woman from Turkey who is blind, with a host family and school.
EducationUSA Advisers around the world offer information, orientation, and guidance as you search for higher education institutions in the United States that fits your needs. EducationUSA makes applying to a U.S. college or university clear.
Step 1: Start Looking!
Remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives you the right to access educational programs offered on U.S. soil, so find an opportunity that fits your interest.
Step 2: Apply!
You have the right to an accessible application and admission process, if needed. Many programs will allow you access to an advisor who will provide assistance.
Gabriela knew with this support that she wanted to challenge herself to achieve more. With her family photos, favorite music, and favorite yucca breads packed, Gabriela was ready to pursue her studies at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida.
From the beginning of her studies at Boston University, Elana knew she wanted field experience helping children with and without disabilities to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
“I thought it would be cool to do an internship overseas because it would give me a unique perspective from another culture for my future career.”
So she looked into all her options, and took an active role in getting necessary accommodations for an internship while studying abroad in Australia for a semester.
How can you translate your campus' idealistic principles of inclusion to the global campus that is study abroad? In this best practice, adapted from her post to the UC Davis Study Abroad blog, Program Coordinator & Advisor Dana Armstrong ponders this challenge while reflecting on her experience advising a student who is blind traveling to China. Follow-up conversations with study abroad alumni with disabilities can put the realities more into perspective.
Legacy International has been administering U.S. Department of State-sponsored exchange programs for people from all different age groups for decades. They see more participants with disabilities on exchanges traveling to, rather than from, the United States. So, on the American Youth Leadership Program on environmental stewardship to Cyprus, Legacy International aimed for, and achieved, a U.S. delegation that included 40% of the participants with apparent or non-apparent disabilities.
To make the most out of your service abroad, it’s important to carefully examine your interests and skills, and your openness to partner with community members abroad who will have different perspectives. While it is not your role as a volunteer abroad to swoop in and save the day by helping others, neither should it be a situation where you are sidelined from participating because no one thought to plan for disability access. After all, interdependent partnerships rely on recognizing the contributions of everyone.
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.