You’re probably thinking, “Wait, I have to pay to volunteer or work abroad?” It may seem counterintuitive, but keep in mind that there are significant costs for programs to send, train, and support participants abroad. Typically, U.S. sending organizations, participants, and host country partners work together to share these costs.
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.”
What does the word, accommodations, mean to you as a person with a disability in the U.S.? What types of services and supports are generally recognized as accommodations for a particular disability?
While programs in some countries require a formal documentation process in order to provide disability accommodations according to local and/or national laws, programs in other countries might rely on your informal conversation with the program staff to find out about what you need and why.
Remember that you are your own expert on your disability and how it might impact your participation in international exchange! Recognize that the exchange professionals you are working with may not already be familiar with certain types of accommodations, disability resources, or a country’s level of accessibility. Help in doing thorough research and build effective communication on what access you need.
By your very presence, and by your active participation in an international exchange experience, you can help challenge negative perceptions. People with disabilities who have traveled abroad have tried a variety of strategies.
From country to country, you will find there are vastly different views on disability that are based on your ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, and disability type. Local politics, laws, geographic setting (rural versus urban), existing services for people with disabilities, and more add another layer of complexity to disability culture and identity.
Whether you apply to participate in a volunteer abroad program like the Peace Corps or join a volunteer project abroad, volunteering can dramatically change your life and the lives of those around you. Since many volunteer organizations offer opportunities to work with disability communities overseas, people with disabilities can be valuable role models at these placement sites. As you consider your disability-related needs for a potential volunteer abroad experience, remember that many people with disabilities have successfully coordinated a variety of supports in order thrive in international volunteer settings.
You can use your Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) funds towards international academic exchange expenses. Learn how to include study abroad in your VR Plan.
Each year, thousands of American undergraduate and graduate students with and without disabilities travel abroad on international academic exchange programs. These students are brushing up on new languages, advancing their cross-cultural awareness, and building valuable independence - all skills that make a hearty resume for future employment opportunities. You can, too!
Funding can make or break a dream to explore the world. Almost everyone worries about how they will be able to afford the costs associated with international travel. Get ready to learn about many ideas that people just like you have used to make their dream a reality.
As you investigate all funding possibilities, be sure to keep in mind any income or benefits that you are currently receiving in the U.S. There’s a possibility you may be able to use these towards your international exchange opportunity.
"While preparing to study abroad in England, I was concerned about how much it was going to cost. I was receiving SSI benefits and involved with the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), and remained eligible for the year I was in England." - Beth Ocrant, who has a vision disability
In some cases, international exchange programs who are supporting Deaf/Hard of Hearing U.S. citizens abroad may decide to hire sign language interpreters in the destination country. Benefits may include reduced costs and the use of interpreters who have a familiar knowledge of the local language, culture, and Deaf community. However, be aware that most in-country sign language interpreters are trained only in the sign language of that country.
The following resources may be useful to you in locating a sign language interpreter in a non-U.S. country.
It might be going abroad for a high school field trip, volunteering on a church mission trip, or participating in a State Department-sponsored program. You can find a lot of fun programs to see the world and gain new experiences!
Youth with disabilities use these international experiences to help build important skills that make them more competitive for post-secondary employment and education opportunities.
Additionally, participation in international exchange can lead to:
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.