Information for Education Abroad Advisors

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Defining Disability

Defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and as such is protected under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Yes, the ADA does not apply abroad; however, the underlying philosophy is still to support our students with disabilities as much as possible with their needs as if it did apply abroad. This is what is called the “spirit” of access versus the legality of this law’s boundaries.

Learn about Person First Language vs. Identity First Language!

SSD is the centralized “hub” for students with disabilities on U-M Ann Arbor’s campus to receive academic accommodations. Academic accommodations may include support in a student’s classroom, testing and overall campus environments. Additionally, the SSD Office provides support with advocacy skill building, disability disclosure, and transition support.  


Disability Disclosure

What is disability disclosure? This is the voluntary act of revealing a disability for the purpose of receiving accommodations and/or providing awareness.


How might students with disabilities you work with disclose?

  • Varies with comfortable level of student
  • Can disclose verbally, in writing, using university-specific forms (i.e., SSD VISA Letter)
  • Often present in the form of stories
  • Can disclose fully their condition, partially, or nothing at all! 


Take Away: Disclosure is never required; ultimately a personal decision. It can happen at any time, even if the student is already abroad, and occur in a multiple of different modalities. Best way to support students: talking about their needs (don’t need to know their diagnosis).


Tips for encouraging disability disclosure:

  • Adding something like this to your email signatures: If you have an accommodation need for a planned meeting, please email me directly and I will do my best to make appropriate arrangements. Should you require any materials sent via this email address in an alternate/accessible format, please let me know. 
  • Ask every student you are advising if they have any accommodation needs while going abroad.
  • In any required forms, add an area to ask if a student has a disability/condition-related need.
  • Consider asking a student if they have had, or currently have, any accommodations.
  • Bring the topic of disability into the conversation ahead of time! This will support students to feel more comfortable disclosing, if they ever decide to do so, because they know students with disabilities have been thought of. This student population will know they are valued and considered in the study aboard process.
  • Do not expect to have the same experience with each student with a disability. Students will vary greatly in their comfort level in talking about their condition and disability-related needs.


Obligations surrounding student disclosure:

As the study abroad advisor, what can I ask students about their disability?

A direct inquiry about a student’s specific disability is likely unnecessary. Students generally can speak to their own needs and what this already looks like in their traditional education setting here at U-M. A safe question if you are unsure may be: “What services or other offices do you work with at Michigan? CAPS? SSD? Spectrum?” and see where the student guides the conversation. In general, focus on questions that create solutions or supports for those difficulties which the student may experience because of their condition. Ask questions more related to how a student is impacted. Just as any other student, whether they disclose their disability or not, support them to have the best experience possible and let them know that if circumstances change to follow back up with you.


What are my obligations if students disclose a disability? 

Follow up with that student about what that means for them: What concerns do they have and what resources might they need to be connected with? Mention the SSD Office as a support in requesting accommodations when going abroad; help them understand the process. Instill within the student the power to control what their disability-related information means to their study abroad experience.


What information are we allowed to share with our colleagues?

When communicating with other education abroad partners, obtain the student’s consent before sharing information related to their disability. Help the student understand why you might want to share their needs with another colleague - don’t want the student to ever be surprised that another staff member knows about them and their status as a student with a disability! Essentially, need to know basis on sharing this information, as FERPA guidelines still apply.


Advising Students with Disabilities Going Abroad

When advising students with disabilities, be honest about what you know regarding the culture, standards, and issues related to accessibility and access. If you have concerns that a certain abroad destination might not be a good fit for the student or think they would have difficulty navigating the abroad destination, bring these up to the student. At the end of the day, the student is in the “driver’s seat” to make the determination of what would be the best course of action for them. Just support students in making the best decision for them but providing them with information. Information is power and the more information they have, the better they are able to pick an abroad destination that best suits their needs. More information equates to a more informed decision for the student. For the study abroad context, SSD can also always help you and the student narrow down needs while they would be aboard (perhaps a team meeting)!

Student didn’t disclose in advance? Acquired a temporary disability/injury while studying abroad? Not immediately sure what the host institution is able to provide?

    1. Connect with us!! Appropriate arrangements should always be sought out with serious consideration and creativity, no matter when information related to a student’s condition comes to light. Collaborate with the SSD office, host institution, and most importantly the student to see what their specific needs are and how/if they can be met. 

PRO TIP: When advising a student with identified accommodation needs, utilize the Disability Accommodations Abroad Form to guide the conversation and address students’ varying needs. This form will help you and the student better identify potential challenges and concerns related to their study abroad experience, and ideally ease the conversation if there are instances you may need to be direct regarding the feasibility of specific accommodations. Be honest but open to possible suggestions from the student, as well as how they may see themselves navigating in the proposed study abroad context .


Additional things to consider when advising students with disabilities going abroad:

  • Don’t make disability the first or only focus
  • Consider their limitations or lack of limitations (disability is very individualistic)
  • Have confidence in their abilities and their skills of adapting (they already adapt to a world that isn’t inherently accessible everyday!)
  • Educate students on resources provided by U-M, the host institution, or country that will be available to them while abroad. Let them know that they can receive accommodations!
  • Work in partnership with SSD in coaching students how to advocate for themselves. 


How do students request study abroad accommodations? 

Check out the Disability Accommodations Abroad Form here!