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Creating Accessibility Abroad: The Importance of International Opportunities for Students with Disabilities Kelly Bryant University of St. Thomas

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD Creating Accessibility Abroad: The Importance of International Opportunities for Students with Disabilities There are many populations on todays campus whose opportunities to learn outside the classroom are limited, which includes studying abroad. Students with disabilities are one group whose experiences are limited. A person with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (Hameister, Matthews, Hosley, & Groff, 1999, p. 82). People with disabilities make up 10-15% of the worlds population according to the World Health Organization (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). It is also a population that is constantly in flux because anyone can become a person with a disability through many situations which include aging, injury, crimes, and war (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Students with disabilities make up 3% of participants who study abroad, which is an improvement of over 1% from 1998 (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Because so few students with disabilities study abroad, it is vital to create awareness of the importance of study abroad. To do this, it is imperative to consider the overall importance of studying abroad and why students with disabilities do not study abroad. This includes a further investigation into the different areas of students with disabilities and barriers they face, why it is particularly important for students with disabilities to study abroad, and what student affairs professionals must do to help create better opportunities. Overall Importance of Study Abroad Opportunities The chance to study abroad is a major opportunity for any college student. This experience allows students to grow through several areas of development by meaning making focusing on developing new understandings of social issue, privilege, and stereotypes, reframing experiences upon participants return, and shifting sense of purpose and career

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD planning (Jones, Rowan-Kenyan, Mei-Yen Ireland, & Niehaus, 2012, p. 201). This development of meaning making includes getting out of the bubble, which involves students being immersed in unfamiliar places, and learning how to adapt (Jones et al., 2012). Getting out of the bubble includes boundary crossing, where students cross between the familiar and unfamiliar in order to make sense of experiences from the context of the people they encounter (Jones et al., 2012). As a result, students become more open-minded about the world around them (Jones et al., 2012). Another outcome of study abroad is gaining new understandings about themselves as well as the issues and cultures that were a focus of their immersion experiences (Jones et al., 2012, p. 209). These lessons are all very important for a college students development, as it is essential to accentuate the importance of engaging students in their own learning processes (Reason & Broido, 2011), and every student should have the right to learn such lessons. Because of an increasingly global world, study abroad programs and international education provide very important opportunities (Twill & Guzzo, 2012). As a result, an increased stress on the importance of internationalization has emerged from this growing importance of study abroad (Jones et al., 2012). There is a growth in internationalization because university and college presidents have increasingly established it as a central part of the institutional mission and state publicly that a higher percentage of undergraduate students should have an international experience (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). Many university departments are even requiring students to study abroad (Soneson & Fisher, 2011). There is a constant need to be more globalized as todays world becomes more connected, and this includes the experience of studying abroad (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). More work places are becoming diverse and are looking for employers who demonstrate ease with

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD intercultural communication, strong adaptation skills learned from living in other cultures, and fluency in other languages (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008, p. 202). Thus, experience in internationalization is very important for many students in securing a job in todays world (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Since studying abroad has become a great necessity in the job market, students should seriously consider taking advantage of this opportunity. Why Students with Disabilities Do Not Study Abroad Lack of Information/Resources One of the reasons students with disabilities did not take advantage of opportunities to study abroad was the lack of information and resources available. The number one barrier for students who studied abroad was the lack of awareness of study abroad opportunities (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Students with disabilities were not aware of the opportunities because there was a limited amount of information available. Many colleges and universities lack a consistent process for recruiting and advising students with disabilities and often have insufficient knowledge about the accessibility of study sites for these students (Johnson, 2000, p. 46). Students were then not encouraged to study abroad (Johnson, 2000). One way of increasing awareness for students with disabilities who want to study abroad is having resources in the institutions disability services office or other disability service support agencies (Twill & Guzzo, 2012). It is also vital for study abroad offices to have more detailed information about specific programs, as students with disabilities often require more information about overseas sites in order to determine if a particular program is right for them (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). An approach that allows programs, their staff and students to have a more comprehensive set of information to support decision-making will lead to more effective

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD programming and greater access for all students (Soneson & Cordano, 2009, p. 272). Supplementary information, then, is essential in order to encourage students to study abroad. Requesting Necessary Accommodations It can be extremely difficult for students with disabilities to obtain the necessary accommodations needed for studying abroad. Many students are afraid they will not have access to the same resources in the Unites States, so they choose not to study abroad (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). They give up because they fear there will be a lack of accommodation. In many countries it can be hard for a student to acquire accommodations. For example, one international education office was worried that students with physical disabilities had been turned away by other campuses because of a combined lack of accessibility in host countries and a lack of willingness by faculty to explore and make accommodations for all students (Twill & Guzzo, 2012, p. 81-82). Many host countries were not willing to explore options for students with disabilities, so students were discouraged from taking advantage of an international opportunity. Lack of Inclusion in Programs for Non-Disabled Students Many students with disabilities are concerned with the need of inclusion in programs which also include students without disabilities. Students with disabilities strongly favor participating in an inclusionary study abroad program (Hameister et al., 1999). Students with disabilities do not like to be in programs solely with others who have disabilities, and will have less of an interest to study abroad if inclusive programs are not an option. It is imperative students with disabilities are seen as students first and foremost (Hameister et al., 1999). Students with disabilities are no different from other students, and must be allowed to learn, grow, and make mistakes (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008, p. 211). However, many times this is not

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD the case and they do not have the same opportunities as students who do not have disabilities. Students with disabilities then do not feel included, and do not think study abroad pertains to them. Views From Other Cultures About Disabilities Many times, students with disabilities who want to study abroad are worried about how other people in a different country will view their disability. Often, a visible disability is not viewed the same in all countries (Johnson, 2000). For example, in some countries disabilities may be viewed as a charity concern rather than a civil rights concern (Johnson, 2000, p. 48). It is imperative for students to feel comfortable with their disability (Johnson, 2000). It is important for students with disabilities to be able to interact with the local community in another culture (Soneson & Fisher, 2011). If they are not, they will be discouraged from studying abroad. Lack of Encouragement One of biggest barriers is the lack of encouragement students with disabilities receive to study abroad. Disability spread refers to the tendency for nondisabled persons to exaggerate the impact of a disability based on stereotypes and myths about the type of disability (Hameister et al., 1999, p. 87). However, many times a persons disability represents only one aspect of everyday life (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Students with disabilities are more than capable of developing ways for arranging access in advance, and have a capacity for problem-solving barriers or changes in conditions along the way (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). For example, a student studying in Scotland who used a wheelchair discovered other ways to get around if areas looked inaccessible (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). When someones disability is seen as the largest component of their personality, we only see the persons limitations, not their unique and

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD human characteristics (Hameister et al., 1999, p. 87). Students are discouraged from study abroad because the only part taken into account is their disability: therefore, people assume that a student with a disability would not be able to study abroad. The Study Abroad Process for Four Functional Differences Four main functional categories of functional differences for disabilities include: physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional/behavioral (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). Physical Functional Differences This category focuses on two types of conditions: mobility conditions and systemicrelated conditions. Mobility conditions center on different coordination abilities and/or abilities to move limbs or bodies (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). It is very important to realize that students with a physical barrier do not consider themselves confined for example, to a wheelchair, but confinement does occur as a result of the physical environment (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). One example of a student with a disability related to mobility conditions is Reid Davenport, who was discouraged from studying abroad because he used a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy (A Wheelchair User, 2012). Davenport then challenged those who said he could not study abroad by traveling to Europe and making a film titled Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up, depicting his experience abroad (A Wheelchair User, 2012). Systemic-related functional abilities center on conditions affecting one or more of the bodys systems, which include respiratory, immunological, neurological, circulatory, or digestive systems (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). It is important to realize that although one may not believe it is possible to overcome a more restrictive environment abroad, all kinds of barriers can be mediated (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Sensory Functional Differences

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD This category relates to the ranges of the abilities with the bodys senses (Soneson & Cordano, 2009, p. 273). Hearing and vision loss are two major sensory functional differences. Interpretations of disabilities such as hearing impairment, especially deafness, are very different in other cultures. Deafness differs from other disabilities due to the use of language as the cultural identifier. The literature suggests increasing contact and communication with the host culture is positively linked to the international experience (Peisner, 2011, p. 45). Deaf and hard of hearing students are at a disadvantage because they are not able to communicate in the way others would be able to. There is also an experienced apathy towards their presence (Peisner, 2011, p. 45). Students with vision loss must have the necessary accommodations for study abroad. Individuals may have an eye condition which prevents them from reading text for extended periods of time, a major loss in their field of vision, or total blindness (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). Cognitive Functional Differences This category is related to the range of neurological conditions that affect the ability to listen, speak, read, write, reason, or compute (Soneson & Cordano, 2009, p. 273). Conditions range from stuttering to a large range in functional ability to read or write, also known as learning disabilities (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). Cultural attitudes towards learning disabilities in the U.S. as well as overseas can have a major impact on a students decision to study abroad. There are many students with cognitive function differences who do not participate in study abroad programs because they may misperceive accommodations for their learning disability are either necessary or unavailable (Shames & Alden, 2005). However, students with learning disabilities benefit greatly from study abroad experiences. Many of these students have increased academic curiosity, social success, improved time management skills, confidence

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD levels, and language abilities because of the intensity and novelty of short-term study abroad programs (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). Emotional and Behavioral Functional Differences This category incorporates neurological conditions that are visible through emotional or behavioral symptoms such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia (Soneson & Cordano, 2009). Some study abroad professionals may consider a students psychiatric disability a problem and may think differences in the host cultural are too stressful (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). However, students in this category think of their disability as only one factor and will be able to manage with appropriate support and approaches overseas (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). The Importance of Studying Abroad for Students with Disabilities Studying abroad provides essential experiences to students with disabilities. Overcoming obstacles and realizing their full potential is one reason why it is so important for students with disabilities to study abroad. It is vital for disabled students to envision they can survive and thrive in a culture and environment much unlike their own (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008), despite others assumptions. Once the students are abroad, it becomes clear to them that many fears were unfounded, and even those who do encounter difficulties consider the rewards to far outweigh the challenges (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008, p. 206). Disabled students who study abroad leave their experience knowing they can make it through numerous difficulties. Students with disabilities who participated in study abroad cited increased confidence, a broader awareness of their abilities, as well as stronger communication and problem-solving skills (Hameister et al., 1999, p. 84). Students with disabilities gain a broader sense of themselves through overcoming these obstacles.

CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD Exposure to other countries and cultures overseas, and their different perceptions of disability, can also have an influence on students with disabilities. For example, when Reid Davenport decided to go abroad after being discouraged from international opportunities, he saw how other people with disabilities in numerous countries lived (A Wheelchair User, 2012). The opportunity for students with disabilities to challenge themselves will allow for a reinterpretation of intercultural immersion (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008). What Student Affairs Professionals Must Do Create More Accessible Environments In order for students with disabilities to feel like they can study abroad, it is important to have more accessible environments within home campus communities in study abroad offices. The most prominent part of working in student affairs is to focus work directly on students and students development and learning (Reason & Broido, 2011). Education abroad offices should request an assessment of their physical space and signage to determine what steps could be taken to help facilitate access for students with disabilities (Soneson & Fisher, 2011, p. 63). For example, having office signage in Braille or program materials at a height accessible for students in wheelchairs would allow students to feel more included while thinking about study abroad opportunities (Soneson & Fisher, 2011). More accessible environments add to a more inclusive environment for all students, which is vital for students with disabilities, because if universities believe that competing in a global environment is important for students, then that commitment and opportunity must extend to and include students with disabilities (Twill & Guzzo, 2012, p. 85). To create these opportunities, more accessible environments would allow students with disabilities to know they are welcome. Create Better Resources Applicable to Students with Disabilities


CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD Because students with disabilities are an underrepresented population within study abroad (Hameister et al., 1999), it is important to create materials and events to publicize study abroad geared towards these students. For example, written materials should be available in modified formats such as large print, computer disk, and cassette tape (Hameister et al., 1999), and events should be held in physically accessible facilities with amplification systems of sign language interpreters, if needed (Hameister et al., 1999, p. 87). Students are also more likely to feel supported and welcomed if they can see themselves in the visual images of office displays (Soneson & Fisher, 2011, p. 63). Visual images of students with disabilities studying abroad on an offices website, promotional brochures, featured stories, and images displayed in the office will allow students with disabilities to be more welcome (Soneson & Fisher, 2011). It is central to have necessary resources available so students can research study abroad options and engage in their own process of learning (Fried, 2011). Collaborate with Other Student Affairs Offices Student affairs professionals must collaborate with other departments in order to give students with disabilities all the resources required to have a successful study abroad experience. Recognizing what one does not know and understanding that others can offer ideas for improved work are critical to professional life (Arminio, 2011, p. 478). It is especially important to work with disability service offices, because they can provide information about the types of accommodation (Hameister et al., 1999). Disability Service staff who participate would bring an expertise to helping students evaluate their needs (Twill & Guzzo, 2012, p. 84). It is therefore imperative for student affairs professionals to work closely with Disability Service staff. Other offices study abroad professionals should consider working with are the Financial Aid office, Academic Advising offices, and Counseling and Health services (Soneson & Fisher,


CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD 2011). It is also important to collaborate with faculty who may participate in study abroad programs in order to develop a shared vision - a common agenda - for student learning (Consolvo & Dannells, 2009, p. 89). Together, these departments can provide students with disabilities resources in many different areas. Discussion It is imperative students with disabilities be given the same opportunities to study abroad in order to grow and gain an international experience vital to todays job market. To exclude the perspective of people with disabilities from an intercultural experience is to ignore the life experience of 10 to 15% of a culture (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008, p. 214). With the appropriate accommodations and resources, students with disabilities have the opportunity to obtain successful study abroad experiences. Overcoming obstacles and obtaining a broader outlook on the world are some benefits for students with disabilities who study abroad. In order to gain these experiences, student affairs professionals must work together to ensure these students receive study abroad opportunities. After all, inclusion is only possible once someone has suspended disbelief, empowered the student to take the lead, and normalized diversity (Scheib & Mitchell, 2008, p. 215). For these reasons, it is vital that students with disabilities are able to attain opportunities to study abroad.


CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD References Arminio, J. (2011). Professionalism. In J.H. Schuh, S.R. Jones, S.R. Harper, & Assoc. (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession. (5th ed.). (pp. 468-481). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Consolvo, C. & Dannells, M. (2009). Collaboration with academic affairs and faculty. In M.J. Amey, & L.M. Reesor (Eds.). Beginning your journey: A guide for new professionals in student affairs (3rd ed.). (pp. 89-108) United States of America: NASPA. Fried, J. (2011). Ethical standards and principles. In J.H. Schuh, S.R. Jones, S.R. Harper, & Assoc. (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession. (5th ed.). (pp. 96-119). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Hameister, B.G., Matthews, P.R., Hosley, N.S., & Groff, M.C. (1999). College students with disabilities and study abroad: Implications for international education staff. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 5(2), 81-100. Johnson, D. (2000). Enhancing out-of-class opportunities for students with disabilities. New Directions for Students Services, 91, 41-53. Jones, S.R., Rowan-Kenyon, H.T., Mei-Yen Ireland, S., & Niehaus, E. (2012). The meaning student make as participants in short-term immersion programs. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 201-220. Peisner, E.S. (2011). The internationalization of experiential learning for deaf and hard of hearing college students: A case study of accessibility and globalization (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses. (UMI No: 3477983) Reason, R. D. & Broido, E. M. (2011). Philosophies and values. In J.H. Schuh, S.R. Jones, S.R. Harper, & Assoc. (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession. (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Scheib, M. & Mitchell, M. (2008). Awaiting a world experience no longer: Its time for all students with disabilities to go overseas. In T. Berberi, E. C. Hamilton, & I.M. Sutherland (Eds.). Worlds apart?: Disability and foreign language learning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Shames, W., & Alden, P. (2005). The impact of short-term study abroad on the identity development of college students with learning disabilities and/or ad/hd. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 11, 1-31. Soneson, H.M., & Cordano, R.J. (2009). Universal design and study abroad: (Re-) designing programs for effectiveness and access. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 18, 269-288.


CREATING ACCESSIBILITY ABROAD Soneson, H.M., & Fisher, S. (2011). Education abroad for students with disabilities: Expanding access. New Directions for Student Services, (134), 59-72. Twill, S.E., & Guzzo, G.R. (2012). Lessons learned from a disabilities accessible study abroad trip. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25(1), 81-86. A wheelchair user, discouraged from study abroad, makes a film about accessibility in Europe. (June 18, 2012). The Chronicles of Higher Education, 58(39). Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.stthomas.edu /ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE%7CA293663639&v=2.1&u=clic_stthomas&it=r&p =ITOF&sw=w&authCount=1