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Preparing for a Study Abroad Program if You Have a Physical Disability

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Preparing for a Study Abroad Program if You Have a Physical Disability

Andrew WanPreparing for a Study Abroad Program if You Have a Physical DisabilityMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: If you’re considering a study abroad program, make sure you carry a credit card with no foreign transaction fees so you can save money and stretch your budget further.

Study abroad programs have a lot to offer. You’ll have the opportunity to meet new friends, make new connections and broaden your horizons by immersing yourself in a completely different culture.

If you have a physical disability, you shouldn’t let that stand in the way of all the great things a study abroad program has to offer. With the right precautions and preparation, you’ll be able to make the most of your experience.

Here is our guide on how you can set yourself up for success if you have a physical disability and are considering a study abroad program:

Picture of globe with graduation cap on top.
Don’t let a physical disability stand in the way of adding a study abroad program to your degree. (Photo by smolaw/Shutterstock)

Choose Your Destination Wisely

Different countries vary in the resources and accommodations available to those traveling with a disability. While the US has regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act that require businesses to provide certain accommodations such as wheelchair ramps and elevators, other countries may not have as robust of a system in place.

To minimize the chances of complications, choose a study abroad program in a country that’s particularly known for accessibility, like these 9 very wheelchair accessible locations overseas:

  • Sydney, Australia
  • London, England
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Hong Kong
  • Paris, France
  • Ireland
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Melbourne, Australia

You can also consult with your university’s study abroad program office to get an idea of how wheelchair-friendly a country will be. They can fill you in on what to expect and what you’ll need to keep in mind to be fully prepared.

A few additional considerations they may speak with you about:

  • Service animals: If you’ll be traveling with a service animal, you may need to find out if they’re allowed in public areas such as businesses and restaurants.
  • Wheelchair ramps and elevators: If you’ll be using a wheelchair, you may want to do some research on the terrain. How difficult will it be for you to get around? Are there any laws requiring businesses to have wheelchair ramps, and can you reliably count on elevators being available?
  • Medications: If you will be needing any types of medications, you’ll want to make sure your prescriptions are allowed by local law. If they are, will you have any trouble getting them refilled?

Financing Options

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are available to those who have certain disabilities, and these funds can go a long way in covering any expenses you may have in the program.

Here are two helpful websites you can use to find scholarships:

Each scholarship has its own eligibility criteria and application process, along with details about how the funds can be used. Each scholarship has its own separate application process, and although this can be a tedious process, the payoff can be well worthwhile.

Credit Cards

If you’re considering a study abroad program, you’ll also want to carry one of the best credit cards for students.

Credit cards can go a long way in easing the financial burden of a study abroad program. Just make sure you pay off the balance in full every month and on time.

  • Make sure you carry a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. It may not seem like much at the time, but these fees add up over time and can really eat away at your budget.
  • Credit cards with high cash back earnings rates can also help soften the blow of your expenses abroad.
  • Some credit cards offer amazing perks to make your travel experience more pleasant. If you carry one of the best travel credit cards you can expect perks like TSA PreCheck and airport lounge access that will allow you to speed through security more quickly and relax in a nice quiet area with food and drinks before your flight.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance will pay for certain non-refundable expenses in the event you are unable to make your trip. You should consider this if you’ll be investing a sizeable amount of money and are worried about possibly having to cancel.

If you do decide to purchase a separate travel insurance policy, make sure to read the fine print so you understand when coverage applies and under what circumstances.

Remember if you make your travel purchases with one of the best credit cards for students, travel insurance might already be included. Here are just a few cards that have some form of trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage:

Special Considerations Based on Disability

If you’re interested in a study abroad program, you may need to take additional precautions depending on the specific nature of your disability.

Physical

If you’ll be traveling with a wheelchair and you’re nervous about getting through the airport, here is our wheelchair travel guide. Your airport may also have procedures in place to help those with a physical disability.

Here are a few popular international airports, along with their accessibility information.

AirportAccessible RestroomsPet Relief AreasHandicap ParkingWheelchair Service
Sydney Airport (SYD)Accessible toilets are located throughout the T1 International and T2 Domestic terminals.Assistance animal relief areas are available at the T1 International terminal after security on the arrivals level.Accessible parking is available within both Domestic and International car parks. Long term parking is also available at the Blu Emu car park. Wheelchairs are available upon request. Contact your airline at time of booking, and at least 48 hours prior to your arrival to the terminals.
Heathrow Airport (LHR)Toilets are provided throughout Heathrow in both arrivals and departures, and both before and after security. Assistance dogs are allowed, and you will need to contact the Assistance team on 020 8757 2700 so they can help you gain access to a suitable area outside the terminal. Disabled parking is available at the airport's Short Stay car park and Business/Long Stay car park. Purple STaxi chairs are made available free of charge from any Assistance host areas. Aisle chairs are also available for those needing assistance getting onto the aircraft and into the aircraft seat.
Vienna International Airport (VIE)The airport is extremely wheelchair-accessible. This map shows all locations of wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Pet relief areas are available outside the terminals. Handicap-accessible parking is available in Short-term car park K3, car park C, and multi-storey car parks 3 & 4Notify your airline at least 48 hours prior to your departure for assistance. Upon arrival at the airport, report to the mobility service in the Arrivals Hall in terminal 3, or go to your airline check-in counter.
Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)Toilets have been adapted to comply with the latest standards to allow access by wheelchair-bound passengers (including motorized wheelchairs)Pet relief areas are available in terminal 2 once you clear customs. Available at short and long-term car parks at all 3 terminals. Contact your airline at least 48 hours prior to your departure. If you are departing from the airport, you can report to a designated pick-up point 2 hours prior to your flight's scheduled departure time. point

Once you land in your study abroad country, you’ll want to think about your wheelchair’s physical characteristics and how easy and comfortable it will be to get around depending on the terrain of the country. For instance, if it’s a motorized wheelchair, how long will the batteries last? Can you look into batteries that last longer, or can be more easily swapped out during the day? 

Visual 

If you have any type of visual impairment, making sure your luggage is easily identifiable at the airport can save you a lot of time and stress. You can wrap colored tags around your luggage or purchase luggage that’s a particularly unique, bright color. Once you land in your study abroad country, it will help you quickly locate your luggage so you can be on your way.

Safety is of the utmost importance. Traffic laws differ depending on the country, so make sure you understand the basics so that you can cross the street safely. Carry a cane if you find that it helps you get around more safely. 

Deaf/Hard of Hearing

If you’re concerned you might miss important announcements at the airport because of a hearing issue, your phone can serve as an excellent tool. Set up text alerts, have your airline status bookmarked to your phone and double-check the flight status screens once you arrive at the airport. Flights get delayed, and boarding times and gate locations change all the time.

Depending on how reliant you are on a hearing aid, consider packing extra batteries as a a backup when you’re out exploring the city.

Service Animals

Each country has its own requirements when it comes to service animals and pets. If you’ll be traveling internationally with a service animal, research your specific study abroad country’s requirements. The process of obtaining vaccinations and health records for animals can be quite lengthy, so get this process started at least a few months before your study abroad program begins.

Know that a mandatory quarantine period may be required for your service animal depending on the country you’ll be traveling to.

You’ll also want to find out how service animals are treated in your study abroad country. For instance, will they be allowed to accompany you in stores and restaurants? If not, what alternative arrangements can you make ahead of time? 

Bottom Line 

You can get a lot out of study abroad programs, and you shouldn’t let any type of disability hold you back from this wonderful experience of meeting new people and experiencing a different culture.

If you’ll be traveling with a physical disability, you can make things a little easier on yourself by choosing a country that’s easier to get around. And definitely do your research to see how your study abroad country handles items like service animals, prescription drugs and traffic control.

Finally, use all of the financial tools at your disposal. Take the time to apply for scholarships and grants, and make sure you pack one of the best credit cards for students so you can avoid foreign transaction fees and earn rewards for your daily expenses.

With the right preparation, you’ll be able to get the most out of your study abroad program with minimal hassle.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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