As a Cornell student, you may want to engage in an international experience during your college career, whether it be a study abroad program, service learning trip, or internship. As a student with a disability, there may be things you need to consider during your decision making and planning process. Other countries may define the word “accessible” differently than we do in the U.S. and at Cornell; similarly, their accommodation eligibility guidelines and disability laws may also differ both in terms of coverage and procedures. Therefore starting this process early is essential.
When thinking about the experience you want to participate in, ask yourself these questions first:
- What accommodations do I think I’ll need either to live in the country or participate in the program (consider academic, work related, physical access, housing, transportation, and dietary)?
- How many days and/or weeks do I think I can consecutively travel, and live abroad, without compromising my physical or mental health and medical or disability needs?
- Am I comfortable disclosing my disability and/or accommodation needs on any applications, or in country, if asked?
When exploring potential international host sites, you may need to inquire about or research the following, depending on your disability. Possible individuals to consult with include the Cornell Abroad office, the international experience planners, the host site in-country, your primary healthcare provider, and your SDS Counselor:
- What is the host country’s perceptions or views of individuals with disabilities?
- What is the host country’s definition of “accessible” and does it match what I am used to or need?
- What is the host country’s disability law, if any?
- What is the host program’s process for applying/requesting accommodations?
- What is the host program’s ability to fund the provision of accommodations, if needed?
- What is the current level of physical accessibility in the city/country?
- What are the housing options and are they conducive to my needs?
- Do they speak a different language that could present communication barriers?
- What are the cultural norms around interpersonal relations and verbal/nonverbal communication and could they pose any challenges, given my disability?
- How will I maintain my health and disability management schedule, particularly in terms of staying on a proper medication schedule, and continuing physical or mental health appointments/care either while in country or from a distance?
- Is it a country that I can carry medication on my person when traveling there OR ship medication into, and if not, how can I ensure I have the medication or can access refills that I need while there?
- If I anticipate needing mental health services, counseling, or physical rehabilitation services while there, will I be able to access that and from where/who?
- What is the climate like and will it be conducive to my condition or exacerbate it?
- What types of food are typically eaten in-country and are they conducive to my dietary needs?
- What are the transportation options in-country (i.e. public? Independent travel? Primarily walking or driving/riding?) and do they coincide with my traveling ability?
When applying, being accepted, or preparing for departure, consider the following:
- What would be the consequences of not disclosing my disability and then finding out later that needed accommodations are not available?
- What kind of documentation does the host site need in order to implement accommodations and do I need to schedule enough time to obtain/send any updated info?
- When will the program respond back about approved accommodations?
- How much advance notice does the host site need to provide more significant accommodations such as captioning, alternative format materials, housing, etc.?
- What immunizations will I need and are there any related health concerns to be mindful of (impacts to disability, medical condition, or the effectiveness of current medications)?
- What is the time zone difference and how do I need to prepare or adjust my medication schedule to accommodate the difference, particularly when traveling?
- What other arrangements do I need to make, and how far in advance, to ensure I have all my transportation, medication, and health management needs taken care of?
Additional online resources to aid you in your research and planning process:
- Mobility International is known as the premier source of information for international travelers with disabilities. Their tipsheets provide information and resources on many different disabilities and things to consider when traveling internationally.
- Access Abroad is an excellent resource operated by the study abroad and disability offices at the University of Minnesota
- Council on International Educational Exchange is a major provider of study abroad programs and a leader in the field of study abroad
- DiversityAbroad.com – travel guide for students with disabilities
- Transitions Abroad