How Difficult Is It to Study Abroad with a Disability?

By Luna Erica

Disabilities come in many forms, with different effects, and with different experiences. And while some of them are more limiting than others, our hope is that through university disability services, anyone can study – in some cases, even abroad.

If you have a disability and want to start your studies, this article is here to point you to some great resources that may help you out. It will also link some useful articles on the topic to show different perspectives on the topic.

Statistics on students with disabilities

One thing to bear in mind is that studying with a disability is, in many cases, possible and that it has been done before.

Learning disabilities (LD), for instance, are actually quite common: 1 in 5 children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD. It is true that, unfortunately, students with learning disabilities are three times as likely to drop out than other students. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NLCD), the dropout rate of disabled students is 18.1%, compared to the 6.5% rate of all students.

Overall, the dropout rate for students with disabilities (learning and other) is approximately twice that of all students. Sad to say, more often than not, this dropping-out has to do not with a wrong study choice, but with their disability.

There are thousands of disabilities, each of which affects a person’s life in a million ways. Luckily, despite the dire statistics on dropout rates, in today’s culture of inclusion, more and more people open up about their impairments. In fact, in 2017, 13.2% of students attending an English college or university reported having at least one disability.

Student with disability attending university lecture

Now, again, this is a whole range of cases with no disability having the same effect on a person’s education as the next. But a huge chunk of the stigma against disabilities that exists in the classroom today is being eliminated by talking about the topic more openly. Services are being set up to do so and to accommodate everyone’s needs as well as possible.

Although we discuss some of these services below, don’t feel wary asking your school what help they can offer you. They might just be able to ease your study experience by a ton.

What disability services do universities offer?

In most countries, it is illegal to discriminate based on disability, including in education. That means that schools are obliged to do all they can to provide a great study experience for all its students, no matter their ableness.

Many big universities have an entire office dedicated to inclusiveness and mobility. They will often have a dedicated webpage to provide information, will include a university-wide introduction to the topic in the first weeks of school, and will offer personal counselling.

Their disability services will usually provide the possibility of counselling and accommodation, whether that be ensuring that your classrooms are physically reachable by wheelchair or there being made exceptions for your exam-taking needs. You name it, and they’ll do their best to implement it. Some universities, such as the University of Melbourne, even offer statistics that show their efforts to research and accommodate their students.

In addition to the universities’ own efforts, there are also programmes in place that facilitate students globally. Erasmus+, for example, supports education in Europe and has actively been doing surveys on the study experiences of disabled students, both domestically and internationally.

In its 2017 survey, it looked at the challengers and enablers of mobility for students with disabilities. It found that 68.7% of their students did not study internationally. Almost 40% of those students did so because of a lack of support provisions from their home university.

Erasmus+ and similar organizations do such surveys to point out these sad facts and recommend institutions to better their policies. Hopefully, thanks to these reports, proper disability services will be available in universities across the world in just a few years.

Is studying abroad with a disability affordable?

So, what about affordability? Some disabilities come with huge medical bills that will just toughen your chances to study at all, not to mention abroad. To help you out, there are heaps of institutions, including Erasmus+, offering grants to students — both those open to all students and those aimed at students with a disability. Make sure you research your options well; especially in places that don’t offer free healthcare, these grants can save you the money you might need for other things. 

If you are looking into attending a special needs school, take a look at its funding options. These schools sometimes cost more because of the more advanced method of accommodation, and that cost differs a lot per university and per disability.

Thankfully, though, there are tons of scholarships available, many of them aimed specifically at disabled students. Check out websites such as scholarshipportal.com, scholarships.com, or apply for Studyportals’ very own International Distinction Awards and share your story with us.

Aside from these global scholarship websites, there are also tons of webpages and brochures that list scholarships per country, university, or even disability. When it comes to finding these, Google is your best friend. Using it, you can find information about allowances in England, university-specific scholarships (for instance for Monash University, in Australia), or scholarships for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Disabled student shares his ideas with friends

Mental health services

One reason disabled students have previously dropped out of school, college or university is due to a lack of self-esteem or a feeling of burdening those around them with their disability. In part, this is due to that stigma we mentioned earlier: there have been stereotypes and a certain level of condescension towards disabled people that we would be naïve not to acknowledge.

On top of that, many disabilities are not visible. In those cases, to escape the stigma against disability, some students may not tell their university. It helps explain why only 1 in 4 students with learning disabilities tells their college they have a disability and why only 1 in 20 young adults with learning disabilities receives accommodations in the workplace.

Self-esteem services do exist, and they are a useful tool to open up about your worries or negative experiences without having to tell someone in your direct network. You can find them through your GP (general practitioner or doctor), by asking people around you for recommendations, or by searching online. Of course, be wary of untrustworthy websites – it’s always a good idea to look through some reviews before committing to a mental healthcare provider you found online.

What can also help, finally, is reading the experiences of students in a similar position to yours. Lots of students with a disability have started blogs about their experience so that they can share their tips and their struggles with other communities as well as their own.

Please note that although these options can be very useful to many, they will not work for everyone. Mental health is a serious matter, and if you ever feel like you could use help keeping it up, don’t feel ashamed to reach out to someone. Your local GP, a trusted adult, or relevant websites can help you find the mental health resources you need.

Should you study abroad if you have a disability?

Disabilities certainly don’t make learning easy, but they don’t always have to stop you from doing it, either. Thanks to our rapidly changing world, services for students with a disability are improving, and their odds at receiving an excellent education are increasing.

Whether you want to take that step and study abroad is a huge choice to make and one that we will never have the understanding to make for you. But we’ll be here to help you with your programme choice when you’re ready. And thankfully, these days, so are many other organizations worldwide.

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