Learning Abroad Center

General Guidelines & Resources

What is a Disability in the United States?

The definition of disability in the US may be similar or different to a student's chosen study abroad location.  It is important to understand the context of both.  When students go abroad the same principles are applied to accommodate students whenever possible.  The DRC conducts individualized conversations with students at least 8 weeks in advance of their departure in order to determine what are the best accommodations within the scope of the reasonable accommodations allowed.  What is a Reasonable Accommodation is a helpful resource for US-based and on-site study abroad professionals to better understand US Accommodations.

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 accommodations.

  • 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 accommodations might be possible, the student, the disability resource specialist, the study abroad advisor, and the on-site partners 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 advisors can assist students by maintaining site specific in formation on overseas access. The Access Assessment form can study abroad professionals proactively identify which sites may be able to accommodate which needs.
  • Encourage Early Disclosure: It should be communicated early and often that students are encouraged to request their accommodation needs early by using the Accommodation Request Form.  
  • Contact On-Site: Once a student's specific accommodation needs are known, contact the on-site partners to see what possibilities for accommodations exist.
  • 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 advisor, 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 On-Site Access Determined?

Accommodations on-site vary depending on the country and the specific resources at that location. 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 site may determine that certain requested accommodations cannot be provided, but viable alternatives are possible.  Still in other locations, certain accommodations are not possible 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.

Education Abroad Advising to Students with Disabilities: NAFSA Publication (for purchase)

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.

An Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)