Some international education professionals share anecdotes about scrambling to find accessible housing and transportation options when a student unexpectedly showed up to the program site in a wheelchair; others recall students who took them by surprise by exhibiting signs of depression shortly after arriving in their host destination.
Cara*, a UTEP student with a mental health-related disability, could have given up on her dream of studying European art abroad on an expedition to Rome when the faculty leader expressed doubts about whether she could bring her service dog. Instead she sought advice from the university’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS).
When she did, CASS staff sprang into action.
That’s the idea behind many higher education institutions’ forward-thinking approach to ensuring that no disabled student is denied the opportunity to study abroad due to the costs of facilitating access.
Far too often, college and university students with disabilities recall being discouraged from going abroad by faculty leaders or other university staff.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT), for one, is determined to never let this happen, recognizing that greater visibility to the inclusion of people with disabilities in study abroad is one of the most important steps to shifting a campus culture to greater access.
One of those students was Hugo Trevino, who developed his passion for international travel while an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Many people can think that simply because some laws require software to be accessible, that accessibility will automatically happen. Linda Stuart of AFS Intercultural Programs warns that this is not always true, and that there are many software providers that do not develop products that follow accessibility guidelines without prompting from their clients.
Sausan Rahmatullah has always enjoyed volunteering. So when she heard that an organization in her home of Dhaka, Bangladesh was hosting a scholarship competition for high-achieving Bangladeshi students with physical disabilities, she immediately volunteered as a judge.
Having been introduced to so many talented students with disabilities through the volunteer experience, Sausan felt compelled to do more. Fortunately, the answer was right up her alley.
Through meetings to discuss probation and disqualification status, to the discovery of learning disabilities in her own family, Maiko came to appreciate that the reason why so many students were struggling was most likely related to undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Something needed to be done if her program was going to take its work to the next level. After putting in place procedures to educate teachers, destigmatize, detect and diagnose learning disabilities, as well as partner with the university’s Accessible Education Center, things took a turn for the better.
This is best illustrated through the experience of the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which accommodated Erinn Snoeyink, first in a semester abroad program in Seville, Spain, and then on their Teach in Spain Program in Toledo. Erinn, who is blind, wanted the opportunity to get to know Spain better after her first experience, and CIEE was more than happy to oblige.
"WILD has succeeded in raising strong and dynamic women who are assertive enough to engage their community leaders to promote the issues of women and girls with disabilities in their countries. I am such an example; my level of confidence has tripled since WILD."
- Ekaete Umoh, WILD Alumna from Nigeria
To date more than 220 women with disabilities from over 83 countries have participated in MIUSA's International WILD program.
“We should not wait for what people will do for us, but we should try to create impact and make our contributions felt in society.”
– WILD-Uganda participant
Reem Abou Elenain, who serves as an EducationUSA Adviser in Alexandria, Egypt, advises students who want to study in the United States. Before taking her position at EducationUSA, she was a Fulbright grantee for the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program, sponsored by the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, teaching Arabic at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.
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.
My role as a CIEE cluster leader is to organize enhancement activities that build the leadership and teamwork skills of my students. Last year I had sixteen students in my cluster, two of whom were students with disabilities. Both were studying in the United States on programs sponsored by the U.S Department of State.
There are certain activities that we do every year as a cluster. One of the most memorable of those activities took place in the winter. All sixteen of my students went up to our little cabin, which is what we do every year, to go cross-country skiing.