How to Study Abroad With a Disability

Studying abroad can be an unforgettable experience. Uncover what to check off your to-do list to study abroad with a disability.
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  • Countries and schools vary in how they accommodate students with disabilities.
  • Look for a location with the appropriate accessible environment and protective rights.
  • Get an updated diagnosis and advocate for your needs to receive the proper accommodations.
  • Research healthcare coverage, insurance, and scholarships to avoid financial surprises.

Studying abroad allows students to explore different countries and cultures, learn new languages, and discover and challenge themselves. For students with disabilities, the opportunity to study abroad has never been better. Many schools and organizations have established global support channels and specialized accommodations.

Yet, studying abroad requires careful planning and preparation. Learn about the most important things to consider before studying abroad with a disability.

1. Ensure the Study Abroad Program Accommodates Disabilities

Despite an increasing number of colleges with study abroad programs, not all schools and programs provide the same level of support and accommodations. Before committing to studying abroad, check with your school's disability services center or study abroad program office.

School advisors should be able to provide guidance regarding the accessibility of the program and help create a plan to get you started. Find out what support services your school or program has in place for students abroad and what special accommodations or funding may be available for learners with disabilities.

2. Get an Updated Diagnosis (If Needed)

Students need to communicate what accommodations they need to be successful and what barriers exist. This requires accurate documentation about their disability, which may mean getting an updated diagnosis.

The documentation required depends on the school, program, and disability. Some need up-to-date assessments or revised evaluations from qualified professionals within the past 3-5 years. Your physician may need to restate details, like characteristics or limitations related to your condition, as these can change over time.

3. Choose a Navigable Study Abroad Destination

When choosing where to study abroad, students with disabilities need to consider how their mobility needs align with the physical environments of their destination.

For example, some cities and countries have infrastructure that can make travel and transportation challenging for those accustomed to moving around in familiar places.

You also need to think about your schools and housing facilities, and how these locations accommodate disabilities. Evaluate things like the room dimensions, available assistive technologies, elevators, bathrooms, and sleeping quarters.

4. Research How Your Destination Perceives Disabilities

Countries all have different perceptions and standards regarding disabilities, leading to varying levels of accommodation. Prospective study abroad participants should research how locations they are considering perceive disabled people and how the standards of accessibility might impact them specifically.

The best countries for studying abroad include those that have laws that protect and accommodate individuals with disabilities, such as the United Kingdom with the Equality Act or Canada with the Accessible Canada Act.

5. Advocate for Your Needs When Studying Abroad with a Disability

Many schools have practices and policies in place for international students with disabilities. However, you should still ask for changes or tweaks to the programs if it means more suitable accommodations for your specific disability and needs.

You might try to negotiate the means of transportation available, the type of housing provided, or the food options. You can also propose alternative testing accommodations or in-class support. Self-advocacy can be very useful and effective when applied correctly.

6. Research the Healthcare Options Available to You

All learners studying abroad need to think about their access to healthcare, but this is especially important for students who require more limited or specialized services. You should also think about your access to medication or regular appointments or treatments.

When in doubt, students with disabilities can ask their school or healthcare provider to help them set up a plan in case of emergency. This might involve getting a referral for a healthcare professional in your study abroad location and establishing an acceptable process.

7. Handle Insurance Issues Ahead of Time

Many schools have healthcare insurance programs and plans available to visiting students. You should investigate what these plans include, such as doctor or specialist visits, treatments, and medication costs.

The student's home country may also offer travel or student medical insurance that they can take with them for greater peace of mind. Disabled learners may even qualify for pre-existing condition waivers to save money on travel insurance.

8. Consider the Language Barrier

Language barriers can be challenging for all learners when studying abroad, but students with disabilities may rely on language to communicate details about their condition and their needs. While this type of situation may come up when talking to teachers, students, or community members, it could be even more serious in the case of a healthcare emergency.

Due to the importance of communication, disabled students may want to consider locations where they speak the same primary language.

9. Get Scholarships for Studying Abroad

Students with disabilities need to consider the costs of studying abroad and any additional costs for special accommodations. These extras may include support personnel, specialized technologies, and healthcare costs. Learners should calculate their expenses as accurately as possible to avoid any costly surprises.

You can access scholarships for studying abroad and scholarships for students with disabilities to help cover the costs. You might also apply for special accommodations or funding based on your unique situation.

Learn more about how accessibility removes barriers for success at college and work.

10. Don't Give Up

If at first you cannot find an acceptable study abroad program for disabled students, keep looking. Consider different types of programs, such as studying abroad over winter break or a summer study abroad program. Continue your search and your advocacy efforts until you find a suitable school and location.

As study abroad programs reopen after the mass shutdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, students should find an increasing number of new opportunities and revised practices and protocols in older programs.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should consult with their physician to obtain advice with respect to any medical condition or treatment.