Practice Area Column

ADA in Education Abroad

Strategies for advising and supporting students with disabilities
Student Shalom Hernandez interned in Barcelona, Spain, through CISabroad. Photo: Courtesy Shalom Hernandez
Megan Stolz

Applying U.S. accessibility laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to study abroad programs is a legally gray area, but two things are clear according to the law: (a) materials, orientation spaces, etc., on U.S. soil must be accessible; and (b) students cannot be rejected from programs because of their disability. Even without legal obligation, student-centered practices and ethics call for providing support to the extent possible.

Knowledge of best practices, considerations around support from institutional and third-party providers, and expectations for costs can equip international educators to successfully advise and support students with disabilities.

Build Programs for Accessibility

Assuming reasonable ADA compliance—and because some students with disabilities won’t disclose them—“we advocate for the program to be designed to accommodate everybody,” says Justin Harford, project coordinator with Mobility International USA (MIUSA)’s National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange.

Morgan Morris Inabinet, assistant director of global health, safety, and security at the University of South Carolina (USC), recommends that “if the program will be visiting buildings that are not accessible...[or] takes place in a rural area where physical and mental health care is not as easily accessed, make this type of information easily accessible for all students.”

All students, with or without disabilities, would benefit from having a clear notion of accessibility before departure.

Allow Students to Self-Select

Students and advisers should be partners in the selection and planning process.

“Advisers should do their best to make as much information on accessibility, disability culture, health care, insurance, and attitudes available”

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