- Remember the benefits: This experience is an incredible opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and for personal growth.
- Many of your fears will fade away as the unknown becomes known and you become surrounded by new exciting places, tastes, and friends.
- Know that many people with disabilities have successfully traveled to all parts of the world to study or volunteer and more. Learn from their stories in our Resource Library.
- Be realistic about the challenges you may face, as well as open to the possibilities.
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.
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.
Part of the wonders of traveling include experiencing other people's cultures, including their habits, values, interests, beliefs, and preferences. It takes time for any traveler to learn and adjust to differences in the host culture, and autistic travelers may want to research some specific ways in which the local host culture might impact their routines or preferences. Think about how you might adapt if you traveled to a country that had major cultural differences related to time and punctuality, leisure and schedules, and body language.
The experience of traveling to a different country can result in “culture shock” for anyone, disability or not! You might also experience an additional layer of cultural adjustment related to attitudes around disability. As an American traveler with a disability, you may experience positive and negative cultural disability differences.
Disabled or not, all international travelers have experienced the awkwardness of being different or standing out in a new country. A person with a disability may also experience other cultural attitudes because of their disability.
Such experiences can be confusing, frustrating, or empowering. By their very presence and active participation in your exchange program, people with disabilities can challenge their own and others' perceptions.