Study abroad affords an opportunity to develop communication, language, and cross-cultural adaptation skills and makes you more competitive for employment, along with providing the adventure and challenge of exploring different places and being exposed to another culture. Students with disabilities can and do successfully study abroad every term. GEO will work to reasonably accommodate students with disabilities on our program. However, your active role in disclosing your disability-related needs far in advance will be key to your success.
Disclose your disability-related request as far in advance as possible. Even if you don't think that you'll need accommodations while abroad, it is always best to discuss your study abroad plans with your home campus disabilities office. Since standard conveniences in the U.S. may not be available or accessible in other countries, your disabilities office on campus, in coordination with your study abroad office and GEO, can help you prepare and plan accordingly.
When Should I Begin?
Advance planning is essential, since it takes time to communicate with staff abroad and determine the feasibility of accommodations. Begin planning at least one year before the date you wish to study abroad. Start by talking to organizations both on campus and off to learn more. Campus disability support offices and disability groups both in the U.S. and abroad can advise you on how to identify your needs, and request accommodations. Describe your specific needs and current adaptations, and be sure to ask about every aspect of the program: arrival, orientation, living accommodations, classes, excursions, and assistive technology. Reasonable accommodations are discussed on a case-by-case basis with study abroad advisers and program staff.
How Do I Apply?
Refer to the “How to Apply” section of our website. Because determining what accommodations may be possible involves planning and coordination between your disability services office, campus study abroad office, and GEO staff in the U.S. and abroad, you are encouraged to begin your advising and application process at least one year prior to your projected term abroad.
You will need to submit a letter from your campus Disability Services office documenting your approved accommodations on campus. Note that accommodations cannot be researched or arranged until GEO has received the letter from your campus Disability Services Office and you have discussed your disabilities and needed accommodations with your GEO advisor.
We strongly recommend that you apply early. Some requests for reasonable accommodation will require several months to be considered or arranged, so you should apply well in advance of program application deadlines to ensure GEO can fully consider the options available for your request. Students who disclose needs at the last minute, or who require accommodations that cannot be made available in the host country, may be advised to postpone participation.
What Kinds of Accommodations Can I Expect to Receive Abroad?
The United States is a world leader in the area of equal access for persons with disabilities. Many other countries are becoming more aware of the needs of the disability community but may not have the same level of access within their infrastructure. An important part of your study abroad experience will include learning how the host country defines and responds to needs of persons with disabilities according to their culture. GEO cannot alter systems, architecture, transportation, or laws in other countries, nor duplicate your home campus; we cannot guarantee that facilities and/or support services will be available at each location abroad in the same range and quality as on your home campus. However, meeting with your disability office on campus and providing documentation of your disability to GEO is the first step to receiving assistance for your accommodation needs abroad.
What Should I Expect Abroad?
Remember that the most important characteristic for any study abroad participant is flexibility. You are going abroad to experience a different way of life, which may include a different way of accommodating your disability and a different degree of independence than you may be used to at home. Be prepared to answer questions about your disability or accommodation needs from roommates, professors, your host family, or others who may be seeking to understand and be of assistance.
Going Abroad is a step by step guide to researching and applying to programs, living abroad, and returning home published by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), PO Box 10767, Eugene, OR 97440, 541-343-1284 (voice/TDD), 541-343-6812 (fax), firstname.lastname@example.org
Transitions Abroad includes articles and resources on traveling with a disability
Processing Disabilities (LD, ADHD, Psychological, Brain injuries)
- Will you need note takers for class? Is the site able to provide your usual test accommodations (extended time, special arrangements, etc.) based on your medical documentation?
- What tutoring services might be available?
- If you need to see a doctor or therapist for psychological concerns while abroad, have you established this contact prior to departure?
- Have you considered bringing a personal recording device for lectures? Do you have permission to record lectures?
- Are books available on tape or CD?
- Be certain to work with your Campus Disabilities Officer to secure a letter outlining your required accommodations, if any.
Chronic Systemic Disorders
- If you have respiratory problems or severe allergies, what is the air and environmental quality in the city you are considering?
- If your condition is affected by temperatures, what is the climate in your prospective host city?
- What prior notification has been given to the instructors regarding potential absences should your condition flare up unexpectedly?
- Is the site able to provide your usual test accommodations (extended time, special arrangements, etc.) based on your medical documentation?
- Will you need extended time on assignments?
- What special dietary considerations might you have, and how easy are they to meet at your host site?
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Will you need an interpreter or Realtime Captioning?
- Where/how will the interpreter be hired?
- Does the interpreter know American Sign Language? Sign language is not universal and may differ between countries that have the same spoken language.
- If you are taking a personal FM system, can you obtain batteries in your host country that work for your device?
- Will you need a note taker?
- Are captioned videos available?
- Will you take one or two wheelchairs? Electric or manual?
- Do you need a transformer? Is the voltage in your host country compatible with your transformer?
- How will you ship your chairs abroad?
- Where can your chair be repaired abroad?
- Do you need to make additional arrangements to get from the airport to the orientation site?
- Are the streets and/or sidewalks paved or cobblestone? Are there curb cuts for wheelchair access?
- What is the accessibility of the host city, living accommodations, and classroom facilities (elevators, bathrooms, classrooms, housing, public transportation, etc.)?
- Is voice recognition software available?
- Will you need note takers, scribes or transcribers?
- What kind of field trips might your program go on? Are they accessible?
- Are lab or library assistants available in your host country?
- Do you need extended time on assignments or exams?
- If you have a guide dog: have you contacted the consulate of your host country to determine if you will need to put your guide dog in quarantine? Will special housing or food arrangements be necessary for your dog? Is your dog allowed into the classroom?
- Are alternate formats available? (books on tape, Braille, e-text, scanning, CCTV, etc.).
- Will you need a mobility assistant to help you?
- Have you obtained maps of your host city and enlarged them to become familiar with directions before departure?
- What kind of test accommodations will you need?
- Is there Braille signage on buildings, elevators, classroom, ATMs, etc.?
- Will you have access to computer software in order to write papers or read assignments?
- If you plan to ask a personal attendant to accompany you abroad, have you ensured that your attendant has the necessary passport, visa, documentation, insurance, and immunizations for traveling and living abroad?
- If you are considering hiring an attendant on-site abroad after you arrive, how feasible is this at your site? What steps will you need to follow?
- Where will the attendant live – can the program accommodate both of you in program housing, or will other arrangements be necessary?