Kimberly Tissot, Executive Director of Able South Carolina, heard the determination in the voices of her partners in the Dominican Republic: “We need to know how it is possible for you to be independent in the U.S., and how to make those changes here.”
Despite the pouring rain, women from all over Homa County in Western Kenya gathered in a classroom at the local college. The women came alone, or maybe with an aide, a guide or interpreter; some had a wheelchair, others crutches, but all came with a singular purpose — to learn about how to end gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities.
Luljeta Koshi has been recruiting students for the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Bosnia since 2008. In this interview, Koshi shares her perspective on the vital importance of disability inclusion in youth exchange programs and best practices for recruiting students with disabilities for these opportunities.
What has been your experience recruiting students with disabilities?
A year after I started working as an educational adviser at the Fulbright Commission in Austria, I realized that I had not to the best of my knowledge encountered a single Austrian student who had any type of disability, not even a minor learning disability. A few weeks later, while tabling at a higher education fair in Vienna, I noticed a group of deaf students standing along the periphery of the room.
During the second semester of an English as a Second Language (ESL) course, a faculty member finds one of the students from Saudi Arabia, Mohammed (not his real name), is doing fine in all his courses, except for those related to reading.
The instructor approaches Monica Malhotra, the ESL international student advisor at University of Texas in Austin about the concern that Mohammed doesn’t seem to progress, and questions if it’s his struggles with English or something else.
As a professional with a congenital hearing disability who has studied abroad and traveled to over ten countries, Irene Scott understands firsthand the challenges and rewards of sending students with disabilities abroad. It also places her in a unique position at the Study Abroad Programs Office at Texas A&M University: that of a confidante or role model to students with disabilities who seek overseas experiences of their own.
Many study abroad programs are moving to an online application system which also means collecting confidential or sensitive disability and health history information.
When Annie Reifsnyder became an Area Coordinator for CCI Greenheart, a non-profit organization that places international high school exchange students in the United States, she found a way to connect with students from around the world.
One Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) student from Russia in particular caught her attention. “I received Natasha’s bio and was kind of enamored by it,” Reifsnyder says. “I just thought how neat, how cool, how amazing, obviously a student who wanted to come to the U.S., but one who is blind.”
Stephanie Blum, who is a personal agent at Full Access in Eugene, Oregon, traveled to Jerusalem and Kiryat Ono, Israel as a part of MIUSA’s Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. While there, she partnered with a nonprofit for people with disabilities along with a higher education institution to work on self-advocacy and independence for people who have intellectual disabilities.
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?”
Disability services offices across the country are asking themselves whether or not to provide accommodations for Deaf and hard of hearing students who hope to travel abroad through educational exchange programs. For the Disability Resource Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), the question was not whether to provide overseas accommodations, but how.