Frequently Asked Questions:
For the Parents of Students with Disabilities Studying Abroad
From the perspective of a parent, it’s difficult enough when a child leaves the nest for the first time to attend a college or university. It’s especially worrisome when that child has a disability, though and worse still if he or she wants to travel abroad. Parents express a number of concerns such as their child’s safety, whether their child will have financial assistance, and whether their child will receive appropriate accommodations while abroad. We seek to address some of the more common concerns by providing reassurance and advice for finding the appropriate answer for your individual situation. We understand that each student’s case is unique, but we know every student should have the opportunity to study abroad!
● Will my child be safe while abroad?
Safety is every parent’s first concern when their child expresses interest in studying abroad. This is true whether or not the child in question has a disability. Unfortunately, a person with a disability may stand out as a target, a potential victim. This is as much the case within the United States, however, as it is abroad. In some cultures, persons with disabilities are actually less likely to be targeted than other individuals. Regardless, it’s important to be responsible and aware, whether at home or in a foreign country.
There are several tips that can help insure a student’s safety while studying abroad. First and foremost, it is important that a student be aware of the culture to which he or she will travel. As a parent, this knowledge may also help you feel more secure in your child’s trip. Watch the news and be aware of ongoing issues. Consider checking The U.S. Department of State travel warnings.
Discuss your concerns with your child and set up a regular system for communication. A student studying abroad should always tell someone his or her whereabouts, whether visiting a tourist spot or going out to eat. It is also a good idea to make copies of important documents such as passports and driver’s licenses/state IDs and keep them in a safe place in the case of theft. Finally, consider signing up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive updates from the embassy in the country your child is visiting.
● Will my child lose his/her SSI benefits while abroad?
Under normal circumstances, a person receiving Social Security Income, or SSI, becomes ineligible if he or she spends one calendar month (or 30 consecutive days) outside of the United States. A student, however, may continue receiving benefits while abroad if it can be demonstrated that:
● he or she was eligible to receive benefits in the month prior to studying abroad,
● the period of study does not exceed one year, and
● the absence is for the purpose of conducting studies as part of an educational program
Certain specific documentation will be required to prove the legitimacy of the study abroad program and the student’s need to study in a foreign country. It is advised that you begin this process as soon as your child has selected a program. More information can be found at the following links:
Eligibility for Students Temporarily Abroad: Overview
Eligibility for Students Temporarily Abroad: Case Processing
● Will my child receive financial assistance?
A major concern for many families is how their child will make ends meet while abroad. The cost of living can vary greatly from one country to another. In some instances, studying abroad may be more affordable than spending that same time in the United States. In other cases, fluctuations in exchange rates can turn a semester abroad into a somewhat largerthanexpected investment. It is important to note, however, that many scholarships exist for students interested in study abroad.
Study Abroad programs often offer scholarships, and everyone who applies for the program is eligible to apply for the scholarship as well, often by filling out a few extra documents. There are also international scholarships aimed at students who are planning to study abroad. One such scholarship is the Gilman International Scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
If your child already receives financial aid through his or her home university, he or she may be able to receive that financial aid package while abroad. The financial aid advisor of your home university will be able to provide accurate information.
Finally, many Study Abroad programs offer in country assistance in this regard by providing assistance for any program participants who want to work while abroad. For example, those who teach English abroad are sometimes given the option of having a tutoring job to make a little extra income. The bottom line is that, if your child does a some homework, he or she will not be left stranded financially. The Study Abroad and international scholarship programs are there to help.
● My child has never flown before.
The next concern that parents express is how their child will arrive safely at his or her destination. First, any passenger with a disability can contact the airline and request assistance, and someone will be available to help the passenger with luggage, through airport security, to the appropriate departure gate, and on and off the plane. The passenger must be specific about what assistance is needed and the airports where it will be needed. Flight attendants are friendly and are there to provide assistance to all passengers during the flight. Your child can also connect with someone participating in the same program who is willing to provide assistance and book flights together. However, the airline should still be notified of your child’s needs just in case.
● Will my child receive the necessary accommodations?
Another concern that parents express is whether their child will be wellaccommodated in the host country. It is your child’s responsibility to ensure this by communicating with the Study Abroad program and advisors as well as the disability support office of the home university. All parties must have a conversation and develop a plan for reasonable accommodations, which will depend on your child’s needs and what the program can provide. It would also be a good idea for the program to connect your child with anyone he or she will be working with in the host country so that they too can be notified of your child’s needs. Finally, your child should research the perceptions of his or her disability in the host country to find out how people will react to him or her, as well as any organizations in the host country related to his or her disability that may be of service. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not exist outside the U.S, so the host country is not legally required to provide the necessary accommodations on that premise, but people everywhere are generally friendly and willing to help out when asked in any way they can. To learn more about requesting and receiving accommodations, visit Mobility International.
● I am concerned for my child’s health.
The Study Abroad program is aware of this concern and may provide health insurance coverage to all participants. One popular company is iNext travel insurance. If the Study Abroad program does not provide health insurance, your child can sign up for iNext as an individual. It is also worth checking if your child’s current insurance will cover him or her while abroad.
Before leaving, your child should also be up to date on immunizations. This can be done at the oncampus health center at your child’s home university or through a family doctor. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a list of any additional immunizations recommended for travel to the host country. Finally, if your child gets sick while abroad, he or she will be well taken care of. The in country coordinator is available in case of emergency. If your child is living with a host family, they should be notified as well.
As parents, it is important to remember that your child has considered all of this and may be as anxious as you are. While you can help, you must also remember that it is your child’s responsibility to insure his or her own accommodations, safety, and financial support.
This document was prepared as part of an initiative by Abroad with Disabilities to encourage and support the opportunities of students with disabilities to enjoy the experience of studying abroad. AWD offers no legal advice and each person is individually responsible for ensuring their own safety.