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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments of 2008, section 4, defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. In addition to defining it, this legislation also ensures that people with disabilities can equally embark on their educational and professional endeavors. Whether you have a physical, learning, or emotional disability, the Office of Education Abroad is very supportive of your desire to participate in an overseas program. Below are some factors for you to consider as you explore your options.

Choosing a Program:
What is most important to you in terms of your study abroad experience? Is it language acquisition, living in a particular culture, studying a particular subject, or participating in specific types of coursework and activities? Determining what you want to get out of your experience is your first step to finding your ideal program. Meet with an education abroad adviser and visit the study abroad library (Duke 119) to learn about the different types of programs that are available. Many of the programs that we work with have specific information on their Web sites regarding accommodations; some even have staff members devoted to this issue. That being said, we still encourage you to research your destination(s) in order to address your specific concerns and needs.

Disclosure and Communication:
We encourage you to disclose your disability to your education abroad adviser as early as possible (ideally at least 6 months before you go) and to openly communicate your concerns and preferences. Disclosed information will be held strictly confidential unless a disclosure waiver is signed and it will not be factored into your admissions decision. Your disclosure will help ensure that we can find the best fit for your needs and goals. Your collaboration will also help us work with your program to secure requested accommodations. Be sure to work with Nance Longworth in CTL to provide documentation of your disability and accommodations.

Cultural Differences and Flexibility:
By studying abroad, you will learn what makes the culture tick in a place thousands of miles away. You will also learn how your disability is addressed in your host country. The first part of the lesson is practical: U.S. laws and society recognize specific physical, mental, learning, and health conditions as disabilities, but not all of these conditions are formally recognized everywhere in the world. This could affect if and how you receive accommodations for your disability abroad.

The second part of the lesson is more abstract but equally important: views on disability, independence, confidentiality, respect for authority, and individual rights differ from country to country, and these views will definitely affect your experience overseas. Here in the U.S., we tend to see independence as being able to accomplish what we want with little or no assistance, or with assistance that we control – and that is guaranteed by law. In other cultures, independence often includes relying on assistance from family, friends, or even strangers. These differences do not mean that you cannot or should not study abroad. They just mean it is necessary to step outside your comfort zone and consider new ways of doing things – just like every student who studies abroad must. (Adapted from CIEE Disability Knowledge Brochure)

Next Steps:
To learn more about what the study abroad process entails, click on Application Process and carefully follow each step. If you have additional questions, please make an appointment with an education abroad adviser.

Additional Information:
Mobility International provides information for studying abroad with a disability. Their website includes advice on choosing programs based on specific disabilities; varying international laws and cultural attitudes regarding disabilities and accommodations; testimonials; and travel and logistical advice including a packing list.
Ripple Effects: Travelers with Disabilities Abroad - A podcast about visually impaired individuals who studied abroad.
The U.S. State Department has a website specifically for Americans studying abroad, which includes a section on traveling with a disability.
CDC maintains information for travelers with disabilities, particularly in regards to air travel.
The University of Minnesota has a well-developed website outlining different cultural views on disabilities.
This website contains many general travel resources for persons with disabilities.
Transitions Abroad is a travel magazine with a section devoted to telling the stories of those who have gone abroad with disabilities.
The Higher Education Accessibility Guide has compiled accessibility information from many European universities.
The U.K. Council for International Student Affairs outlines accommodations available for international students in the U.K.
Australia’s Human Rights Commission oversees the implementation of Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act which is similar to the ADA laws in the U.S.


Last modified 06/14/2019

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