March 30, 2011
There really isn’t an easy answer to this question that I am so frequently asked by students with disabilities with a burning desire to see the world. The criteria of what makes a place a good fit for someone with a disability is also what makes a place good for someone without a disability. However, for many people with disabilities, this question taps into fundamental issues of rights and personal choice.
You have the right to study in an historic town with cobblestones that make for a bumpy wheelchair ride or a world famous city like Bangkok where the traffic patterns seemingly pose a risk for someone who is blind. People with disabilities live in every community, so there is no “best country”. And, what works for one person who uses a wheelchair or walks with a white cane for navigation may not work for someone else with the same disability.
Ramps, curb cuts, accessible public transportation, local disability laws, availability of sign language interpreters and other disability services are important factors to consider when making your choice about where to go abroad. But you should also think about what country or program is a good match for you overall.
- What are your academic and personal interests?
- How important are disability access factors such as public transportation, distance across campus, weather, a community of other people who are Deaf, and local disability groups, for example?
- Are there other factors more important to you than disability such as cost of the program (so that you can also travel more!), cultural or religious community or learning a specific language?
- What tradeoffs are you willing to make in order to have the experience you are seeking?
- Do you have a sense of adventure or do you want a more predictable and comfortable experience?
We know there are places in the world known for their disability history, progressive attitudes of inclusion, high-tech assistive technology, and famously informal solutions to barriers. Many countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or have laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could offer some of the legal rights that may be important to you as a person with a disability. There are programs that focus specifically on disability studies or are known for offering sign language courses to international exchange students.
We are happy to give you insight about a particular country, connect you to alumni with disabilities, and direct you to more information about a place to make your decision a more informed one, but ultimately, the decision of where you should go as a person with a disability is up to you.
Making this choice is just the beginning of a wonderful international adventure, where the tool of “well, it depends” will take on a whole new meaning.