Center for Global Education Logo
The Center for Global Education promotes international education to foster cross-cultural awareness, cooperation and understanding. Living and working effectively in a global society requires learning with an international perspective.

We promote this type of learning by collaborating with colleges, universities and other organizations around the world.
SAFETI Clearinghouse
SAFETI Online Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1999 - Winter 2000

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange: Opening Doors to International Opportunities

by Pamela Houston, Former National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange Project Assistant

As a college student, I often thought about applying to my UniversityÆs study abroad program. I had always been fascinated by other cultures and, as a sociology major, had a keen interest in issues of poverty and social justice. I knew that I could have studied these issues in any number of countries. However, I believed that my disability would disqualify me from spending a semester or year abroad. I had never met another person with a disability who had studied abroad and the people in the Disabled Student Services office were not familiar with the possibilities.

Even after I graduated from college, I couldnÆt shake my interest in international development. I began researching various volunteer programs. Still worried that my disability would be a barrier to being accepted as a volunteer, I applied to Food for the Hungry International. To my surprise, the placement officerÆs only concern was finding the best placement for me based on my skills and my physical limitations. I received a two-year assignment to work with children in Peru.

My experience living and working in Peru changed me completely. My sense of myself as a strong, capable woman blossomed. I learned Spanish, gained invaluable jobs skills, and came to know and love a country that will always be a part of me. I became intimately familiar with the day-to-day reality of extreme poverty û an experience that has forever impacted my values and career-related choices.

Now students with disabilities who desire similar international experiences can find valuable information, resources and encouragement through the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), a project sponsored by Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA). MIUSA is committed to opportunities being available to people with all kinds of disabilities. And, they are committed to making people with disabilities aware of the value of international experience.

Professionals working in education abroad programs around the nation are in key positions to set up programs to be inclusive. More and more students with disabilities are including study abroad or international internships as an integral part of their academic programs.

One way that those affiliated with FIPSE and NAFSA can become effective in including students with disabilities is through directly accessing the NCDE. The NCDE project began in 1995 with funding from USIA and provides the following services:

  • Information and referrals directly to exchange program advisors and coordinators and individuals with disabilities and their advocates. NCDE staff draw on a vast database of disability-related contacts throughout the world, program information and "field tested" accommodation ideas.
  • A World Awaits You (AWAY), a journal of success in international exchange for people with disabilities. A fresh and unique magazine,AWAYhighlights the personal experience stories of people with disabilities who have participated in a variety of international exchange programs. Through these stories, disabled exchange participants serve as role models to their disabled peers, encouraging them to pursue international experience.
  • An extensive website that includes information on financial aid resources, airline travel for people with disabilities and information on a variety of exchange programs that are ready to receive participants with disabilities. Visit our site at
  • Building Bridges: A Manual on Including People with Disabilities in International Exchange Programsfeatures more than 150 pages of suggestions and creative ideas for including, recruiting and accommodating people with disabilities in international programs. This publication contains valuable and practical information, as well as chapters on cross-cultural issues in disability, volunteer service programs and legal issues for international exchange advisors.
  • Rights and Responsibilities: A Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for International Organizations and Participantsincludes helpful information on disability rights law for international exchange advisors.

For further information or to receive a free copy ofA World Awaits Youand an attractive free "International Exchange is for Everyone" color poster, please contact NCDE at:

  • The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange
    c/o MIUSA
    PO Box 10767
    Eugene, OR 97440
    Tel/TTY: (541) 343-1284
    Fax: (541) 343-6812
  • EditorÆs note: Pamela Houston is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer. She is working on a community health education project and is currently stationed in the Central Pacific island of Kiribati.

    22 Health and Safety Tips for Students with Disabilities Studying Abroad

    Below are some suggested tips to consider when planning for participation in an international exchange. There may be other tips based on individual disabilities, preferences, mode of travel or destination country.

    1. If you use a wheelchair, bring extra tire tubes and repair tools, and consider using tubeless tires (contact a local medical supply or bike repair shop).
    2. If you use an electric wheelchair, consider bringing a manual wheelchair for use in non-accessible places. Another possibility is to bring a portable, removable motor that can be easily installed on a manual wheelchair.
    3. For electric recharging of equipment batteries, be sure to bring the necessary adapters and converters (check at a local electrical or medical supply store.)
    4. Bring backup prosthetics, braces, etc. for any adaptive equipment you feel is critical.
    5. If you usually use crutches, consider bringing a manual chair for extended day trips.
    6. Envision difficult access situations before you depart and create strategies or backup plans for dealing with them.
    7. If you use a hearing aid, bring extra batteries.
    8. If you are Deaf, bring notepads and pencils for ease of communication.
    9. If you use a guide dog, look into quarantine and other regulations for the dog prior to departure.
    10. Bring a first aid kit that includes pain reliever, pepto bismol, sterile syringes or any other medication you may need.
    11. Be prepared to share and inform others about your specific needs. Know key phrases in the language of the country for any important medication, equipment, transferring commands, etc. you may need such as "Can you please help me get down this curb?", "No sugar please, I am diabetic," or "Is there a freight elevator available?"
    12. Contact disability-related organizations in the country prior to departing or upon arrival. (Contact NCDE for organization contact information.)
    13. Drink plenty of water (bottled or boiled, if necessary) to avoid dehydration, especially if taking medication. For hot climates, bring a spray water bottle to help keep your body temperature down. For cold climates, bring a thermos to keep hot drinks in.
    14. Bring extra prescription medication in their original containers, and a letter from your doctor in the language of the country indicating the reason for the prescription. Plan for medicine refrigeration if needed.
    15. Make sure your travel and medical insurance covers pre-existing conditions.
    16. Just because you can peel it, doesnÆt necessarily mean it is safe to eat. Educate yourself about preparing and eating foods and water safely.
    17. Be open and creative with bathroom needs - possibly bring an extra pair of pants in your daily pack for emergency situations.
    18. Talk with others who have traveled to the same country to gather information on disability access and attitudes.
    19. Research with your doctor the recommended travel immunizations, and find out if immunizations can be taken safely together with other medications or conditions.
    20. Bring egg crate pads for sitting or sleeping if concerned about pressure sores (Especially on long airplane or bus rides).
    21. If you are blind, have someone orient you to the community - describing dangers such as large potholes or manhole covers missing in streets.
    22. If you predict professional support needs may arise overseas, know where you can contact a in the language of the country Doctor, Psychologist or Nurse who speaks a language you know.