Diversity & Identity Abroad Disability

Students with disabilities may have hesitations while thinking about studying abroad. However, with proper planning and preparation, you can identify a valuable and fulfilling study abroad program that meets your needs. Attitudes, laws, and resources related to disabilities vary by culture. In addition, varying degrees of accommodations will be available in each host institution or country, with many programs offering very different levels of service, access, and accommodations to students. Researching the cultural aspects, perceptions, and stigmas regarding disabilities where you will be studying and traveling is crucial as you plan to adjust to a new cultural environment while maintaining a level of self-care. 

Students are strongly encouraged to disclose any conditions that require accommodations, though they are not required to. Early communication with Disabilities Services, Student Health and Counseling, a Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager, and/or another healthcare provider well in advance of your proposed time abroad can help determine if a specific program is a good fit. While planning may require extra time up front, Penn Abroad, CAPS, and SDS can provide advice and support during the preparation process. See the Requesting Accommodations section within Penn Abroad’s Health and Safety webpage for detailed information on how to request accommodations while abroad.

Questions to Consider

  • How do the host program and location meet my mobility needs regarding public transportation, street conditions, elevators, bathrooms, classrooms, etc.? Can I arrange for test accommodations? Do I have the appropriate documentation?

  • What kind of housing situation is best for me (apartment, homestay, dorm, etc.)?

  • Does a program fit my learning style? How accessible are mandatory excursions?

  • What are the cultural attitudes and laws surrounding disability in my host country, and how might I respond to those differences?

  • How will I overcome a language barrier and ask for help?

  • What arrangements must I make for a service or emotional support animal?

  • What assistance might I need for airline travel, public transportation, and sidewalk navigation?

  • What extra expenses may I have to consider (personal assistants, interpreters, technology, equipment, etc.)?

  • Have I spoken with my doctor and/or mental health counselor about being abroad?

  • Is my medication legal and available in my host country?

  • How will I cope with possible “flare ups” in my mental health, due to homesickness, culture shock, stress, and unpredictability?

  • Are relevant medical professionals available in my host country? Will I need to meet with my current healthcare providers virtually while abroad?