Breaking Barriers to Learning

U.S. universities provide a range of support services for international students with disabilities.

By Natasa Milas

April 2023

Breaking Barriers to Learning

Stanford University’s Office of Accessible Education works closely with campus partners to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal access to opportunities in all aspects of life at the university. (Photograph courtesy Office of Accessible Education)

Studying abroad can be a gratifying educational and cultural experience, but it could also come with challenges. Potential barriers include the complex application process, financial needs, and acclimatizing to new academic and cultural environments. Students with disabilities who wish to study abroad may encounter additional challenges.  

“These challenges may include navigating a new and unfamiliar system, cultural and language barriers, and limited resources or services that are specifically tailored to their needs,” says Sujana Mayreddy, regional officer at the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) in Hyderabad. “Students with disabilities might require expensive accommodations or assistive technology to succeed in college. Without sufficient financial support, they might not be able to afford to attend the institution of their choice.”  

Indian students with disabilities planning to pursue higher studies in the United States may reach out to an EducationUSA adviser for help to navigate the application process and find the right fit—a university that can meet their academic and disability needs. 

Do your research 

“While researching for right-fit universities, you can find out what services are available for persons with disabilities at a particular campus,” says Aditi Lele, EducationUSA adviser at USIEF Mumbai. “Accredited universities are fully equipped with resources for students with disabilities.”  

In addition to finding the right fit academically, students with disabilities “should communicate their needs and concerns with admissions staff and disability services offices,” says Mayreddy. This ensures that the institution provides the necessary support. 

Support networks 

Many U.S. universities have disability services offices or other support programs that provide accommodations and a range of services. “These may include assistive technology, note-taking services, accessible housing and transportation, and academic accommodations such as extended time on exams or alternative testing formats,” says Mayreddy. 

Student organizations may be a useful resource too. “International students may find support from campus student organizations and other disability advocacy groups that help them connect with resources and build a supportive community,” Mayreddy adds. 

Carleigh Kude, director of disability advising, at Stanford University’s Office of Accessible Education, says, “We have a team of highly skilled professional service providers who work directly with students to provide individualized accommodations. We also work closely with our campus partners such as the student health center, housing and dining, career services, and academic departments to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal access to opportunities in all aspects of life at the university.” 

There are various levels of support provided by the Office of Accessible Education. “International students are entitled to the same disability rights and support services available to domestic students, but we recognize that this is a unique group that requires unique considerations. Students from outside the United States might not be familiar with special accessibility accommodations and options in the postsecondary educational environment,” Kude explains. “Knowing this, we are sure to promote our services at international student orientation events. We are mindful that it might take additional levels of support to get the disability-related services they need so that they can be successful students.”  

The Office of Accessible Education regularly hosts community events and information-sharing workshops. “We also share a building with the Disability Community Space (DisCo), a student-led place where peers can meet, network, share experiences and build friendships,” says Kude.  

This summer, postsecondary disability services providers from around the world will meet in Kerala at a conference where Kude will present a session on transitioning to U.S. colleges for international students with disabilities. 

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City. 


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