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.
"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
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.
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.
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.
It’s time to think about how you and the program staff can become allies and work together. Hear from Kat Davis, West Campus Relations Manager CET Academic Programs and Christie Johnson, Senior Director, University Relations, Academic Programs International about what they do to make their study abroad programs inclusive and to collaborate with partners and students in the process.
WILD is a highly selective, intensive three-week training that brings together women with disabilities from around the world. The training is held in Eugene, Oregon, a model city that embraces human rights, diversity and inclusion. Women with disabilities who are selected for the WILD program demonstrate leadership potential. WILD is an investment in that potential which will “trampoline” them to the next level.
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.”
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.