December 23, 2010
Recently I had the pleasure of working alongside leading youth exchange professionals for two days focused on the topic of including international youth with disabilities in international exchange programs. Our discussion began with a metaphor activity. I asked them asked to draw, describe or write a metaphor that best demonstrated their capacity to place and support youth with disabilities from around the world on high school programs in the U.S.
“I picture a scale balance, with resources and tools on one side and students with disabilities on the other.”
“I drew a hot air balloon tied to the ground but ready to lift off!”
“I have a tool belt on, but not many tools or tools I’m not sure how to use.”
When placing and supporting students with disabilities, organizations can be proactive rather than reactive by building skills and networks of support. During the training, we clarified that non-U.S. citizens are protected by major anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and have a right to disability accommodations through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). We focused on the importance of having an inclusive attitude in reducing barriers for people with disabilities.
All students who meet the merit-based eligibility requirements have the right to equal opportunities for an international education in the U.S. Starting with the right mindset when working with schools and host families, combined with strategies for collaboration, can result in a highly successful experience. Some of the tips that colleagues shared during the training included:
- Talk about exchange students with disabilities as you would any student.
- Build a good relationship with school officials.
- Contact school district disability specialists for supporting the student’s enrollment.
- Be willing to involve community organizations, parent advocacy groups and professionals to ensure a student’s success.
- Connect with parents of students with disabilities attending the same high school to ask for support and suggestions.
On the final day, after watching the documentary Including Samuel, learning from young leaders with disabilities, and sparking questions and inquisitive discussion, we revisited the metaphor. Does the metaphor still work? Would you change it? If so, how? Almost everyone modified their metaphor. Balloons were soaring, light bulbs were switched on, tool belts were full of tools, and scales were balanced. Metaphorically speaking, we were ready for lift off!