International/Travel Programs

Faculty members should encourage students with disabilities to take part in international travel or study programs that may enrich their total educational experience. Students with disabilities who meet program requirements and choose to study or travel abroad are presented with opportunities and challenges. Academic and daily life in a foreign country can introduce new barriers that require different accommodations and, at times, compromise independence. Reasonable accommodations vary greatly and depend upon individual needs, travel destinations, and academic activities.

In any international study or travel program, adequate planning and research are important foundations for a successful experience. The student, the disability services counselor, and the international study/education abroad program advisor should plan the experience together. Adequate information is essential for students to make realistic assessments of their own needs and of the overseas institution and culture. It is important to determine what resources and accommodations are available at the overseas institution. It is also important to determine if the university or exchange organization will pay for accommodations while studying abroad. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may not apply to a student once she is outside of the United States, obligations to provide and pay for reasonable accommodations overseas should be explored with an institution's legal consult, ADA compliance office, or disabled student services.

Physical barriers, as well as socio-cultural differences regarding perceptions of disability, can have a profound impact on a student's experience. These issues should be carefully considered in relation to the needs and destination of each student. While laws and regulations have improved access to transportation and facilities and mandated the provision of reasonable accommodations in the United States, these requirements are not consistent worldwide. For example, students overseas will more often encounter the absence of elevators and electric doors. Therefore, a wheelchair user may have difficulty accessing a classroom or public building. Flexible attendance requirements or extended test time may be considered reasonable accommodations in the United States, but may be considered unreasonable by an instructor in another country.

Students with disabilities who are interested in international exchange or travel programs, along with staff and faculty involved in the planning process, should consider the following suggestions:

  • Research the potential barriers and available accommodations before arrival. When considering international programs or coursework, faculty, students, disability counselors and international study program advisors should work together to determine accessibility of facilities and transportation, as well as discuss classroom needs and reasonable accommodations.
  • Anticipate and discuss socio-cultural differences in the planning process as they may impact the availability and implementation of some accommodations.
  • Identify a personal contact or disability organization in the host country.
  • Prearrange and coordinate necessary accommodations with the host institution before arrival.
  • Develop self-advocacy skills and role-play "what if..." scenarios to prepare for problems.
  • Notify the airline or other transportation service ahead of time regarding travel needs. This will facilitate pre-boarding, emergency communication procedures, etc. Some American airlines have published material on travel with a disability. Federal publications also provide information on airport accessibility.
  • Students with service animals should check the regulations for each country to be visited as some countries restrict the entrance of service animals. Some countries may require veterinary certificates. Travelers with service animals are advised to carry documentation verifying that they are service animals, as well as veterinary certificates of health.
  • Students who require access to technology should address this issue before they arrive in another country. If adaptive technology is required, determine who will provide it and where.
  • If a personal care assistant will need to travel with the student, explore how this situation can best be handled. Several organizations offer the assistance of travel companions; check into this option as appropriate.

Students who study abroad will generally require accommodations similar to those used in similar academic activities in the United States. Some typical access challenges and accommodations for students with specific types of disabilties are summarized below.

Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities should consider the availability of accommodations such as notetakers and computer software during the travel planning process. They should plan to bring appropriate portable accommodations with them (e.g., talking calculators, laptop computers, tape recorders) and be prepared with "back-up" accommodations should local issues interfere with implementation.

For more information about students with learning disabilities, consult the Learning Disabilities section of the AccessSTEM website.

Blindness

Students who are blind may have needs related to transportation access, as well as orientation and mobility in a new environment. Access to printed materials as well as computer technology such as scanners, speech output, and Braille printers should be considered during the planning process.

For more information about accommodations for students who are blind, consult the Blindness section of the AccessSTEM website.

Low Vision

Students with low vision may have needs related to transportation access, as well as orientation and mobility in a new environment. Access to large-print materials as well as computer technology such as scanners and speech output should be considered during the planning process.

For more information about students with low vision, consult the Low Vision section of the AccessSTEM website.

Hearing Impairments

Students with hearing impairments may have difficulty communicating with instructors and other students. Foreign language barriers may present unique challenges for individuals who use sign language or depend on technology. For example, a student who uses American Sign Language (ASL) may have difficulty locating an interpreter, as ASL is not a universal language. An interpreter may therefore need to travel with the student. Likewise, assistive listening devices that provide amplification during a lecture may not be available at a foreign university. The student may need to arrange to bring such equipment.

Student travelers with hearing impairments can check for the availability of assistive listening devices in airports and hotels when making reservations. Some hotels have captioned television services. A local organization for people with hearing impairments within a university or country of destination can also be a helpful resource.

For more information about accommodations for students with hearing impairments, consult the Hearing Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Mobility Impairments

Students who use wheelchairs, walkers, or other devices for transportation may face architectural access barriers. Local and international transportation needs should be considered for each travel destination. Information about access to university facilities, lodging, as well as public transportation can sometimes be found on websites, in resource books, and through personal contacts during the planning process.

For more information about accommodations for students with mobility impairments, consult the Mobility Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Health Impairments

Students with various health conditions need to consider availability and access to appropriate medical care and facilities. Students who take medication should carry copies of prescriptions and other important medical documentation. Students should discuss with instructors accommodations such as flexible attendance, extended exam time, or tape recording lectures during the planning process.

For more information about students with health impairments, consult the Health Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Psychiatric Impairments

Students with various psychiatric and mental health conditions need to consider availability and access to appropriate medical care and facilities. Those who take medication should carry copies of prescriptions and other important medical documentation. Students should discuss with instructors accommodations such as flexible attendance, extended exam time, or tape recording lectures during the planning process.

For more information about accommodations for students with psychiatric/mental health impairments, consult the Psychiatric/Mental Health Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Check Your Understanding

A political science student with a spinal cord injury would like to study abroad in Eastern Europe. The student uses a wheelchair, and, after reviewing information from the university, understands that some of the buildings he would need to use are not wheelchair accessible. What steps would you take to help accommodate this student in an international study program? Choose a response.

  1. Provide a personal assistant to assist with mobility needs.
  2. Videotape the class sessions located in inaccessible buildings.
  3. Contact a counselor at the overseas institution to discuss the student's program, needs, and potential barriers, as well as identify resources in the host country.
  4. Consider a different overseas program or university.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Provide a personal assistant to assist with mobility needs.
    The student may require a personal assistant to help with mobility even though he does not need one in the United States. In a foreign country with physical access barriers, an attendant would likely be needed in the absence of elevators, wheelchair lifts, ramps, etc. The student, disability services counselor, and international program coordinator should determine if this is an appropriate accommodation as well as who is responsible to cover the costs associated with the attendant. An attendant may not, however, be able to help the student gain access to an inaccessible building.
  2. Videotape the class sessions located in inaccessible buildings.
    The student, disability services counselor, and international program coordinator should work with the overseas institution to determine if videotaping class sessions is feasible. A contract arrangement should be made before the student arrives at the host institution if an accommodation of this nature is selected. This accommodation, however, does not solve the potential access issues related to navigating other parts of the campus, living quarters, and the city/country.
  3. Contact a counselor at the overseas institution to discuss the student's program, needs, and potential barriers, as well as identify resources in the host country.
    A personal contact at the host institution can be an important member of the planning team. Support contacts can be established in advance to help the student identify potential barriers, resources, and solutions in the host country. While the contact person can be helpful in identifying barriers, accommodations must still be identified and implemented to meet mobility needs.
  4. Consider a different overseas program or university.
    Programs that have successfully accommodated students with various disabilities should be presented to students with disabilities, however, this should not limit their options, nor should they be funneled into specific programs. The planning team should conduct careful research so the student can make an informed decision about whether or not the overseas study program and culture, with reasonable accommodations, meets their goals and expectations.

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.