Disability & Accessibility

The University of Pennsylvania offers numerous types of global opportunities to its students. Through these various programs, Penn sends over 2,500 students to more than 50 countries every year, and that includes students with disabilities. The Penn Abroad team is dedicated to helping you make an informed decision when it comes to going abroad and understand the support processes in place. Our goal is to demystify the process of requesting accommodations abroad and answer any other questions or concerns you may have. We are excited to work with you on your next adventure in global education!

Requesting Accommodations

Begin by doing careful research of the programs available, the types of accommodations available, and the cultural perspective of disability in the country of interest.

Meet with the Office of Student Disabilities Services (SDS) three to six months in advance so they can share the experiences and information about accessibility in certain locations. Students are also encouraged to disclose their disability with their Global Programs Manager to gain further insight into their program of interest and possible arrangements. Should you choose to disclose, all information that you share will remain confidential and is used purely to help you find the most suitable program for you.

Once you apply and are accepted to a program, you will meet again with SDS to navigate the process of requesting accommodations. SDS will provide a letter for the host university that outlines what accommodations Penn provides on our campus. You will work with the host institution from there to implement these suggestions. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act and other American disability laws do not apply in foreign countries, there is no guarantee that the host institution will honor specific requests; they may modify accommodations to fit their own laws and procedures. Professors may be willing to provide individual accommodations as well.

If you have any questions on how to request accommodations, please reach out to your Global Programs Manager or SDS.

Questions to Consider

Choosing a program

  • What does each program's website say about the accommodations it can provide in the classroom? Will I be able to fulfill my academic requirements?

  • How accessible are mandatory excursions?

  • Does the program length make a difference regarding the support I may need?

  • How does the university and location meet my mobility needs regarding public transportation, street conditions, elevators, bathrooms, classrooms, etc.?

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

Country & Culture

  • 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?

Diversity Abroad's Destination Guides offer insight on navigating disability in various countries.

Travel

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

  • What assistance might I need for airline travel?

 Visit SDS or your airline’s website for travel support information, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for pet travel guidelines.

Expenses

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

  • How will they be funded?

Once you know what accommodations are available on site, decide with SDS and your doctor if you will need anything else. Research scholarships, work with Student Financial Services, and consult your insurance company to determine funding.

Medical considerations

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

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

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

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Student Health Services at Penn can help!

Student Tips
  • Speak up. Disclose early to help your Global Programs Manager understand what you need.

  • The term “accessible” may mean something different depending on where you are. Be open to alternative accommodations and strategies.

  • The local attitude surrounding disability may be different from what you experience at home. Research perceptions and stigmas in your host country so that you can prepare for your experience abroad

  • Research local community organizations available that may act as a helpful resource and support network.

  • Learn key phrases to communicate information about your disability in your host country’s native language.

  • Consider what type of assistive equipment you might want to bring based on your local environment.

  • If you use equipment, have a plan or emergency repair kit if it breaks. If it’s electronic, do not forget to bring an adapter.

  • Maintain a self-care routine and normal sleep schedule, and practice healthy coping skills such as journaling.

  • Know that it’s okay to say “no” sometimes to activities if you need time to recharge.

  • If you take medication, start working with your insurance company early on to ensure that you have the appropriate supply of refills to take with you abroad.

Other Resources

Unpacked: A Study Abroad Guide for Students Like Me

Top 5 Tips for Students with Physical Disabilities Studying Abroad

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to disclose my disability to my Global Programs Manager?

  • You do not have to disclose your disability to your program manager, but it is encouraged. Program managers are excellent resources for learning more about your program, and they will be more equipped to provide the support you may need.

What does CAPS do to support students with mental health concerns abroad?

  • CAPS counselors welcome students to meet with them individually so CAPS can get to know the students in case they have any concerns overseas. Students can call CAPS at any time while abroad. The staff also offers Skype sessions a couple of times a semester while abroad for supplemental support. If a student would like ongoing counseling while abroad, students should research about support services at the host institution ahead of time. The institution will likely have a network of local providers to recommend, or it will offer counseling services itself. CAPS can also help refer students to on-site mental healthcare providers. Get in touch with CAPS at least a month in advance so that this process can take place.

What if something goes wrong?

  • Penn partners with International SOS for health insurance and crisis management, and there are staff online, on the ground, or on call 24/7. International SOS will support students during medical and security emergencies, as well as provide medical referrals.

Are there any scholarships to help cover possible additional expenses?

What is the general timeline for this process?

  • Meet with SDS 3-6 months in advance.

  • If you have a service animal or emotional support animal, start planning 9 months to a year in advance.

  • If you would like help locating a mental health professional in your host country, get in touch with CAPS at least a month in advance for referrals.

  • Most students start working with a Global Program Manager one to two semesters before their departure, but it will vary depending on the type of program you have chosen. A good rule of thumb is to start early!

Student Voices
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Students with disabilities from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign share their experiences studying abroad.