Study Abroad

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign was the first institution of higher education in the world to provide support services to students with disabilities. With a legacy of serving students with disabilities for almost 70 years, the university has a much more diversified campus community in many respects.

Both the study abroad office and DRES can serve as a resource if you are a student with either a visible or non-visible disability, and require accommodations while abroad. The following information and the checklist tool were created to help prospective students with disabilities investigate and plan for any potential study abroad needs. The considerations listed are not all-encompassing, as study abroad programming is very dynamic and individualized. What we DO want students to achieve from this information is the ability to think at a higher level about the necessary planning and preparation required for successful participation in study abroad experiences.

Shannon Kelly in Cape Town, South Africa

Shannon studied in South Africa

Learn about Shannon Kelly’s trip to Cape Town and her experiences abroad.

Student Study Abroad Experiences:

Reasons to Study Abroad

  • Develop cross-cultural skills and a wider global perspective;
  • Become more familiar with your own interests, which in turn will better help you understand what goals you would like to establish for yourself for the future;
  • Increase your marketability for the workplace;
  • Maintain or improve your proficiency in another language;
  • Meet other college students from around the world or from other parts of the U.S.;
  • See new places around and/or outside your host country;
  • Learn more about your family’s cultural heritage and ancestry while earning academic credit; and
  • Make memories that will have a lifelong impression.

Rights and Responsibilities in Study Abroad Planning

Student’s Responsibilities

  • Fully research study abroad programs offered to students;
  • Meet all deadlines;
  • Pay for and budget all student fees required to study abroad;
  • Disclose disability-related condition(s) in a timely manner within the planning process to study abroad;
  • Recognize that accommodations planning requires extra preparation time; and
  • Initiate discussion or communicate needs to DRES, study abroad coordinator, and host institution—these offices will be unaware of any questions or concerns unless they are brought to their attention.

 DRES Responsibilities

  • Serve as a resource for students with disabilities that are researching options for study abroad;
  • Ensure the student’s right to confidentiality regarding disability-related issues;
  • Review student’s documentation and determine appropriate accommodations for study abroad;
  • Advise student on what disability-related implications need to be worked out or addressed prior to and while in chosen host country; and
  • Make any recommendations to the study abroad coordinator regarding student needs.

Responsibilities of the Unit Sponsoring Study Abroad

  • Assist in the articulation of any student accessibility issues with host institution;
  • Ensure the student’s right to confidentiality regarding disability-related issues;
  • Answer questions students might have regarding the registration and planning process for study abroad; and
  • Consult with DRES when necessary to obtain answers or feedback for any disability-related questions.

Study Abroad Considerations

The following considerations are identified to help prospective study abroad students with disabilities identify any implications needing troubleshooting. Additional considerations might emerge as the following are being addressed. Prospective study abroad students with disabilities should consider the following factors (additional considerations might emerge as each factor is addressed):

Preliminary Communication

  • Meet with an academic advisor to discuss how study abroad can fit into your academic track.  When is the optimal time to participate in study abroad?
  • Begin to develop a plan of action for researching the host institution and country of interest. Refer to the listed considerations and to the Disability Accommodations Checklist. Consider attending a First Steps meeting offered by the Study Abroad Office.
  • Any type of communication to parents is the student’s responsibility. Study abroad and DRES cannot disclose any information to them.


  • Regardless of the nature or type of disability, the student should allocate a minimum of 1 year to start planning with a study abroad advisor. Waiting too long to start planning might not provide enough time to have accommodations arrangements and procedures identified prior to departure date.

Overall Physical, Attitudinal and Cultural Access in Your Chosen Country

  • Research as much as possible about the country(ies), city(ies), and host university(ies) of interest. Cultural interpretation of disability is different in other regions. Consider causality, valued/devalued attributes, and anticipated roles (U of M Access Program). Is there disability-related governmental legislation?
  • How does the chosen host culture(s) define disability? How will questions about disability be answered? This information may provide an idea of how receptive a particular host institution will be with providing accommodations. Level of independence might change between the U of I and a host country, therefore more accommodations might be necessary. This does NOT mean that independence is lost, rather, this is another way of doing things (U of M Access Program).

International Transportation Needs

Public Transportation – Host Country

  • It is imperative to find out if there are any accessible transportation resources or community support within a host country.
  • What kinds of travel accommodations will be required during travels within the city as well as between destinations?
  • Will covering costs of private taxis be feasible, when necessary, due to inaccessible public transportation?

Financing of Accommodations

  • Are there extensive financial costs involved with accommodations needs, and if so, how will these costs be supported?

Auxiliary Aids or Assistive Devices

  • Are replacement parts for auxiliary aids going to be to be readily available in the event damage occurs?
  • Is there access to agencies or professionals who can repair auxiliary aids, if necessary?

Service Animals

  • Are there any laws in the host country which support service animals? If not, how will this impact access?
  • Are there veterinary services available in the host city? If so, where are they located? Is it conveniently accessible?
  • What are the airline regulations for service animals traveling abroad?
  • Is there a Quarantine Period for Service Animals to or from your host country?
  • NCDE provides specific information about Guide Dogs and Service Animals While on International Exchange.

Housing and Living Situations

  • What options are available through the program(s)?
  • Are the room dimensions physically accessible to individual needs?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements like?
  • Are there accessible bathroom and shower facilities within any of the housing options? If not, what can be done to address these accessibility issues?

Activities of Daily Living

  • How are needs going to be met if personal care assistance is required for activities of daily living such as meal preparation, grooming, dressing, restroom assistance, or laundry assistance? Are there agencies available to assist in the hiring process for personal care assistance in the host country?
  • How will costs with personal care assistance be covered?


  • Be aware of the nature of required coursework.
  • Will there be multiple choice or essay exams?
  • Are classes project-driven or exam-driven?
  • How much reading is involved?
  • Will document conversion be required and available?
  • What is the specific duration of the program of interest? How many classroom hours are required?
  • Are library resources accessible? If not, what can be done to provide access?
  • How will class work be evaluated, and what are the usual methods of instruction (i.e., lecture, seminar, tutorial, lab, discussion)?
  • Are the course materials that are audio or visual in format (e.g., videos, films) accessible to you (e.g., captioned videos)?

Activities Outside of the Classroom

  • While studying abroad, there will likely be times when students have to complete curriculum activities or assignments outside the classroom for graded credit, or there might be free time on weekends when students can travel. Thinking critically about how accommodation needs may differ outside the classroom is needed.
  • Will mobility assistance for these activities be required? If so, who will be available to assist?
  • What are the overall conditions of the public sidewalks and pavement of streets?
  • Will students be required to stay in housing different from a permanent assignment for any outside activities? If so, is the alternative housing accessible?

On-Campus Disability Support Services at Your Host Institution

  • Does the host college or university have a disability services office, or a point of contact designated to address accommodations needs?

Access to Additional Support Services (Counseling and Medical)


  • Investigate what resources are available through the host institution as well as any community resources to address medical, psychological, and/or informational support.
  • Mobility International provides comprehensive information regarding psychiatric disabilities and international study in their document, Mental Health-Related Disabilities: Considerations for Exchange Participants.

Healthcare Coverage

  • Check provision of Medicare and/or Medicaid, or primary medical insurance provider, about coverage abroad, and discuss any needs for covering pre-existing medical conditions.
  • UIUC requires that all study abroad students are covered under the Cultural Insurance Services International policy; make note of the policy terms and conditions of this coverage.

Prescription Medications

  • How will refills of prescription medications be handled, especially if they are stimulant medication? Be sure to check whether prescribed medication is legal and available within a chosen host country. Contact the nearest consulate or embassy for the host country to inquire whether your medication is considered a controlled substance and to seek guidance on the best way to proceed. For assistance locating the nearest consulate, try the Directory & Search Engine Of Every Nation’s Embassies & Consulates.
  • Always carry medication in carry-on luggage in the event checked luggage is delayed or lost.
  • Medication should be stored in their original containers, and have all prescriptions written on your physician’s Rx pad.
  • Check to see if it is possible to take enough medication to last your entire stay abroad. Make sure this is okay ahead of time.
  • Note that it is illegal to have additional supplies of any medication sent abroad via postal mail (University of Minnesota’s Access Abroad).
  • IF it is possible to take the US prescription and letter from your physician to an English speaking physician in your host country to get a local prescription (keep this information in mind):
    • Prescriptions may need to be translated, be sure these are accurately completed.
    • Do not forget to make sure the proper dosage you need exists in the host country.
    • The U.S. Food & Drug Administration released a Public Health Advisory which reported: Consumers Filling U.S. Prescriptions Abroad May Get the Wrong Active Ingredient Because of Confusing Drug Names.
    • HTH Worldwide provides an online Drug Translation Guide Demo for 295 brand-name prescription and over-the-counter medicines in 24 frequently visited destinations. Check to see if your destination is included.
    • Disposable Syringes:
      • Research whether or not disposable syringes will pass the security check in the airport.
      • Some countries may restrict the import of syringes.
      • If you are able to take syringes on the plane, leave them with the flight attendant.

Study Abroad FAQs


  • Q. Do I disclose my disability when I apply for a study abroad program?
    A. US law protects your right to choose whether or not you wish to disclose. However, if you choose to disclose, your study abroad advisor will be available to work with you and your specific accommodation needs. What protections are available in the host country depends on the laws in that country.
  • Q. Are there any kinds of disability-specific questions that study abroad programs can ask students with disabilities?
    A. Study abroad advisors are not allowed to ask questions related to disability or accommodations during the application process unless the program can prove that the specific disability-related information is directly necessary for conducting their particular program. However, this information cannot be used to screen out an applicant. A student participant must be considered based upon their qualifications, regardless of disability type (MIUSA).
  • Q. When should I disclose my need for academic accommodations for study abroad?
    A. After an acceptance into a particular program is received, disclosure regarding your need for disability services to both your study abroad coordinator and DRES should be made. Prior to your acceptance, you should have already been researching your potential host institution and troubleshooting solutions for any accommodation / accessibility issues. As a reminder, you are not obligated to mention your disability in any personal statements during the application process, if you choose not to do so. In a few programs, students don’t learn about acceptance to their host institution until just before they depart. If a student waits to declare a disability until after acceptance, this lack of planning time can make it difficult to impossible to arrange for accommodations at the host institution. Keep this factor in mind when choosing and planning your study abroad experience. If a student with a disability is not currently registered with DRES, but wishes to receive accommodations for their Study Abroad experience, they need to call Rachel Jackson Green at217-300-5698 or e-mail Rachel to find out more information on how to do so. Once documentation is reviewed, a disability specialist from DRES meets with the student to discuss accommodations needs and fills out a Letter of Accommodations For Study Abroad. One copy of the Letter of Accommodations should be provided to your study abroad advisor, and host university, and the original should remain at DRES.

Disability Accommodations

  • Q. What do I do if I am denied access to academic accommodations for my disability once I arrive at my host university or program?
    A. Disability accommodations should be worked out prior to departure. However, if an accommodations denial occurs, document when the denial was made, and in what manner it was made (e-mail and keep a hard copy of the denial, or document the date and time it was made and by whom). Call Rachel Jackson Green at (217) 300-5698 or e-mail Rachel, or contact your study abroad advisor. Remember, there may be a time difference, therefore, if you call after 5 PM or before 8 AM central time, leave a voice mail, along with the time difference, and a number where you can be reached. ANY UIUC study abroad student has immediate access to a 24-hour Emergency advisor on duty at (217) 333-6322 on campus while they are at their designated sites as well. From there, interaction with the host institution can begin to address your articulated concern. However, neither the University of Illinois nor DRES can guarantee any particular result in any particular case.
  • Q. What if I decide not to use accommodations abroad?
    A. The choice to use accommodations is entirely up to the student, but depending upon circumstances, if refusing accommodations while studying abroad means the possibility of posing a direct threat to personal safety of self or others, a student will likely be denied participation in a selected study abroad program. It is also important to remember that if a student does not choose to utilize accommodations during their study abroad experience, and then happens to do poorly in their classes, grades are NOT retroactive, meaning that once a grade is earned, it cannot be changed.
  • Q. Are peers and instructors obligated to assist students with disabilities if they need assistance in activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, feeding, or mobility?
    A. The general answer is No. Participants with disabilities must collaborate with DRES and their Study Abroad advisor to identify all possible issues and implications relating to physical accessibility, and then identify potential solutions to such issues. Circumstances are addressed on a case-by-case basis. The earlier the planning is started, the better the chances any identified issues can be resolved effectively and in a timely manner.

Disability Accommodations Checklist and Forms for Study Abroad Participants

These forms are in rtf format, and will open in a word processor:

  • Disability Accommodations Checklist For Study Abroad Planning assists students in initiating the discussion of anticipated and specific needs for studying abroad with DRES and/or Study Abroad.
  • Program List identifies contact information of a student’s selected Study Abroad Program.
  • Release of Information grants permission for DRES and Study Abroad to communicate with one another as they work with students with disabilities on Study Abroad issues.

Other Useful Forms for Study Abroad Planning