It's official: You're well on your way to your U.S. studies. Now is the time to notify the school's disability office about your disability-related needs, search for financial aid, and learn about visa rules and regulations.
Any college or university is a potential match for an international student or scholar with a disability. Learn which factors to consider when browsing institutions, and follow next steps for applying to your dream school.
The United States has thousands of colleges and universities across the country. Each is unique in its own way, but all schools have something in common: they cannot discriminate against anyone due to his or her disability.
U.S. schools are responsible for making their courses, campus, activities and services accessible to people with disabilities. This includes physical access to college buildings, transportation, housing, and other facilities.
Through the use of a variety of accommodations, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals participate fully in a variety of international exchange experiences. No individual is completely alike - the accommodations that prove useful for one individual may not be relevant to others due to variations in hearing levels, identity, and communication preferences. When immersed in a new culture, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals can struggle with new accents, languages, and listening environments. Learn some of the most commonly used accommodations.
The criteria of what makes a place a good fit for someone with a disability is also what makes a place good for someone without a disability. However, for many people with disabilities, this question taps into fundamental issues of rights and personal choice.
You have the right to study in an historic town with cobblestones that make for a bumpy wheelchair ride or a world famous city like Bangkok where the traffic patterns seemingly pose a risk for someone who is blind. People with disabilities live in every community, so there is no “best country”.
When Molly Rogers was a professor at the University of Oregon, she visited the island of Penghu, Taiwan, to present a paper on Kansei Engineering and Emotion Research, it was the first time she’d traveled solo since becoming a wheelchair user. Molly, who is a member of Mobility International USA’s board of directors, was excited to visit a new place, but also admitted to being a little nervous.
“Taiwan is a very long way from home, and I don’t read or speak the language,” she says. “I knew I would have to rely entirely on myself to solve problems or get to places I wanted to go.”
When Guida Leicester arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a six week program through a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Summer Fellowship, one thing quickly became apparent to her. “The staff and faculty had discussed what I could and could not do, but they had failed to include me in the conversation.”
In the remote mountainous Gulmi District of Nepal, Ms. Ganga Rayamajhi of Nepal, a double amputee, serves as chairwoman for Hope Disability Centre.
Following her participation in MIUSA Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), her organization hosted a campaign to advocate for disability rights and ending violence against women and people with disabilities in Nepal. During the campaign, Ganga participated in interviews on the radio and television to influence policy makers toward justice and social change.
Whether it’s working within the coffee fields of Costa Rica or teaching English to children in Nepal, volunteers with disabilities have made their presence known as contributory global citizens. It could be said that volunteers with disabilities bring an additional contribution to the international communities where they volunteer, and this is the understanding of ‘inter-dependence’.
Contrary to what many may think, asking for assistance or accommodation when volunteering abroad as a disabled person may positively contribute to the volunteer experience.
When I first discussed going abroad with my family and friends, their first comment was: “That’s wonderful, but how are you going to travel alone in a wheelchair, in a power wheelchair no less?” When I added that my destination was not Canada or Europe, but rather a developing country in South America, this seemed to further solidify their view that it would be impossible for me to travel in a power wheelchair.
“A barrier is of ideas, not of things.” –Mark Caine
I can confidently say that the largest barrier that inhibits people with disabilities from traveling abroad is attitude. In preparation for going abroad, many travelers with disabilities worry and are often overwhelmed by the perceived physical barriers associated with disability, whether it be lack of ramps, lack of Brailled signage, lack of accessible public transport, or communication barriers to getting around.
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.”
Ms. Karine Grigoryan, founder and President of the Agate Center, shares the motivation behind her work and the status of disability in her country.
When Marlon Celso first came to the United States, he had never met anyone who shared his disability. Celso, a high school exchange student from the Philippines, has dwarfism.
“I used to be scared or ashamed to talk about my disability,” he says. “Everything changed when I found out that my host parents are ‘little people,’ as they say. They taught me a lot of things about being a Little Person. It opened my mind and it also changed the way I look at myself. I know that what I have learned from them will be a very big help for me.”
When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."