7 Tips to Cope with Student life Abroad as a Disabled Student

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Amira Adel

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19 July, 2022

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4 mins read

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Tips and Advice

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There are a lot of other individuals out there who, like you, wanted to travel the globe and made it happen and who want to help you make it happen, too, regardless of whether you have impairments or chronic illnesses. So here are seven tips for coping with student life abroad as a disabled student.

Casita students

1. Get a Diagnosis and Develop a Treatment Plan

Myoclonic epilepsy is a chronic health problem that Kerry D. Johnson II, a former study abroad student who went untreated while abroad, had trouble communicating and dealing with. 

He says: “My second day in Costa Rica with my host family was one of the most challenging because I had a seizure in front of them but could not explain to them what had happened. They did not sign up to house a student with a disability, especially since I could not offer guidance on how to best assist me with my condition…”

Due to his personal experience, he advises other students with undetected health conditions—whether they are experiencing seizures like Kerry or chronic pain—to seek a diagnosis before their programme starts, create a treatment plan, and become comfortable with that plan in the local language of the city they’re going to.

2. Pick a Programme Offering Support and Services 

According to Victoria Hudak, a Global Programming Coordinator at UC Santa Cruz, with the application, you can get a feel of the program's level of support and experience with accommodating students with impairments.

“If the programme starts asking questions about disability accommodations in the application form, or any other intake forms, that tells me that somewhere along the line, the people who put the programme together have some sort of experience accommodating students with disabilities, and they started putting services in place to help disabled students, even if their services are not robust,” Victoria said.

So, asking questions of this nature is a good indication and a good place to start when determining whether a programme will be supportive of your needs. By visiting the program's and host institution's websites and seeing if they have any easily accessible resources for students with disabilities, you can learn more about how supportive and accommodating a programme will be.

Additionally, you can contact the programme staff members directly to discuss your unique needs and assess their level of openness and support even before you submit an application. This will say a lot about how they’re going to treat you in the future.

3. Make Sure You Have Access to the Resources Needed

Researching a programme, destination, and the resources available early is essential to making sure you have everything you need before you travel, so that you won't have to fumble around looking for help and resources when you get there.

You can do this by visiting the websites of your programme and the hosting institution, as well as by speaking with the following specialists who should help you along the way:

  • Medical doctors

  • Therapists

  • Study abroad advisors

  • Disability student services at the university

  • Pre-departure programme provider support staff

  • On-site programme support staff

  • Host university disability student services

  • On-site medical support

  • Any other professionals whose services you think you might need support from

4. Research Your  Destination

Victoria, an autistic former study abroad student, talked about how she dealt with her host mother's perception of her condition: 

“She didn't believe me. Part of her reasoning was both cultural and generational. In her opinion, people with disabilities like mine just live locked away in special homes, but because I was out and about in public, talking with other people, and going to school, I couldn't possibly be autistic.”

It’s recommended that you do some research about disabled student life and how locals perceive your disabilities when deciding to travel to a new country or city. This helps you prepare better as well as be prepared for people’s reactions to your disabilities. 

5. Thoroughly Review and Discuss Healthcare Options

Students with disabilities who have travelled to study abroad before recommend that students with disabilities should get free food, as well as other additional services and resources.

You might think that you won’t need all these resources; however, you will definitely need them and they are going to make your life easier! So don’t be shy about taking advantage of any additional services and resources. 

You might have access to world-class medical care, mental health care, food, and so much more. The people who can help you obtain the specifics of that information should be your local institution's staff and your on-site support team. Make sure to have these conversations as early as possible. 

6. Identify Your Needs

It can be easier to guarantee that you'll have a room you'll feel comfortable and happy to live in while travelling if you can describe what accessible accommodation looks like to you and emphasise certain accommodation needs as well.

You should think about your identities as well. True accessibility for everyone entails the absence of prejudice against any aspect of our identities. Tell your advisors how you would like to be accommodated so that you can live life without fear of being treated unfairly because of your impairments or other identities.

Therefore, consider what special features and accessibility criteria your living situation needs to have in order to be happy and healthy.

7. Just Go For It! 

Student life abroad as a disabled student isn’t as bad as you think it is. Don’t be afraid to embark on new challenges! If you’ve been dreaming about studying abroad, then don’t let anything stop you from fulfilling your dream. Don't forget to look for accessible accommodation to ensure you have the support you need while living abroad. 

There you have it. Just follow these tips about disabled student life and go for it! You can also learn how to prepare to study abroad as a student with a disability


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