As my fellow disabled travelers may know, total equipment failure can happen anywhere. While most people were reading the stories of Camilo José Cela on a warm bench surrounded by freesia, I spent the majority of my time getting down and dirty in the mechanic shops of Seville, Spain, where I was studying abroad for 8 months.
Use these at-a-glance tips for going abroad with specific chronic health or systemic health conditions, such as chronic fatigue to environmental sensitivities and more. Don't forget to browse our resource library for more detailed advice on many of these topics!
Whatever your disability, know that it is possible to travel abroad to study, volunteer, intern, or explore your professional interests.
Going to college was not optional — I had to go. I knew I was smart, and being Deaf couldn’t be an excuse to not go.
Once in college, I realized that I had not yet taken that bigger step — making choices for myself. Looking over things I could try, I came upon the idea of studying abroad. I thought it was an excellent opportunity provided by my university, not to mention a great chance to get a reality check.
The United States has thousands of colleges and universities across the country. Each is unique in its own way, but all schools have something in common: they cannot discriminate against anyone due to his or her disability.
U.S. schools are responsible for making their courses, campus, activities and services accessible to people with disabilities. This includes physical access to college buildings, transportation, housing, and other facilities.
Although disability-related accommodations and services are provided at no cost to the student, disability office staff may request documentation from the student prior to his or her arrival on campus in order to arrange them. Often, international students to the U.S. will be asked to provide a written report or disability assessment by a qualified diagnostician. For students who are blind or low vision, a school may request a current visual acuity test or functional vision assessment. For Deaf or hard of hearing students, a school may request a recent audiogram.
When Stan Sowers, the principal of Eustace High School, learned that a blind exchange student would be spending a year at his school, he was apprehensive. His first thought was, “Oh, my goodness, why would we want to take on something like that, you know?”
At some point in your international travels, you may come upon a flight of stairs that need scaling, whether out of necessity (e.g. exiting a Parisian metro stop with a broken lift) or sheer desire (mounting the last bit of the Eiffel Tower for an incredible view). If you will need assistance from others to lift you and your wheelchair, there are some ways to make this tricky situation a little less harrowing.
What technology is preferred or needed depends on previous training or the type and amount of visual content that is being accessed. Computer proficiency is expected for a variety of tasks, and by using adaptive software, such as audio screen-readers, standard computers can be made much more accessible. Accessing books and other printed materials in an accessible format also can be done using braille-related technology or magnifying equipment, some of which are portable.
As a visitor from England to the U.S., Portia recalls striking differences in U.S. culture and the academic accommodations she received for depression.
It’s a really big transition to go from high school to college, and I really needed a year off from academics to go out and see the world. In high school or college, you are expected to do what people tell you to do; I was suffocating in high school and just needed to get away.
With a gap year it was more about advocating for myself on what I wanted to do based on my needs and what I felt comfortable with. I enjoyed the independence I got during my gap year, and by doing volunteer work, I was accomplishing something and being helpful to those who needed it.
Managing your mental health while studying abroad – whether or not you have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions – is something every person must think about when going abroad.
Being away from usual stress at home can sometimes be a relief when abroad; experiencing new adventures can be a useful distraction. You will also have times when you feel confused, uncomfortable, annoyed, and many of the same emotions that you manage in your daily life at home.
For wheelchair users, trying to decide between the portability of a manual chair and the independence of a power chair can be a difficult decision. Some travelers choose to bring both in order to use a power wheelchair as a primary means of mobility while having a back-up manual wheelchair with them just in case.
When you've just arrived in a foreign country after a long flight, the last thing you want to hear is that there is a glitch with your wheelchair battery. So what do you need to do?
First, know that most countries use electricity at approximately 220 volts/50 hertz, while North America (along with Central America and part of Japan) uses 110 volts/ 60 hertz. If electronic or electrical equipment is used with the wrong voltage, it can be severely damaged, pose a fire or electrocution hazard, or not charge properly.
Adapting mobility equipment you use for a new environment and preparing for potential breakdowns and repairs can go a long way towards ensuring a hassle-free, rewarding international experience.