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.
Whatever your disability, know that it is possible to travel abroad to study, volunteer, intern, or explore your professional interests.
Check out funded programs that give you the chance to build incredible academic and professional skills!
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.
Just as access is not perfect in the U.S., access won't be perfect when you are abroad. Laws similar to the U.S. may or may not exist in the countries you are considering for your international exchange experience. It is important to do your research and begin preparing for environmental and cultural differences in how disability is addressed in the country (or countries) you plan to visit. You might be surprised to find that some countries with less protective laws have very open and progressive attitudes toward people with disabilities.
Three ways you can help make a smooth transition into your international exchange experience are disclosing your disability, being your own advocate, and determining disability accommodations for access.
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.
At a recent study abroad conference over 250 professionals chose to attend our panel session on mental health. Why was there so much interest?
People attended our session largely to find out how to avert or deal with a crisis. After we did our best to relieve some of their uncertainty and shared suggestions for improving the design and preparations of study abroad programs, we had a chance to end with this message:
For every student with a mental health-related disability who experiences a crisis abroad, many more will succeed.
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.
What it Is
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Recipients are awarded up to $5000 (or $8000 including the Critical Need Language Award) to be used toward the cost of study abroad or international internship programs.
There are a variety of methods to cover the costs of a personal assistant. Disabled travelers may save up money through work-study. A community fundraiser using an online tool like GoFundMe can also be a good way to find funding.
Showing that the international exchange is part of an Individualized Employment Plan (IEP), an exchange participant might get funding from The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for a personal assistant.
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)?