As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law’s impact on the international education community continues to evolve. International student and scholar services (ISSS) advisers play a critical role in introducing our students to the ADA and how to request accommodations. We can best support our incoming classes of international students by educating ourselves on best practices, accommodations, and partnerships across campus.
Tips for Supporting Students
Starting with prearrival materials, ISSS offices can include information to help prepare international students with disabilities for studies in the United States. A great best practice is to use accessibility checkers on all materials to ensure students who use screen readers are able to comprehend online materials ahead of time.
There are many tools that ISSS advisers can use to enhance the accessibility of our materials for international students with disabilities. For example, Microsoft Word has an accessibility checker that is a useful tool for identifying areas where a screen reader may struggle to convey the material to those with a visual impairment. Similarly, products such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides can add automated closed captioning during presentations. These small changes can have a large impact on international students and can easily be added to standard practices in an ISSS office.
To prepare for international students on campus, disability support services can help ISSS offices create a more inclusive environment. This can include an assessment of the office space to ensure there is enough room for those with mobility limitations to freely move around, an audit of online materials for accessibility, and training with ISSS advisers on inclusive language.
Bridging the Gaps
Beyond these tips, we ISSS advisers should participate in ongoing trainings to understand how else our campus supports students with disabilities. From housing to academic accommodations, the ways in which an institution can remove barriers to help students thrive on campus are nuanced, and by understanding some of the most common accommodations, we can help bridge gaps for international students.
Furthermore, we can share our wealth of knowledge, particularly with cross-cultural trainings, so that campus partners can best serve this community. By working with partners across campus, our institutions can holistically support international students with disabilities and uphold the standards set by the ADA.
NAFSA Resources for Working with Students with Disabilities
- Advising International Students with Disabilities
- “ADA in Education Abroad,” International Educator July/August 2019 issue
- “Recruiting International Students with Disabilities” Government Connection
- Resources for Supporting Diversity and Inclusion in Education Abroad
- Education Abroad Advising to Students with Disabilities
Cory Owen is the author of NAFSA’s digital download Advising International Students with Disabilities.