Travelers with Disabilities


Study Abroad is for Students with Disabilities!

It is often assumed that there are no opportunities for students with disabilities to study abroad. Though students with disabilities make up only a portion of the students that are underrepresented in study abroad, incredible international opportunities exist and we encourage you to explore the information and resources we have provided below. It is highly encouraged that students with a disability disclose early on so that adequate accommodations can be made.  A student will never be denied participation to study abroad based on their disability.  Do not let anything stand in the way of your study abroad experience! Check out the information below to learn about information on disclosing your disability, tips on how to make study abroad a reality, information on how to pay for your accommodations and program, and additional helpful resources.

What is a disability?

Under Section 504 and the American Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is defined as someone who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • has a record or history of such an impairment
  • or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Disability Types

There are a variety of disability types that might need accommodation abroad.  The list of six disability types below provides a basic description and the modifications provided in the United States (information provided via Michigan State's Office of Study Abroad).

Chronic Health Conditions: affects one of more of the systems of the body.  this includes cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, or HIV-AIDS.  Modifications may include a reduced course load, extra time on exams, modified deadlines, and taping lectures. 

Hearing Disabilities: can range from students who have hearing losses of such severity that he/she depends primarily upon visual communication, to students who have difficulty hearing but don't depend on visual communication.  Modifications may include sign language interpreters, real time captioning, captioned videos, assistive hearing devices, note taking assistance, telephone teletext devices, or advance registration and/or syllabi.

Learning Disabilities: refers to significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, and/or mathematical abilities.  Modifications may include providing syllabi and assignments in advance, allowing extended time on exams, or a separate room, note taking assistance, taping lectures, use of a reader, scribe, or adaptive technology and/or tutorial assistance.

Mobility Disabilities: range from limited stamina to conditions that limit a person's coordination or ability to move.  Modifications may include accessible classroom furniture and/or location, adaptive computers and software, extended time for exams, scribe, a reduced course load, accessible transportation, access to personal care assistance, or note taking assistance. 

Psychiatric Disabilities: may include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.  Modifications may include a separate room for exams, extended time for exams, modified deadlines or reduced course load, ready access to mental health professionals and a pharmacy.

Vision Impairments: ranges from legal blindness (significant or total loss of vision) to eye conditions which substantially limit one's field of vision.  Modifications may include mobility orientation, advance copies of syllabi and course materials, alternate formats of reading materials, reader/scribe, or adaptive technology. 

*It is important to note that countries and study abroad programs overseas may not provide similar accommodations and accessibility.

Advantages of Early Disclosure

  • Advance preparation for any disability-related needs, including learning about what services and options are available for arranging and requesting accommodation needs.  This will provide all parties involved adequate time to give you everything you need to be successful. 
  • An opportunity to build connections with individuals in the host community who may have similar disabilities and accommodation needs. This is also critical in building connections around campus with faculty and administrators.
  • The reduction of stress that could come from trying to hide your disability, which could only make the issue worse. 
  • This is a great opportunity to increase disability awareness and be an advocate for students with disabilities who are also considering studying abroad. 
  • Provides you the opportunity to dictate and lobby for your own needs. 

*information provided by University of California

Tips for Students with Disabilities

  • Once again, it is highly recommended that students disclose their disability early on in the process of searching for programs.
  • It is also recommended that students meet with an adviser in the disability support office to talk about specific accommodation needs.

  • Meet with the Study Abroad Adviser Meaghann Myers-Smith ( if you feel your disability needs special accommodations to find a good program fit.

  • We recommend that students discuss the study abroad process, program options, and possible funding options with their families.

  • Research programs and compare various study abroad programs.

  • If you are in need of medication overseas, we recommend that you do some research of what is available overseas.  It is recommended that you also speak to your primary care physician about having enough medication for the duration of your entire program. 

  • Research the local culture of where you might be interested in studying, interning, or volunteering. 

  • Ultimately, flexibility is the key to a successful study abroad. 

Resources for Students with Disabilities

  • MIUSA is the national leader on providing disability support and resources for students for disabilities going abroad. 

  • Video from the University of Pittsburgh chronicling student with disabilities studying abroad.

  • Accommodation Request Form.
  • Air travel tips for students with disabilities webpage.

  • Download TSA's disability or medical notification card.

  • Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund: This website provides travelers a comprehensive breakdown of each countries disability laws.  This information can enable you to better understand the disability culture of where you wish to travel.  

  • Survival Guide for Disability Students Going Abroad.

  • Global Access: Travel network for disabled individuals going abroad.  

  • Wheelchair Diaries: A student discouraged from studying abroad with cerebral palsy travels to Europe and documents his journey. 

  • Access-Able is a website resource that provides various resources for individuals with disabilities hoping to travel internationally. 

Funding your Study Abroad 

Below is a list of resources students should examine when budgeting for their study abroad program and/or their accommodation needs.  This is not an exhaustive list so we encourage students to conduct their own searches.

  • Students receiving Vocational Rehabilitation may be able to use their funds towards a study abroad if:
    • The student is a registered VR client.
    • The study abroad program directly relates to the student's educational goals.
    • Students must exhaust all other funding sources.
  • Students who are receiving Social Security/Supplemental Security Income may also be able to use their funds toward a study abroad program if:
    • The student is sponsored by a US education institution.
    • The course of study is not available in the United States.
    • Study abroad must substanially enhance the students ability of employment.  
    • Other requirments can be found at:
  • Scholarships and Grants

GVSU Students with Disabilities Success Stories                                                                    

Juanita Lillie              

Costa Rica, 2013                                                  

"I adventured to Costa Rica in Winter 2013 to earn some credits towards my Spanish Language and Literature Degree. There I went surfing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and participated in many more activities that people did not think I was going to participate in because of my blindness. However, my very supportive family in the United States, caring host family, and wonderful friends within my program assisted me to make the once in a life time experience possible.

Through the experience there were many lessons that my trip to Costa Rica taught me. For example, I am more empathetic and accepting towards ideas, lifestyles, and the way people complete things within different cultures and families. Also, the ability to advocate for myself and others has strenghtened me tremendously. In fact, I am trying to motivate other students with all types of disabilities (visible and hidden) to go abroad. Finally, I want to see more study abroad and exchange programs be inclusive when reaching out to students with disabilities. I know that all students can and should study abroad which means do not let others steer you away."



Page last modified April 8, 2014