What is a Disability?
The definition of disability in the US can be broad. Student modification needs vary even if two students have the same disability. Given this variety, it is helpful for advisers and students to be flexible when considering student needs and overseas accessibility. For information on disability types, consult the Disability Resource Center.
What is Required?
Two US federal laws address the rights of individuals with disabilities. Although the ADA cannot require overseas programs to be accessible, most institutions which sponsor programs abroad follow the principle used in the US and provide reasonable academic modifications.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that organizations receiving US federal dollars not to discriminate against individuals with disabilities and that they provide reasonable disability modifications.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public modifications, transportation, telecommunications and the activities of state and local government.
What are the Next Steps?
In order to determine what modifications might be possible overseas, the student, the disability services specialist, the study abroad adviser, and the overseas institution need to work together. Below are the key steps to take to provide services for students with disabilities.
- Consult with the Disability Resource Center: Study abroad offices should identify in advance with their disability services office an advising process for students with disabilities.
- Gather Access Information: Study abroad advisers can assist students by maintaining information on overseas access. The Access Assessment form can help students and the study abroad adviser identify which sites may be able to accommodate a student's needs.
- Encourage Early Disclosure: Once a student has disclosed, it is important for him/her to meet with a disability services professional to determine what types of modifications are needed.
- Consult Multiple Resources: It is best for students to identify several programs that meet their academic interests, since overseas sites will have different types of accessibility.
- Contact Overseas Site: Once a student's modification needs are known, contact the overseas site(s) to see what possibilities exist. Once a site is identified, the study abroad adviser should clarify in writing what modifications can be provided and who the on-site contact is.
- Determine Cost: If there is a cost involved in providing support services to the student, US institutions should inquire with their institutional legal counsel to determine who is responsible for these expenses.
- Design Pre-departure Information: Encourage students to learn about the different attitudes towards disability and the differences in access that they may experience while overseas. It is also helpful for a participating student to talk with a past participant with a disability who has studied abroad or with a student at the host institution who has a disability. In addition, the participating student should investigate disability information on the overseas site independently in order to identify additional resources.
- Assess On-Site Requests: If additional modification needs arise while the student is abroad, the study abroad adviser, the student, and the home campus disability services specialist need to determine whether the additional modifications are reasonable and appropriate.
- Gather Feedback for Future Students: Upon the student's return, gather feedback and suggestions from the student and the overseas site.
How is Overseas Access Determined?
Access overseas varies depending on the country and the overseas site. Creative thinking and a realistic assessment of the possibilities on site are essential considerations in this process. In some cases, it's possible to identify local support services. In other cases, the overseas site may determine modifications cannot be provided, and the student needs to consider another site.
Mobility International USA: This national clearinghouse on disability and exchange provides information and guidance on international exchange opportunities for students with disabilities.
A World of Options: A Guide to International Educational Exchange, Community Service, and Travel for People with Disabilities: Over 600 pages of information on travel and international programs. Available from Mobility International USA.
Building Bridges: A Manual on Including People with Disability in International Exchange Programs: Suggestions and creative ideas for including, recruiting and accommodating people with disabilities in international programs. Available from Mobility International USA.
Rights and Responsibilities: A Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
for International Exchange Organizations and Participants: Information on the rights and responsibilities of students and institutions participating in international exchange. Available from Mobility International USA.