The University of Wisconsin-Madison is committed to supporting students with disabilities in all aspects of their Wisconsin Experience and encourages you to explore the rewarding education opportunity study abroad offers. This includes students with disabilities of all types.
Just as cultures differ, though, so does the degree of access and readily available disability services in the many countries and communities you might consider for your study abroad experience. Students with disabilities have successfully participated in many study abroad programs; however, not every study abroad experience is a good fit from an accessibility perspective.
To maximize the opportunity to travel abroad and study internationally, it is essential that you allocate a minimum of six months (preferably up to one year) in advance of your program to plan for accommodations, regardless of the type of disability. Experience tells us the key to success is early notification and planning. The McBurney Disability Resource Center and your UW-Madison study abroad office are here to assist you before and during your time abroad.
Planning a successful and accessible study abroad experience is a collaborative process that includes you, our office, the McBurney Disability Resource Center, the host institution and faculty. Each has an important role to play in ensuring that students with disabilities are able to participate fully.
It is your responsibility to:
- Research programs and see what best fit all your needs. See below for more questions to consider when comparing programs.
- Recognize that accommodation planning takes extra preparation time. This is particularly true if accommodations include any of the following:
- Sign language
- Conversion of print to audio or Braille
- Mobility considerations, including but not limited to transportation and housing
- Create a realistic budget for study abroad expenses including personal expenses associated with disability-related needs (e.g., personal attendant services, specialized equipment, adaptive technology, medication or other health care costs, etc.) You can use this budget worksheet to track expenses.
Some questions to consider when you are doing your research and planning include:
- What accommodations do I currently receive at UW-Madison and will I need/want all of them when I am abroad? Am I comfortable if only some of my accommodations are met?
- What programs best meet my academic, professional, and personal goals?
- What new skills do I want to gain abroad?
- How my disability is perceived in the countries that most interest me? What terminology might be used when talking about disability in that country?
- How do I feel if my accommodations cannot be met in my desired country? Am I willing to consider other locations that may be a better fit?
- How will I react if I receive unsolicited attention or help,?
- Will I share my invisible disability with people in my host country or fellow participants?
- Can I legally bring in my medication to last through the entire experience?
- Do I currently work with a health care provider or have ongoing/regular appointments and will I be able to do so while on my program?
- How will my experiences navigating my disability in the U.S. help me adjust to my host country?
- How might other parts of my identity affect my experience abroad?
McBurney Disability Resource Center Responsibilities
- Assist you and your UW-Madison study abroad office in evaluating the accessibility of the program.
- Determine appropriate accommodations for the selected programs in consultation with you, your UW-Madison study abroad office, faculty, and the host institution.
- Coordinate and fund reasonable accommodations needed to create an accessible study abroad experience. This includes sign language interpreters, captioning, conversion of print to audio or Braille, and class note takers.
UW-Madison Study Abroad Office Responsibilities
- Provide resources about accessibility on programs.
- Consult with McBurney Center staff to obtain answers or feedback for any disability-related questions.
- Serve as the primary liaison between UW–Madison faculty and the host institution regarding your accessibility needs and identifying reasonable accommodations.
- Assist in the coordination and funding of reasonable accommodations provided for the study abroad experience.
UW–Madison Faculty and/or Host Institution Responsibilities
- Identify essential program standards for the study abroad program.
- Assist in identifying reasonable accommodations and resolving access concerns that allow full access to the extent possible without fundamentally altering the essential requirements of the program.
- Determine whether you will be able to meet the program standards with or without the accommodations that can be provided in that country or experience.
- Assist with in-country problem-solving for unanticipated concerns.
Timeline and Success Strategies for Studying Abroad
We encourage all students with disabilities to start their planning six months to one year prior to your program start date. Remember, the more extensive your needs (for example, sign language interpreters or accessible transportation and housing), the more advanced planning time is necessary. Here are some success strategies for studying abroad:
- REGISTER with the McBurney Disability Resource Center office if you have not already done so. The process for determining eligibility for accommodations can require several weeks depending on your disability and your documentation.
- DISCUSS your accommodation needs with your Access Consultant from the McBurney Disability Resource Center and your Study Abroad Advisor.
- RESEARCH various study abroad programs. Attend information sessions, speak with staff about program options, and review the program webpages.
- IDENTIFY accommodations that would minimize barriers and enhance your participation and enjoyment while abroad. Keep in mind that due to differing environments, you may need accommodations or assistance abroad that you may not typically need in the United States.
- GATHER information on each program relating to your individual needs (e.g., arranged and public transportation, housing, alternative test taking, course requirements, etc.). We can work with you to find compatible sites with your interests, and identify accommodations, as well as support systems, in the host country that best coincide with your educational and disability needs.
- CONSIDER your accommodation needs as well as financial assistance, personal assistants, or assistive technology.
- MAINTAIN regular and consistent communication with your Access Consultant, as needed. Schedule regular check-in meetings before you depart for your study abroad program.
- DEVELOP a budget and a financial plan for accomplishing your goal.
- SELECT a study abroad program and apply!
Study Abroad Program Considerations
It is important to research accessible information prior to leaving the country and to be prepared in case things don’t go as planned. It is critical to have a back-up plan in place.
The following series of questions prompt you to consider aspects of the different programs you are contemplating. Identify different situations that may arise before and during your study abroad experience
This is not a comprehensive list and there may be additional factors to discuss with your Access Consultant and Study Abroad Advisor.
Attitudes about Disability
- How important is it for you to study in a place where disability accommodations are well-developed and cultural attitudes are progressive?
- How will your independence or use of adaptive equipment be affected based on the program you are considering?
- How does the chosen host culture define/view disability?
- What questions about your disability might you need to be prepared to answer?
- Consider carefully how your communication needs may change while you study abroad. How may this impact your daily activities and/or accommodations?
- How are the courses designed and what type of coursework will be required in your study abroad program?
- Does a program fit your learning style? For example, is the program based on interactive classes and experiential field trips or a more traditional lecture/discussion format? Are there structured schedules and assignments to help you manage your time? Are late morning classes to accommodate fatigue available in the program?
- Can you arrange for test accommodations?
- Will there be multiple choice or essay exams?
- How much reading is involved?
- Is document conversion available for on-site reading materials?
- For students using interpreting and real-time captioning, what is the duration of the program? How many classroom hours are required in your program?
- How will you approach traveling on an international airline and in an international airport?
- What types of accessible public transportation are available in the host country?
- What types of transportation are used most often in your study abroad program?
- What are the overall conditions of public sidewalks and pavement of streets?
- What are the housing options through your program and what accommodations do you need?
- Are the room dimensions physically accessible to individual needs?
- Are there elevators available in your housing facility?
- Are there accessible bathroom and shower facilities? How close are they to your room?
- Are there flashing fire alarms in your housing facility? In your room?
- What are the sleeping arrangements like in your program?
- How might technology in the host country impact your assistive technology housing needs?
Medical Care & Auxiliary Aids
- Are replacement parts for auxiliary aids readily available in the event of loss or damage?
- Can your current health care provider refer you to possible agencies or professionals who may assist you in the event of an emergency?
- Can you bring your prescribed medications through customs and to your host country?
- Are there any laws in the host country that support service animals?
- Are there veterinary services conveniently available in your host country?
- What vaccines, documentation, and tests are required to bring your service animal into your host country (or other countries) and back into the US?
- Will public transportation allow service animals in all the countries you may be visiting?
- Research the different rules and regulations that may affect service animals during international travel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I disclose my disability when I apply for a study abroad program?
Disability information is an educational record protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which governs the privacy of student educational records. You may disclose disability information to your UW-Madison study abroad office and are strongly encouraged to do so. FERPA authorizes your UW-Madison study abroad office to seek confirmation of disability status and need for accommodation because it has a legitimate educational interest and need to know in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities. Disclosure permits the Study Abroad Advisor to work with you and answer important questions about what access is available in the countries and programs you are considering. Protections available in different countries depend on the laws in that country, not the laws in the United States.
Can I be denied admission to a study abroad program on the basis of my disability?
Not all study abroad programs are accessible to every student. When a program has a specific educational requirement, a reasonable accommodation may not be attainable to provide reasonable access for you to meet the essential course standards. Likewise, if you do not provide sufficient notice to allow accommodations to be arranged, you may not be able to attend. However, each situation is unique and requires careful and thoughtful review. Creative solutions have been identified for many students needing complex accommodations when sufficient time is available to collaborate and problem solve.
What do I do if I am denied access to academic accommodations for my disability once I arrive at my host institution?
Accommodations should be determined prior to your departure. However, if an accommodations denial occurs, document when the denial was made and in what manner it was made (keep any documentation available). Call or e-mail your Study Abroad Advisor and McBurney Center Access Consultant. Let them know what happened, providing any detail and documentation that you have. Although UW–Madison cannot guarantee any particular result, your Study Abroad Advisor can follow up with the program to determine the source of the denial and to determine alternative solutions.
What if I decide not to use accommodations abroad?
The choice to use accommodations is entirely up to you. However, if refusing accommodations while abroad could pose a risk to the personal safety of you or others, you might be denied participation in a study abroad program. It is also important to remember that if you decline to use available accommodations provided during the study abroad experience, and do poorly in classes, the grade earned will stand.
Google Maps Wheelchair Accessible Routes
Article on how to find wheelchair accessible routes through Google Maps
Mobility International USA (MIUSA)
Resources for Americans going abroad and how to plan and prepare
Traveler’s with Disabilities
U.S. Department of State information to help you research and prepare.
We ask students to share their experiences on how various parts of their identity impacted them while they were abroad in their program evaluations. Below are tips and advice given by Badgers about their individual experiences and thoughts. These do not represent all experiences in a location. Our staff is happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.
“They were very accommodating with my disabilities. Make sure you apply for disability accommodations as soon as you receive your class schedule.” –Australia past participant
“I felt well during the experience for the most part and didn’t have too many disability interruptions and the ones I did thankfully did not affect much.” –Ecuador past participant
“My identity did not really impact my experience beyond just requiring extra planning for academic aspects. As a McBurney student, I had to do a little bit of extra planning ahead of time and while at my host university to make sure that my accommodations were honored while abroad. I would advise you to work with your McBurney advisor to email the Disability Services Office at your host institution as soon as you find out you are accepted for the program. Then, make sure to check the deadlines online at for Disability Services office for submitting paperwork for exam and course accommodations, as I had issues meeting those.” –England past participant
“I was able to get accommodations abroad which was my biggest worry about studying abroad. If you really need accommodations to do well in school, choose where you study abroad based on that.” –Hungary past participant
“Traveling is stressful and makes you feel nervous and somewhat scared and can make your disability act up, but traveling also gives you a sense of confidence as you navigate your way successfully through a foreign country.” –Italy past participant
“I have a cognitive disability, so I found some classwork took me way too long to complete and got in the way of my experiencing the culture there at times. I would use more resources from your program and let them know how much you’re struggling with certain courses. I tried to just do it on my own and suffer through it.” –Spain past participant
“When got sick I had to depend on my new support system, but I was able to be vulnerable and lean on them when I needed help. Share your story and give your new friends an opportunity to step up and help. People surprise you.” –South Africa past participant
“I was able to get accommodations for my learning disability, but they offered less than the McBurney program at Madison. Apply early and meet with the accommodations specialist as soon as you get there.” –South Africa past participant
“One of my diseases is Celiac disease which made it nearly impossible to eat in Korea. If I went again, I would stay somewhere with a kitchen. My mental illness didn’t affect my experience too much; at UW I would have my McBurney visa for flexibility with absences, which I didn’t have at my host institution (however, I did not reach out to my host institution to try and set anything similar up), so I had a few more absences than normal. –South Korea past participant
“Depending on what your disability is you might want to search for more information before deciding if this is the right program for you.” –South Korea past participant
Return to Top