6 Tips for International Students with Disabilities on Navigating University Selection and Application

by | Apr 11, 2023 | Admissions, Student Life

Living with a disability comes with additional challenges. If you have a disability and are aspiring to study abroad, your school selection process may have to include a few additional steps to ensure your comfort.

You’re likely to be wondering “How do I navigate the study abroad process as an international student with a disability?”

In this ultimate guide, we’ll give you the best tips to help you navigate the study abroad process as a person living with disability.

We’ll guide you on everything you need to study abroad with disabilities – from school selection, discussing accommodations, financial aid and scholarships, to getting in touch with local disability organizations.  

#1- Start by Researching Universities and Programs

The first step international students with disabilities need to take is to research universities and programs they’re interested in. There are several key factors to keep in mind as you conduct your research.

Firstly, it’s crucial to ensure that the universities you apply to have a reputation for inclusivity – especially for students with disabilities.

How do you do that?

Checking the university’s website for information on their disability services is a good place to start. You can also reach out to the program coordinator to inquire about their experience working with students with disabilities.

Consider the types of accommodations and support services that are available through each program. For example, you may need accessible housing, transportation, or academic accommodations such as note-taking services or extra time on exams. Be sure to ask each program about their specific accommodations and support services to ensure that they can meet your needs.

Also consider the location of each university. Some locations may be more accessible and accommodating to individuals with disabilities than others. Research the accessibility of public transportation, sidewalks, and other infrastructure in the area.

Finally, look up reviews from other students who have participated in each program, especially those with disabilities. Reviews will help you get a sense of student’s experiences and whether the program was able to provide the accommodations and support they needed.

#2- Disclose Your Disability and Discuss Accommodations Early On

disclose your disability


To receive the accommodations and support you need during your time abroad, it’s important to disclose your disability early on in the application and admission process.

Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when disclosing your disability:

  • Review the program’s application requirements: Before you apply to a study abroad program, review the program’s application requirements to see if they ask about disabilities or accommodations. If they do, be sure to provide honest and accurate information about your disability and any accommodations you may need.
  • Contact the program coordinator: If the program’s application does not ask about disabilities, reach out to the program coordinator to inform them of your disability and any accommodations you may need. You can reach the coordinator via email or phone – which are usually provided on the university’s website.
  • Provide documentation of your disability: Depending on the program, you may need to provide documentation of your disability in order to receive accommodations. Required documentation may include medical records and letters from healthcare professionals.
  • Be specific about your needs: When disclosing your disability, be specific about the accommodations you require. This could include accessible housing, transportation, or academic accommodations such as extra time on exams.
  • Use appropriate language: When disclosing your disability, be sure to use appropriate language that accurately describes your needs. For example, if you have a physical disability that requires a wheelchair, use the term “wheelchair user” instead of “handicapped.”
  • Discuss privacy concerns: It’s important to discuss privacy concerns with the program coordinators and ensure that they are taking appropriate steps to protect your privacy. For example, they may need to share information about your disability with certain individuals, such as housing staff or faculty members, in order to provide appropriate accommodations.

By disclosing your disability early on in the study abroad application process, you can help ensure that the program coordinators are able to provide the accommodations and support you need to have a successful and enjoyable study abroad experience.

#3- Research the Host Country’s Disability Laws and Culture

Before you travel to study abroad, it’s important to research and understand the host country’ laws and cultural attitudes towards disability. Doing so will help you better understand what accommodations to expect and how to advocate for yourself if necessary.

Researching the host country’s disability laws and culture is an important step in preparing for a study abroad experience as an African student with disabilities.

Here are some key things to consider when researching the host country:

  • Disability laws: Research the laws and regulations related to disability accommodations in the host country. For example, you may need to research laws related to accessibility, discrimination, and employment.
  • Attitudes towards disability: Research the cultural attitudes towards disability in the host country. Having this knowledge can help you better prepare for your study abroad experience. For example, you may need to research how disability is perceived in the host country and whether there are any cultural barriers to accessing accommodations and support services.
  • Accessible infrastructure: Research the accessibility of infrastructure in the host country such as public transportation, sidewalks, and buildings.  This will give you an idea on how easy or difficult it may be to navigate the host country and access accommodations and support services.
  • Support services: Research the availability of support services for individuals with disabilities in the host country. This can include disability services offices, peer support groups, and advocacy organizations.
  • Language barriers: If you do not speak the language of the host country, it’s important to research the availability of language services and interpreters. Doing so will help ensure that you are able to communicate effectively with program coordinators, support services, and other individuals you may need to interact with during your study abroad experience.

#4- Connect with Local Disability Organizations

For international students with disabilities, connecting with local disability organizations can be helpful in getting access to resources and support that can make the study abroad journey easier.

These organizations can also connect you with other individuals with disabilities – who can become part of your support system.

Here are some steps you can take to connect with local disability organizations:

  • Research: Start by researching disability organizations in your school’s local area. You can search online or reach out to your school’s disability services office to ask for recommendations.
  • Contact: Once you have a list of organizations, reach out to them to introduce yourself and ask about the services they offer. You can do this by email, phone, or in-person.
  • Attend online activities: Even before traveling to your host country, you can attend relevant online events organized by local disability organizations. Such events will give you an opportunity to start networking, learning about resources, and gaining valuable insights.
  • Join support groups: Disability organizations often have support groups for people with specific disabilities or for students. Joining a support group can be a great way to connect with others who understand your experiences and can offer helpful advice.
  • Volunteer: Once you travel to the host country, consider volunteering with a local disability organization. This can be a great way to give back to the community, gain new skills, and make connections.

Connecting with local disability organizations can be a valuable resource for support, guidance, and advocacy. Don’t be afraid to reach out and take advantage of the resources available to you to make your time smoother as you study abroad with disabilities.  

#5- Plan Ahead For Your Medical Needs

plan ahead for medical needs

All international students must consider their healthcare needs in their host countries. Planning ahead for your medical needs is especially important for international students with disabilities and those who may require specialized services.

You have to consider how to access medication, regular appointments, and treatments while studying overseas.

Don’t know where to get started?

Seek from your school’s international student’s office. You may need to obtain a referral from a healthcare professional – so make sure to ask.

It is important to have a well-thought-out plan in place to ensure prompt and appropriate medical attention in case of an emergency.

Make sure to inquire about the international student healthcare insurance programs and plans available at your school. Carefully examine the coverage provided by these plans, including expenses related to doctor or specialist visits, treatments, and medication.

Moreover, you’ll also need to acquire travel insurance. Fortunately, students with disabilities might be eligible for pre-existing condition waivers that can help them save money on travel insurance. Investigate all available options and choose the one that best meets your healthcare needs and financial situation.

#6- Take Advantage of Scholarships and Financial Aid for Students with Disability

For international students with disabilities, it’s important to be aware of the different scholarships and financial aid opportunities that are available to you.

Here are some additional tips for taking advantage of these opportunities:

  • Research Available Scholarships: Research and identify the available scholarships that are designed for students with disabilities – especially for international students. You can find these opportunities through online searches, government agencies, foundations, and disability advocacy groups.
  • Meet Eligibility Requirements: Check if you meet the eligibility criteria for the scholarships and financial aid you are interested in. Some may require proof of disability, academic merit, financial need, or a combination of these factors.
  • Apply Early: Be sure to apply for scholarships and financial aid early. Some have specific deadlines or limited funding. Make sure to provide all required documents and complete the application process as soon as possible to avoid missing out on the opportunity.
  • Explore Other Sources of Funding: In addition to scholarships and financial aid, consider other sources of funding such as grants, fellowships, work-study programs, and part-time jobs. Also consider applying for international student loans on the 8B Loan Marketplace – you don’t need to have a cosigner.

Final Advice for International Students with Disabilities

Studying abroad can be a transformative experience for African students. It offers opportunities for personal growth, cultural exchange, and academic achievement.

However, it comes with additional challenges for students with disabilities. But with the right support and resources, you can achieve your academic goals.

In this guide, we’ve explored some of the key considerations for international students with disabilities.

By taking advantage of available resources and support systems, international students with disabilities can overcome the barriers to studying abroad and thrive in a new academic and cultural environment.

The 8B Community is a great place to start building your support system as an African international student. Be sure to join and start networking with other students and admission professionals!

Ultimately, the benefits of studying abroad for students with disabilities extend far beyond the classroom, providing a unique opportunity to broaden horizons, develop new skills, and make lifelong connections with people from diverse backgrounds.

Don’t let your disability hinder you from pursuing your degree abroad. All the best.

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