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About Support for Students with Special Needs

Policy Information:

It is just as important to provide support for students with special needs and disabilities in study abroad programs, as it is to provide them with access on their home campus. Each student's situation requires an assessment of a program's ability to provide support.

It is important to obtain advice and support from on-campus professionals with expertise in this area. There are a number of institutions that are providing excellent resources about students with special needs, including Mobility International USA.


According to Ganz and Eastman, "With special counsel and experience, advisers can learn how to advise students with physical disabilities" (p. 188). Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is a legal requirement that institutions take students with special needs into consideration. When students indicate that they need additional support to participate in study abroad, institutions must respond appropriately and make every effort to allow students with special needs to participate in programs. Student should not be denied the right to participate, nor discouraged from participating in study abroad due to their special need requirements.

Cross-cultural issues related to disability could also be considered. According to Building Bridges: A Manual on Including People with Disabilities in International Programs Mobility International USA "Perceptions about people with disabilities vary from country to country… Each culture has different roles and expectations for people with disabilities. In many places, people with disabilities are not seen as vital, important members of society… It may take an extra effort and preparation for a participant with a disability to adjust to cultural perceptions in a host country" (p. 37).


According to Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C., & Gore, J. "the possibility of known, or new, emotional and mental problems emerging overseas is seen by many experienced education abroad administrators and advisers as a health and safety concern second only to alcohol abuse in its potential negative impact on an education abroad experience" (p. 222) Emotional problems can intensify abroad, which can effect one person or an entire group. It is important to consider how the environment can impact students’ health. Will resources be available to handle the students’ emotional and/or mental problems? Will there be staff that can meet the needs of a student with these special needs? The 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act, also takes into consideration emotional and mental problems. Program administrators could check with university counsel to ensure that the program is in compliance. Health and Safety Issues. NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisors and Administrators, Second Edition, (1997).


Students who have had a serious allergic reaction of any kind in the past could seek medical advice prior to going abroad as to how to respond abroad in case of a need for specific medications, support for allergic reactions to food, bee-stings, etc. In some cases, students may need to bring special medications with them (adrenaline in pre-loaded syringes, an inhaler, etc.). Program administrators should consider including a question in health/medical forms about student allergies, including food allergies.

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