Students with Disabilities

Accommodation Request Information

The Accommodation Request Form should be completed by any student with a disability who believes they may need accommodation assistance during their study abroad program. The student should print out the form and schedule an appointment to meet with a Disability Support Resources (DSR) adviser. With your DSR adviser, collaboratively complete the form, listing all possible accommodation needs you may have at any point during the program. The Study Abroad Adviser in the Padnos International Center, Meaghann Myers-Smith, can assist you with any questions you may have about the process either through email ([email protected]) or phone ((616) 331-3898). Please refer to the Disability Accommodation Flow Chart for a visual guide which depicts every step taken to complete your program accommodation requests.

Study Abroad is for Students with Disabilities!

Incredible international opportunities do indeed exist for all students. In order to better prepare for these opportunities, we strongly encourage students with disabilities to disclose early on through our accommodation request form. This will allow Disability Support Resources (DSR) and Padnos International Center (PIC) to work together and better assist each student throughout the study abroad process. 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 of the Rehabilitation Act and the American Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with 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

There are a various disabilities that might need accommodation abroad.  The list of 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 or 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 make any necessary arrangements. 
  • 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 
  • This is a great opportunity to increase disability awareness and be an advocate for students with disabilities who are also considering studying abroad. 

*Information provided by University of California

Tips for Students with Disabilities

  • 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.
  • Discuss academic goals with an academic adviser
  • Meet with the financial aid office to discuss possible accommodation funding abroad
  • Meet with the Study Abroad Adviser Meaghann Myers-Smith ([email protected]) if you feel your disability needs special accommodations to find a good program fit.
  • Research 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, independence is the key to a successful study abroad. 

Resources for Students with Disabilities

Questions to Consider

  • What mode of transportation is primarily used and is it accessible? (Buses, trains, taxies or by foot…etc)
  • Are sidewalks and streets accessible for mobility devices such as canes and wheelchairs?
  • Do accessibility building codes exist for things like museums, hostels and restaurants?
  • How do classes tend to be taught? (lecture, hands-on, discussion, labs…etc)
  • How is communication done with professors?  (Typically, office hours abroad tend to be more infrequent but professors may also be more available to meet outside of the university, i.e. restaurants, coffee shops…etc)
  • Is housing located close to the university?
  • What emergency medical health services are available?
  • Is there a 24/7 emergency contact?
  • What medications are allowed in the host country?
  • Will I be responsible for any additional costs associated with disability accommodation abroad?

Some of our partnerships and affiliated providers offer information or a specific contact for students with disabilities abroad

Funding Students with Disabilities

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 substantially enhance the student's ability of employment. 
    • Other requirements can be found at:

Scholarships and Grants

Fund for Education Abroad

Gilman Scholarship

Christianson Grant

Dr. Natalia Gómez Passport Scholarship

Students With Disabilities

GVSU Student 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 strengthened 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."

For more resources for students with disabilities, follow Juanita's page on Facebook, Abroad With Disabilities.

Share Your Story!

Have you studied abroad with a disability? Congratulations! You did it! We want to hear about your stories. Please contact DSR and PIC to share your story so that future study abroad students with disabilities can read about all the fun adventures and advice you have.

Page last modified February 29, 2024