Education Abroad


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Education Abroad for Students with Disabilities

Access Abroad is a collaborative effort at the University of North Alabama between the Office of International Affairs and Disability Support Services. This partnership facilitates equal access for students seeking to pursue an education abroad experience and to provide information on accessibility at overseas sites.

Students with disabilities can go abroad; UNA encourages the participation of students with disabilities! Going abroad on an organized program where there is education abroad staff or faculty, and other exchange students around, can be a big comfort in knowing you don’t have to figure out tough situations that come up abroad alone.

Education abroad is one of the greatest experiences available to you and UNA's Education Abroad staff can help you identify programs that are best for you. We can provide information about possible accommodations and their approximate cost. Though we cannot guarantee accessibility at all locations, we can advise students if a particular site appears to be inaccessible and we can recommend an alternate site, if needed.

NEVER let your disability discourage you from pursuing an education abroad program; earn academic credit, expand your cultural competence, and become more self-aware. The Office of International Affairs and Disability Support Services are here to guide you!

Students with disabilities can and do participate in all education abroad programs at UNA! Just as cultures differ, so do disability accommodations and perceptions abroad. Disability Support Services (DSS) and the Office of International Affairs are here to assist you before and during your program abroad. DSS and the OIA are committed to providing reasonable accommodations for any program without fundamentally altering any component of the education abroad program and student experience! 

1. PLAN early, at least one year in advance of your intended Education Abroad date - and communicate with advisors at Disability Support Services (DSS) and the Education Abroad Office (EAO). The key for any education abroad participant is flexibility and you need to do your homework beforehand. 

2. GATHER information from your departmental academic advisor as soon as possible. Discuss how Education Abroad can fit with your academic program. 

3. RESEARCH various Education Abroad Program options. Consider the connections to your educational and personal goals as well as the requirements for acceptance to an Education Abroad Program. Learn what types of accommodations are possible in your host country, and be flexible and open to different ways of accommodating your disability. Many disability services that are provided on a UNA’s campus may not be available overseas. For example, some countries don't offer note-taker services or may not recognize learning disabilities. It is best for you to identify several programs that meet your academic interests, since different program locations will have different types or levels of accessibility. It is important that you do your research and keep in mind that disability laws are different in each country.

4. ATTEND the fall UNA Education Abroad Fair to speak with faculty, staff, and previous student participants about their programs. 

5. IDENTIFY accommodations that would minimize barriers and enhance your participation and enjoyment while abroad. Keep in mind that due to differing environments, you may need assistance abroad that you do not typically need in the United States. As soon as you are comfortable, disclose your needs to a UNA staff member in DSS or OIA.

6. COMPILE information on each program relating to your individual needs (e.g. arranged and public transportation, housing, alternative test taking, course requirements, etc.). Keep in mind that other countries have their own regulations concerning accommodations and are not obligated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

7. NARROW your options to one or three programs of interest. 

8. DISCLOSE early. Whether this be a permanent or temporary disability you are responsible for ensuring that the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) is aware of your disabilities and that you are providing DSS with appropriate documentation. Please visit the Documentation of Disabilitlies page for guidelines on documentation and how to register with DSS, if you are not already. Appropriate arrangements and reasonable accommodations need to be made in advance. Some accommodations may require a three - to six - months advance notice. Even if you are not sure you will need accommodations abroad, it is still important to make potential needs known so that a plan is in place should an unexpected issue arise. If you disclose needs at the last minute, there may be a delay in discussed accommodations. If you require accommodations that are not available in the host country, you may be advised to postpone participation and seek out other programs. It is important that you communicate your needs early and consider alternative ways to meet these so both offices on campus can assist in providing you all the information about possible accommodations and their approximate cost.

9. SPEAK to the Program Coordinator responsible for your selected program(s) and meet with someone from the Disability Support Services Office. It is extremely important for the (DSS) Office to engage with you in an honest evaluation of your disability, what is required to manage it, and potential issues that could occur while abroad. Talk openly and honestly with your program leader and meet with someone from the Disability Support Services Office. It is extremely important for the Disability Support Services Office to engage with you in an honest evaluation of your disability, what is required to manage it, and potential issues that could occur while abroad.  If you are registered with Disability Support Services Office, to receive classroom testing accommodation, you may be eligible for overseas accommodations, if they can be arranged. Identify several programs that meet your academic interests, since overseas sites will have different types of accessibility. Advising about program fit, course selection, and personal needs is a collaborative effort shared by UNA officials who will be working with you to make your UNA experience successful. Your program leader, the Disability Support Services Office, and possibly the host institution abroad will work together, in an interactive process, to assess your needs and discuss accommodations that are possible.

10. DEVELOP a budget and a financial plan for accomplishing your goal. If you require a personal care attendant, keep in mind that it will be your responsibility to make such arrangements. There will likely be a significant cost to you for any personal care assistance, so plan ahead to ensure that you can afford the necessary arrangements well in advance of your program. 

11. SELECT an Education Abroad Program

12. ASK questions after choosing a program and before departure

  • What is the contact information for local disabilities services organizations in my host country?
  • If I wish to take a service animal with me, what are the domestic and international regulations on doing so?
  • What mobile apps or other tools that could help me abroad?
  • Are my medications legal in my host country and other countries I may be traveling in or through?
  • Are the same accommodations I receive at UNA available to me abroad?
  • Will I have the same access to medication and physical or mental health services abroad?
  • Will my housing accommodate my needs?
  • What solutions can I plan for now to manage new challenges I might face abroad?

13. APPLY!

Questions to Ask as You Prepare for Your Education Abroad Program

Processing Disabilities (LD, ADHD, Psychological, Brain Injuries): 

  • Will you need audio recordings for lectures?
  • What are your host university’s policies on extended exam time?
  • Is the host university willing to authorize your usual test accommodations based on American medical documentation?
  • What tutoring services might be available and at what cost?
  • If you need to see a doctor or therapist for psychological health while abroad, can you establish this contact before departure?
  • Have you considered bringing a personal recording device for lectures? Do you have permission to record lectures?
  • Are books available electronically?
  • Who will fund any special accommodations?


Chronic Systemic Disorders:

  • If you have respiratory problems or severe allergies, what is the air and environmental quality in the city you are considering?
  • If your condition is affected by temperatures, what is the climate in your prospective host city?
  • What prior notification has been given to the instructors regarding potential absences should your condition flare up unexpectedly? Is there an attendance policy for the program you are considering?
  • If you normally receive test accommodations, do you have authorization through the host university to receive the same accommodations abroad?
  • What special dietary considerations might you have?
  • If there are extra expenses associated with special accommodations, who will fund these?


Deaf or Hard of Hearing: 

  • Will you need an interpreter or Real-time Captioning or Computer Assisted Real-time Translation (CART)? Who will fund this accommodation?
  • Where/how will the interpreter be hired?
  • What is the hourly rate for interpreters in the host country? (Note that interpreter costs vary widely from country to country and within the same country.)
  • Does the interpreter know American Sign Language? Sign language is not universal and may differ between countries that have the same spoken language. Find out the differences before leaving. It may be possible to depart early to learn the new sign language.
  • If you are taking a personal FM system, can you obtain batteries in your host country that work for your device?
  • Who will notify your instructor of the need to wear the FM microphone?
  • Will you need a note taker?
  • Are captioned videos available?
  • Who will fund other special accommodations?


Mobility/Orthopedic Disabilities:

  • Will you take one or two wheelchairs? Electric or manual?
  • Do you need a transformer? Is the voltage in your host country compatible with your transformer?
  • How will you ship your chairs abroad?
  • Where can your chair be repaired abroad?
  • Do you need to make additional arrangements to get from the airport to the orientation site or to your host university?
  • Are the streets and/or sidewalks paved or cobblestone? Are there curb cuts for wheelchair access?
  • What is the accessibility of the host university and city (elevators, bathrooms, classrooms, housing, transportation, etc.)?
  • Is voice recognition software available?
  • Will you need note takers, scribes or transcribers?
  • What kind of field trips are part of your program? Are they accessible?
  • Are lab or library assistants available in your host country?
  • Who will fund any special accommodations?


Visual Disabilities:

  • Have you contacted the consulate of your host country to determine if you will need to put your guide dog in quarantine?
  • Will special housing or food arrangements be necessary for your dog? Is your dog allowed into the classroom?
  • Are alternate formats available? (books on tape, Braille, e-text, scanning, CCTV, etc.).
  • Will you need a mobility assistant to help you?
  • Have you obtained maps of your host city and enlarged them to become familiar with directions before departure?
  • What kind of test accommodations will you need?
  • Is there Braille signage on buildings, elevators, classroom, ATMs, etc.?
  • Will you have access to computer software to write papers or read assignments?
  • Who will fund any special accommodations?

Disclose early! Appropriate arrangements and reasonable accommodations need to be made in advance. Some accommodations may require a three- to six-months advance notice. Even if you are not sure you will need accommodations abroad, it is still important to make potential needs known so that a plan is in place should an unexpected issue arise. Also, early disclosure will help you plan for the funding that you must secure. If you disclose needs at the last minute, there may be a delay in discussed accommodations.  If you require accommodations that are not available in the host country, you may be advised to postpone participation and seek out other UNA programs. 

 Advantages of Early Disclosure:

  • Advance preparation for any disability-related needs, including learning about available disability-related access or services and arranging or requesting reasonable accommodations promptly. This will give time to UNA program leaders and on-site staff to research necessary logistics and accommodations, if available, to help you have a accessible, rewarding, and safe experience. 
  • Connections with people in the host community with similar disabilities or to a community of people with disabilities. You can also find allies within program and disability services offices, the community of people with disabilities, and teachers, administrators and program staff to refer you to resources such as funding, accommodations and disability organizations.
  • The opportunity to increase disability awareness, reverse negative stereotypes, and present positive models of disability to others. 
  • Reduction in stress that may come with trying to hide a disability, or in worrying who might assist if in a disability-related emergency situation.
  • Being proactive about self-advocacy and communicating personal preferences and needs to those around you. Participate in the decision-making and planning processes and advocate for your own needs. 


The UNA Office of Disability Support Services (DSS), at your request, will sit down with you and documenting the disability and accommodations you are receiving on your campus. DSS will then send this document to the host university and/or host country program contact so specialized staff in the host country can assess whether similar accommodations can be arranged and the cost, if any. The local disability specialist may need to communicate directly with you if they require more information.

***Bring a copy of your medical documentation abroad, including treatment and medication prescription information. Make copies of all documentation of these.  



It is fair to say that even with the best efforts of everyone involved with your accommodations request, a problem may occur. If this should happen, we strongly encourage you to let your program leader, the Disability Support Services Office, and the Office of International Affairs know so that we can work together to solve the problem as quickly as possible. Experience has shown us that many times a problem arises because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication; therefore, clarification can be a quick and effective solution. Education abroad requires adaptability for people with and without disabilities. Living in a new culture will be different. These differences will include disability services, perceptions, and accessibility standards from what you are used to in the U.S. it is important to be flexible and understanding.

Uncertainty and the Need to Plan

  • Be realistic about your condition and its impact, on your worst and best days.
  • Have a plan for what to do to during flare ups, along with a list of signs indicative of not being able to cope. Work a realistic day-to-day schedule and needs.
  • Regardless of how you have managed your disability on campus, you may have to address the tension between the program structure and the need for flexibility demanded by the typical, sometimes daily, fluctuations of your condition.
  • You may need to miss out on some program activities if the schedule is too full and does not correspond with your energy levels on a given day.
  • Other uncertainties for students with non-apparent disabilities going abroad relate to “flares” or other changes in condition related to stress, environmental factors such as weather or sunlight, diet and level of activity. These “flares” may occur less frequently than ongoing fluctuations, but with greater intensity when they do happen.
  • Most students with non-apparent disabilities find that the strategies to manage stressful conditions at home, often can get them through the stresses that they encounter during their experiences abroad. 

How to Plan Ahead


Step 1 

Research the accessibility of each site. Accommodations are always based on the specific, documented needs of each student with a disability. Determine which destinations best suit your academic and accommodation needs (see the disability sections below for questions to think about when planning). It is not possible to anticipate all concerns, but pre-departure planning will help.


Step 2 

The Disability Support Services, the Office of International Affairs, and your program leader will consult closely with you to determine, from your perspective, what accommodations listed on the campus Support Letter is required for you to be successful abroad. UNA cannot guarantee that facilities and/or support services will be available at each location abroad in the same range and quality as on you’re familiar with on UNA’s campus, however UNA’s DSS and OIA will continue to engage you and the education abroad program in the interactive accommodation process.


Step 3

Make a detailed list of your daily activities and note tasks you can accomplish alone and which ones will require assistance. For example, if you rely on a friend for assistance on your UNA campus, what duties does that person perform, and how will those tasks be accomplished in a new, unfamiliar setting and by someone unfamiliar to you during the education abroad program?

Among the resources available are UNA it is highly suggested that you complete the DSS self-advocacy workshop. Furthermore, you are more than welcome to meet with returnees who can outline potential challenges and adventures of a host country.

What to do Before you go:

  • Contact the Office of Student Financial Aid to determine your available scholarships and financial aid for your program abroad.
    • If you have scholarships, you need to ensure your education abroad experience is in compliance with the regulations of your specific scholarship.
    •  If you have loans, you may need to complete a form in order to transfer temporary power of attorney to a parent or guardian so your loan forms can be signed in your absence.
    • It is also recommended that you set up direct deposit so any refunds will go into your bank account while abroad.
  • Most financial aid can be applied to UNA sponsored Education Abroad Programs. You may find that the cost of going abroad is actually comparable to the on-campus costs.
  • Arrange in advance any funding required for accommodations abroad. 
  • If funding and/or scholarships are not available, make plans to cover any costs associated with accommodations that require payment.
  • Start a budget to cover accommodations and potential sources to cover your expenses (SSI, Vocational Rehab, scholarships, etc.). If you receive funding from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Rehabilitation representative should contact the Office of Student Financial Aid to identify a payment process.
  • UNA annually awards scholarships to UNA participants. Visit the UNA Education Abroad Scholarship page.

**It is highly recommended that you schedule a time to meet with Financial Aid on campus to discuss your account and

Scholarship Oppurtunites for Students with Disabilities:

  • 180 Medical Scholarship Program: for students with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, transverse myelitis, or neurogenic bladder
  • 1800 wheelchair Scholarship: students who apply must explore mobility issues on campus and/or express personal experiences with such issues
  • American Council for the Blind: for students with vision loss
  • Christine H Eide Memorial Scholarship: for students who are legally blind
  • CIEE Study Abroad/Mobility International
  • Council of Citizens with Low Vision International: offers several scholarships for students with low vision and those attending a school with programs for blindness and low vision studies
  • Eric Marder Scholarship Program of IDF: for students living with primary immunodeficiency diseases
  • Family Epilepsy Scholarship Program: for students living with epilepsy or family/caregivers of a person with epilepsy
  • Geoff Brachvogel Memorial Scholarship: for students with RSD, CRPS, or chronic pain
  • Incight Education: for any student with a disability
  • Lilly Reintegration Scholarship: for students with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and major depressive disorder
  • Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship: for students with ADHD
  • Novotni Scholarship: for students with ADHD
  • Patient Advocate Foundation: scholarships for students who have been diagnosed with and/or actively treated for a life threatening illness within the last 5 years
  • Proyecto Visión: a bilingual website for youth with disabilities
  • Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired: scholarships for areas of need (within education) directly related to hearing loss
  • Shire ADHD Scholarship Program: for students diagnosed with ADHD
  • The Organization for Autism Research: scholarship for students with Autism
  • Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults: scholarships for young adults who have or have had cancer, or have cared for a family member with cancer

Medications and Medical Care Abroad

Before departure, work on a plan with your physician or your campus University Health Services at Bennett Infirmary about medication management and medical care needs. If you take medications, inquire if your prescription is legal and available in the host country. Your doctor will determine, based on your medication, whether you can take an extra supply of medication that will last through your stay abroad.

***Bring a copy of your medical documentation abroad, including treatment and medication prescription information. Make copies of all documentation of these.  


Personal Assistants

Make sure the person has the necessary passport, visa, documentation, insurance, and immunizations for traveling and/or living abroad. Consult with your campus Office of International Affairs advisor and the program leader to ensure all documents are valid. Consider the following questions: Where will he or she live? (Some programs can only accommodate students.) What kind of funding will he or she need? If you will need to hire an assistant abroad, find out before departure what steps are needed and what funding will support this cost.