Students with Disabilities Abroad

Jump to student and staff reflections

During the 2008-2009 school year (the most recent year for which data is available from the Institute of International Education Open Doors Project) 260,327 US students studied abroad, and 3.6% of these students reported some type of disability.

Students with disabilities may find that studying abroad presents a set of challenges to address before and during their time away. Laws and cultural norms that impact accessibility vary from country to country. In the US, wheelchair accessibility or study aids for visual impairment are addressed at the collegiate level on a regular basis, and federal laws govern how these issues are handled. Depending on the program and location you choose, your own needs may present a relatively uncommon scenario for a program provider to consider in an environment governed by different disability laws and social norms. While potentially challenging, these considerations are manageable and should not inhibit an international experience. A study abroad advisor in the Study Abroad office can help you explore program options and consider how any disability-related needs might be reasonably accommodated depending on the location and program you select.

Discussing Disability Issues with a Study Abroad Advisor

Students who have a disability are encouraged to discuss any potential issues with their study abroad advisor during the program selection process. Please call the Study Abroad office at 319-335-0353 to schedule an appointment with a study abroad advisor. You may ask for a Student Accommodation Request Form to help facilitate the discussion and planning for disability accommodations with your advisor and with potential study abroad program providers. While the goal is to facilitate reasonable accommodation on any program, there may be some program providers in the location you are considering that have an especially successful track record for proactively accommodating disability needs. We encourage you to discuss disability issues along with your goals for an experience abroad when you first meet with your study abroad advisor. Early discussions about disability can help ensure that you have a set of viable options to consider, and that you and your advisor can develop a realistic understanding of how disability issues might play into the experience.

In addition to the assistance that a Study Abroad advisor can provide, included below are several "Student Reflections" and "Staff Perspectives" on studying abroad with a disability. They are written by members of the University of Iowa community who have agreed to share their experiences in hopes that you might benefit from what they learned on their journeys abroad.

Following the reflection and perspective pieces, you will find a list of web resources for students with disabilities. The links include organizations, articles, travel guides and success stories aimed at students who would like more information about traveling abroad with a disability.

Student and Staff Reflections

Haley Dzuik in India

University of Iowa Links

Student Disability Services
Student Disability Services facilitates accommodations for University of Iowa students to support opportunities for those with disabilities.

External Links

IES Abroad

This program provider offers funding resources for diverse groups studying abroad, including people with disabilities. The site includes resources by country and some helpful guides for parents and students.

National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange
This website includes travel tips for specific disabilities, disability organizations, international opportunities and programs, funding resources, success stories, and blogs.

Mobility International - Personal Stories and Blogs
A "Personal Story" section can be can be found here organized by disability type, location, program type, and disability aids used abroad (guide dogs, wheelchairs, assistants, etc.) Also check out the "International Opportunities" section with disability information and resources listed by region and country, and the following very useful guidebook:
Free download of Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities

Transitions Abroad
Includes articles, international programs, tourism resources, organizations, and websites for disability travel.

European Disability Forum
A collection of initiatives aimed at disabled persons in Europe.

Global Access
Includes testimonials from disabled travelers, travel tips, and articles about disability travel.

Wheel Chair Diaries
A student with cerebral palsy, discouraged from study abroad, makes a film about accessibility abroad.