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.
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.
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.
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.
Not only should you recognize a good strategy when you see it, but you should take it and replicate it as much as you can. This is what Candace Chenoweth, the Director of Global Education at University of Wisconsin (UW)-Whitewater, sought to do. The Center of Global Education worked to not only increase, but exceed, the representation of multicultural students studying abroad, and then to do the same for students with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students.
Masume Assaf, Director of Global Programs at Pennsylvania State University, recalls what support for international students used to look like in earlier times. In one instance, the disability services office had created a tactile map of the campus on a 6x6 board so that a Japanese blind student could use it to navigate around campus. The former Global Programs Assistant Director at the time also took this student under her wing to support her through the transition of arriving to a new disability culture with new opportunities to be independent.
Two arched windows let light into a new gathering place in the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and its EducationUSA Advising Center. It’s less about the setting and more about what is inside this corner space that matters – new accessible computer stations.
Computers equipped with screen readers and magnifiers, two large monitors, and a desktop magnifier, which will enable students with vision disabilities to have access to test preparation materials and information about U.S. study options.
Rebecca Zeigler Mano, EducationUSA Country Coordinator for Zimbabwe, has always worked to make higher education an option for many marginalized communities. She worked for a few years in the U.S. with high achieving, low income students to make sure they knew about access to higher education and scholarship opportunities. This thread continued when Rebecca started working with EducationUSA-Zimbabwe in 2000 and noticed little access for students with disabilities in local universities.
No two study abroad sites are ever quite the same, whether it's the vibrancy of the host community or the buzz of the host campus. The same can be said for how each country or host university includes and accommodates people with disabilities, as the local policies and resources can vary greatly. As University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC-CH) Study Abroad Advisor for Access, Lori Rezzouk helps foster better access to this vital information, which is key for students with disabilities who want to plan ahead for their adventures.
Karen M. Bauer is the EducationUSA Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) for Middle East and North Africa, based out of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has a passion for international travel and cross-cultural exchange and wants to make sure everyone has the same opportunities she did.
“Growing up, my family always encouraged learning about different people from around the world and fostering cross cultural communication.”