Study Abroad for Students with Disabilities: A World of Opportunity

Kim Borowicz, DO-IT staff
Picture of Kim in front of artwork.
DO-IT Mentor Kim Borowicz in the HUB.

Studying abroad, which has grown in popularity to nearly 150,000 American students each year, is a great way for college students to acquire independence, learn new skills, and travel the world! While students with disabilities may experience unique barriers and challenges when studying abroad, careful planning and self-determination can make the dream a reality.

There are several different types of study abroad programs. Some study abroad programs are specifically designed for students with disabilities! Check out Mobility International USA at Many are sponsored by four-year universities and have set programs for specific majors. In these programs, classes are taught by professors from the home university on the host university's campus. The program and curriculum may already be approved for credit by a student's home university, so it is easy for students to fit the study abroad program into their schedule.

A second type of study abroad program places American students in foreign universities, where they can take classes along with students from the host country. This is a great way for students to meet people from the country they are traveling to.

Study abroad programs can also vary in length. Most programs last for a semester, but some can even be completed during spring break or winter vacation.

Students can also build their own study abroad program through an internship. Most colleges provide students with class credit for internships, and many majors require students to be an intern. Interning in another country can be a great opportunity. Students can pick the country they want to travel to and find an organization or company there they would like to work for; Universities and study abroad organizations can also help students find the perfect internship and housing.

There are several ways to prepare for living abroad. One is to spend time living in a new city in the States. This may be especially helpful for students who attend college in their hometown. Try interning for a semester in a new city in the U.S. before going abroad.

It is a good idea for students to spend time deciding whether they want to travel to a non-English speaking country and consider whether this will present extra challenges related to their disability. It may also be helpful for some students with disabilities to have their plane ticket marked as "Meet and Assist"; this assures that the airline will provide extra assistance if they need it.

It is important to do disability-related research and plan ahead before studying abroad. Remember, it is the student's choice whether to disclose their disability to program staff, people they are traveling with, or people they meet along the way. Check ahead of time to ensure housing and tours are accessible, alternative formats are available, and sign language interpreters are scheduled. This can make the trip run more smoothly.

Research the disability laws in the host country ahead of time. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not ensure disability rights in other countries, many countries have laws, some similar, that provide even more protection. Also, look for disability organizations in the country; they can provide a wealth of information on local disability law and community resources.