Ashley Holben, interim manager and project specialist with the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange and executive specialist to the chief executive officer at Mobility International USA, leads the conversation on disability inclusion on campus and in international affairs.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic if you’d like to share it with your colleagues. You can enable the closed captioning by clicking on the icon on your laptop or on your iPad in the “More” button. If you click on that you can show captions. So I encourage you to do that. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Ashley Holben with us today to discuss disability inclusion on campus and in international affairs. Ms. Holben is interim manager and project specialist with the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, and executive specialist to the CEO at Mobility International USA. In these roles, she develops initiatives and resources to increase participation and inclusion of students with disabilities in international exchange.
So, Ashley, thanks very much for being with us. Let’s just get right to it.
If you could discuss and share with us the importance of disability inclusion in higher education institutions and international affairs, and share what you have found to be some of the best practices to do so on college campuses.
HOLBEN: Certainly. Well, thank you so much, Irina, and thanks so much to the entire CFR team for putting this topic on the agenda of this webinar series. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to discuss an often misunderstood topic but a very prominent community, which is people with disabilities in higher education. And so really appreciate all of those who are joining today to tune in, and welcome.
And, you know, the CFR team shared with me the roster of folks who were planning to attend and one thing that really stood out to me is kind of the really wide breadth of expertise and departments represented and positions represented.
So it’s really encouraging to see so many different types of leadership wanting to discuss this further and wanting to share practices. So I’m looking forward to doing that today and I really hope to hear from some of those who are tuning in with your expertise and observations and activities as well, and I am delighted to share some—just observations of my own in this role at the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE).
As Irina said, this is a project that’s housed at Mobility International USA since 1995. But we’re sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, really, in order to promote the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange between the U.S. and other countries, and that is to say kind of to the end we provide tips and strategies for people with disabilities and international program staff on how to prepare for an inclusive international exchange.
So, before I kind of dive in, I just wanted to define these terms a little bit because it’s not always clear what we mean by international exchange. But, basically, we’re talking about everything from study abroad, teach abroad, volunteering, research, professional visitor exchanges. Also, cultural like arts, sports programs.
So try to picture a U.S. college student going abroad for a semester or an international student coming to the U.S., a Peace Corps volunteer, Fulbright scholars, and so on. And we’re—the genesis of this project is really because people with disabilities are taking advantage of these same opportunities as nondisabled people in order to advance their educational/career goals, their personal goals.
And that kind of brings me to kind of another definition—a loose definition—that people often wonder, well, what do you mean by people with disabilities, and by that that includes people with physical or mobility disabilities, sensory disabilities, chronic health conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities.
That includes mental health disabilities, neurodiversity learning disabilities. And then keep in mind that disabilities can be apparent or nonapparent. And then also somebody’s disability might be apparent certain times and not others—for example, if they use assistive devices on some days but don’t need them on other days.
So one topic that I really—is close to our hearts in our world is this theme of disability as diversity, and I saw on the roster—I was really excited to see that there were some folks who registered who are, for example, the director of diversity and inclusion, DEI specialists, and so on, and it’s so encouraging to see that higher education is really embracing this diversity, equity, and inclusion, implementing DEI strategies kind of throughout all areas of higher ed.
And so, with this in mind it’s really vital to recognize that disability is part of diversity and not separate from it. Too often folks want to separate the two. Or, disability is an aspect of diversity that can get overlooked in diversity initiatives, we find, too often.
So that inclusion of people with disabilities is really fundamental to be able to—and acting on that commitment to diversity at the institutional level.
And then, for many, disability is an important facet of their identity, connecting someone to a larger disability community—for instance, disability pride, disability culture, history, and more. So it’s really important to keep that in mind in any discussion related to DEI.
And just as important, many people with disabilities have identities in addition to their disability identity. So, for example, a person with a disability can also be a person of color, a first-generation college student, LGBTQ, an immigrant.
And so one thing that we find often when we’re talking to people with disabilities about their experience is, there was so much focus on my disability that we completely forgot—(laughs)—to talk about these other aspects of myself that are important to me. So I think that’s definitely a good lesson.
If anyone out there is more interested in this topic of disability intersectionality, I want to just kind of do a little plug for a publication that I’m really excited about that we put forth last year on Intersections Abroad, which I’m holding up to the screen. I think it might be blurred out, unfortunately, but—(laughs)—oh, here we go.
FASKIANOS: It’s a little blurry but we’ll—
HOLBEN: It’s a little blurry.
HOLBEN: But it’s Intersections Abroad: “Travelers with disabilities explore identity and diversity through a lens of international exchange.” So it’s a series of travelers’ stories, interviews with people with different types of disabilities including people who are blind or have chronic health conditions or who are on the autism spectrum but who also want to describe what their study abroad experiences in different countries was like as a person of color or as someone with a religious identity or someone who brings all these unique experiences to their international exchange experience itself.
For those of you who—I know we have a lot of different folks joining the call. On the higher education campus, people with disabilities not only includes students but also faculty, staff, administrators, campus leaders, visitors, and institutions often have dedicated staff or offices to support individual level disability accommodations and also to promote disability access more broadly across campus.
So I noticed some folks who registered for this event come from, for example, Office of Student Accessibility, Office of Disability Services, Office of Student Support and Success. We had—I saw an access and accommodations coordinator, an ADA compliance coordinator. So these are all some examples of the types of folks who are working to help promote access at the—in higher education.
You can also find counseling centers, tutoring centers. There are a growing number of campuses that are providing services tailored for students on the autism spectrum and also those that are tailored for students with intellectual disabilities, which is really interesting. And if you want to learn more about that I encourage you to check out the organization Think College.
But in addition to campus accessibility and disability support services you’re going to find other entities that help promote disability community, disability history, disability rights, representation and visibility. For example, student groups led by and for students with disabilities.
I saw one of the registrants—there were a couple of registrants on this event who are representing the Harvard Law School Project on Disability to, as they describe, use their learning in comparative and international law to advance understanding regarding disability law, policy, and education around the world.
So it’s really exciting to see just kind of all the different ways in which higher education can support and promote disability access and inclusion in different ways in representation.
Another topic that we are really passionate about at the NCDE is disability-inclusive campus internationalization, especially when it comes to the international exchange aspect of internationalization.
So take education abroad, for instance. For the most part, I think a huge bulk of our resources relate to students—college students with disabilities who study abroad. That’s a big chunk of our resources, and we get a lot of questions about that from international exchange administrators and international study abroad advisors and coordinators about how can we provide some support to these students who want to study abroad who might have some specific disability-related accommodations they might need abroad, or everything from how can we attract students with disabilities to participate in our programs, and so on. So you’re going to find a lot of those types of resources in our library.
But, education abroad that can also encompass faculty with disabilities leading trips abroad, and it’s really exciting to be able to connect with some faculty with disabilities who can share some of their stories with us about arranging these types of exchange programs. And the programs that they’re leading may or may not have a disability theme, depending on what their scholarly background is.
However, I’ve observed that some education abroad curricula does include disability-related themes. So one example is at California State University in Northridge. One of their faculty led an exchange program called “Black Deaf Activism: Culture and Education in South Africa,” bringing together a lot of students from their campus who identify either as deaf, as Black, or both, and more. So that was really exciting to follow their journey through South Africa, again, with those different lenses.
And then, of course, people with disabilities working in the international exchange field—in the international education field as advisors, administrators, and more, and that’s always something that we get really excited about at the Clearinghouse. We kind of proselytize a little bit to people with disabilities about, oh, have you thought about entering a career in international education so that we can see more disability representation and leadership within that field.
A lot of students with disabilities are—and without disabilities are kind of blown away in a good way to see some of that disability representation in the kind of leadership level of that field and so that’s something that we try to encourage in some different ways that I’ll get to a little later.
And then on the flip side of education abroad we also want to see disability-inclusive campus internationalization in the form of international student recruitment, so welcoming international students and scholars with disabilities to U.S. higher education, and that comprises another large segment of the resources housed at NCDE.
So for those of you who advise international students and scholars on your campus or who are connected to the recruiting side to bring students with disabilities to the U.S., or bring international students to us, ESL offices and instructors. We want to work with them to make sure that they’re aware of the international students with disabilities.
These are fantastic opportunities for them, too, and but they also might have some different cultural expectations related to disability. They might be used to a different type of system of accessibility and accommodations or a lack thereof.
And, most recently we’ve talked to a lot of international students who are expressing an interest in connecting with other students with disabilities during their stay in the U.S., whether it’s other American students or other international students with disabilities. And so one thing that we’re excited to do in the near future is think of some ways that maybe we can help facilitate these types of connections on kind of a peer-mentor type model.
Another focus of campus internationalization can be offering coursework on international disability rights. One prominent example in my mind is the University of Oregon’s “Global Perspectives on Disability” course because it’s co-taught by MIUSA’s own CEO, Susan Sygall, who is a woman with a disability, and what’s interesting is that that course is cross listed on campus with international studies, special education, and disability studies.
So, you know, disability is such a cross-cutting issue. There’s really no topic or department or educational focus that doesn’t—that can’t touch upon disability, inclusion, and access. And so the “Global Perspectives on Disability” course at the U of O is one that’s been running for several years and it’s fantastic. We’re able to bring some guest presenters who are often disabled women leaders from countries around the world to share about their experiences in disability rights, disability policy, movement building, and so on.
And then, one last example I’ll share, but not to say the last one, is access to foreign language learning and ESL and really ensuring that, you know, those are so vital to promoting campus internationalization and often they’re linked to these international exchange experiences, education abroad, and so on.
But, sometimes we hear from people with disabilities that they were discouraged from taking a foreign language class because of assumptions about what they’re able to do. So, for example, like a person who is deaf, there might be some assumptions that they can’t participate in a foreign language class.
And so, we would really promote any person with a disability to see if learning a foreign language is something that would help further their goals, personal, career wise, or otherwise.
And so, I do want to hear your—all of your questions and your—not just questions but also just sharing from your experiences. But before we do that, I do want to just say a little bit about NCDE resources so that you’re aware of what we have in our library. That is to say they all touch on this crossover of disability inclusion in international exchange and include everything from tips for recruiting people with disabilities in international exchange programs, disability-specific tips for international travel.
So, if your wheelchair gets broken when you’re abroad, what might you do? Or, what are some different types of accommodations that a blind student might use or someone with dyslexia might use? Best practices from various U.S. higher education institutions. And I think that’s going to really appeal to the folks who are on this webinar today.
We have—just like we’ve been able to interview international exchange alumni, students who’ve come back from their experiences abroad, and others, we’ve also really relied on higher ed professionals to share their best practices with us because, really, our resource is a compendium of expertise from the field.
And so I would really encourage anyone here who maybe they have a best practice to share from their own campus that they’re working on and we would love to be able to add that as a resource to be able to share with our broader community. So if that’s of interest please get in touch.
We also offer sample disability accommodation forms and questionnaires, which is really handy for those out there who are wanting to start a conversation around disability access but maybe don’t know the—don’t have the vocabulary or don’t have the language. These are kind of helpful guides that can help you take those next steps.
And then, finally, one thing that I am really excited to share because this is a new—relatively new initiative on our part is we’ve started hosting an access to exchange externship for—and this is a resource you can share with your students—this is for students with disabilities, recent graduates and others, who want to use their experiences to further the mission to promote disability inclusion in international exchange. So they’re tasked with coming up with some kind of either a webinar or event or a country guide, some kind of resource that can help further this mission.
And so some of them have created resources for peers like prospective study abroad students with disabilities or for the folks who are working in the international education field so that they can be more cognizant of—you know, from a disabled person’s point of view what are the supports needed or what can they be doing.
And then our seminar—access to exchange seminar is for people with disabilities who have not had any international exchange experiences and, you know, or maybe it’s a little intimidating to take that first step, and so our seminar is really just trying to break it down and make it feel a little bit more comfortable to ask questions and help try to just instill some confidence in future international exchange participants with disabilities.
So, well, let me stop there for the time being and let me put it to all of you. What I’d like to know is, given, again, just this very—all of the different types of departments and expertise that you’re all bringing with you today what are some of your own experiences, observations, activities, around disability inclusion on your campus and in international affairs.
So I’d really like to hear from you all and I wonder if anyone would like to start.
FASKIANOS: Great. Great. Thank you, Ashley.
This is terrific and, yes, we want to go to everybody on the call. You can click the raised hand icon on your screen to ask a question, and on an iPad or tablet click the more button to access the raised hand feature, and when I call on you, you can accept the unmute prompt.
Please state your name and affiliation followed by your question. You can also write your question in the Q&A box. If you do that, please say who you are.
And we do have our first written question from Pearl Robinson, who is an associate professor at Tufts University: Does the Peace Corps offer opportunities for people with disabilities?
HOLBEN: Thank you for that question. Oh, I’m so glad you asked.
Absolutely. The Peace Corps encourages people with disabilities to participate in—as volunteers and, indeed, we have seen so many returned Peace Corps volunteers with disabilities come back and share their experiences.
I think I referred earlier to a person who was discouraged from learning a language because she’s deaf, and she often shares, she really pushed back against that, insisted she wants to learn French and one of the happy results of her advocating for herself to be able to pursue French despite being discouraged from doing so is it enabled her to be able to serve in the Peace Corps in Francophone Cameroon, which was a life-changing event for her. And, actually, I know that there is an upcoming webinar that’s going to be hosted by a Peace Corps staff on volunteers with disabilities that will feature a number of returned Peace Corps volunteers.
And so if that—I think that is coming up pretty soon. So I’ll share that information with Pearl individually or unless other people are interested I can share with you, Irina.
But also the Peace Corps also has opportunities for shorter-term programs for folks with unique expertise and who have a specific area of specialized focus. And so we recently interviewed someone who took part in that program—it’s called Peace Corps Response—which worked out really well for her because she has some chronic health conditions and mobility disabilities that made that format work quite well for her.
But, yes, we have lots of returned Peace Corps stories on our website about people with different types of disabilities who served and it’s really fun to read their stories and just really eye-opening as well.
FASKIANOS: Great. So we have another question from Deena Mansour with the Mansfield Center: We’ve appreciated using some of your resources on our State Department exchanges. Could you speak to some of the most important ways you prepared others in a cohort, a predeparture orientation to support a colleague with disabilities, given that many countries have less—far less exposure and support than we have had in the U.S.?
HOLBEN: Mmm hmm. Yeah. I would say—and that’s fantastic that you’re working with—being able to implement State Department exchanges as well. We’re really excited by any time we can provide resources related to, for instance, the Global UGRAD program or the Mandela Fellowship or Fulbright, whatever it might be.
And then, as for predeparture orientations, this has been a topic that we’ve explored both in terms of international students coming to the U.S., which we just kind of put—created some new resources for that. But it sounds like what you’re asking is for folks going abroad—maybe coming from the U.S. and going abroad.
I think it’s just really important that people with disabilities who are preparing to go abroad are—have a chance to research a bit about the country’s disability rights—not only disability rights laws but disability culture and context.
We really encourage folks to try to do outreach to a disability-led organization, if possible, and some people who’ve been able to do that it’s led to a really fruitful relationship and really enhanced their experience to be able to meet with local people with disabilities who can share kind of the real experience on the ground, what it might be like.
I think a lot of people are also—maybe aren’t prepared for just the feeling of kind of being—standing out and others are unprepared for—well, just to use an example from our Intersections Abroad publication that I shared earlier, one student who studied abroad who is blind, she really thought that people would only be interested in her blindness and only have questions about her blindness, and she was really surprised that when she arrived people had wanted to know about other things about her, too.
And so I think just allowing some room for all aspects of yourself there can be really beneficial. It’s something that sounds simple but people might forget. And so kind of evaluating different identities that you have, what you want to get out of the experience. But it sounds like what you’re asking about is kind of more just on-the-ground—those logistics, those environmental barriers.
And you can’t foresee all of them, but I think just one thing that’s really helpful is just getting an idea of, how do people in that destination approach disability access because, if you call a hotel or something like that and you say is this going to be disability accessible, I really encourage just trying to get a little bit more specific, because they might say yes because their idea of disability access is having some burly people lift you up over some stairs, whereas that might not be at all your idea of accessibility.
And so some of these things you’re not going to know until you arrive. But if you can connect with another—a person with a similar disability who has traveled abroad or someone who has gone to the place where you’re going that can really be helpful, or talking to locals with disabilities.
And then our resource library, that’s one of the things that, I think—I really hope is helpful to folks planning their trips abroad is to be able to read about the experiences of other travelers and kind of the types of things unexpected that they encountered during their travels that might help other folks just get into that mindset of what might be on the horizon.
FASKIANOS: There’s a question from Kwaku Obosu-Mensah at Lorain County Community College: Do students with disabilities need special insurance to travel abroad in an exchange program?
HOLBEN: That’s a great—thanks for that question.
Not always. Some students who have maybe chronic health conditions have been able—sometimes their study abroad program, for instance, has been able to negotiate, like, a group rate of health insurance for—for example, if it’s a group of students who are going abroad, in case there’s some additional coverage needed related to preexisting conditions or disabilities.
However, we’re also seeing a best practice in the form of international exchange departments and offices budgeting for some funds to be able to provide for students with disabilities in those instances where something’s not going to be covered by. It’s kind of an extenuating circumstance, whether it’s related to getting access to health care, kind of an emergency fund, or being able to help pay for some private transportation when the local public transportation is not accessible, to use a couple of examples.
So I think you’re going to have to—it’s really important to check with the insurance company and find out what their policies are around that but also to consider negotiating what they’re able to cover to be as inclusive as possible. And that’s not always going to be able to happen in that way, in which case those contingency funds are going to help supplement whatever the insurance is not able to.
FASKIANOS: Great. And people can also raise their hand and ask their questions and share best practices. But I will have another question—written question—from Kimberly Pace, University of Alaska Anchorage, which goes along with Kwaku’s question, which was—you just answered about health care for students—faculty with disabilities when engaged in study abroad programs. So it’d be great if you could elaborate on that.
HOLBEN: So, with health care, I guess just some additional considerations related to health includes mental health. Some folks with chronic health conditions might need to just get some—do some extra preparation—not only chronic health conditions but other types of disabilities.
People with disabilities planning to go abroad will sometimes need to just take some extra steps for preparation, for example, those who are taking medications in the U.S. Certain types of ADHD medications in the U.S. are not legal in certain countries where people study abroad, and so trying to get information about what types of health care you’re able to receive abroad, what types of prescriptions you’re able to bring into the country abroad, working with your health care professionals about whether or not to adjust any medications prior to travel, and then where are you going to be able to access medical supplies in case yours get depleted or are lost or stolen or break—you know, where to go if your mobility equipment breaks.
And we do have some tip sheets kind of on these different types of disability topics related to, what happens if you get into this dilemma, how can you try to, for example, keep your mobility equipment or your medications—how do you travel with those things in such a way that kind of helps mitigate some of the risks of having things break or confiscated or flagged or whatever it might be.
So it’s not, like, a simple answer but it’s absolutely really important predeparture. Part of the —it’s part of the research. It’s part of the process for going abroad and, unfortunately, it typically means building in some extra time for planning to go abroad.
So we always encourage students with disabilities, even if you think you might possibly go abroad at some point in your college career it’s not too early to start planning for it now and start looking into some of these questions, and some of the guides that we have on our website are helpful just for thinking through what those questions might be because, as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know.
And people will often think, well, I’ve got that taken care of, no problem. But they’re only considering it from a home environment perspective and not really thinking about how, well, is the host city infrastructure going to be able to support this accessibility software that I use or whatever it might be. So not just in terms of health care but other types of accommodations as well.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Can you elaborate on the difference between access and inclusion? I think it would be helpful to give those.
HOLBEN: Well, I don’t think there needs to be a broad difference. But one thing that I would want to emphasize is, there’s—on one hand, we’re talking about disability inclusion and how can we make sure that—they’re really—they go hand in hand.
Inclusion is how can people with disabilities access these—all of the same programs, all of the same services—really, just kind of everything that nondisabled people can access and—but I think inclusion is not quite the full picture. It’s not really enough.
And so what we would say is how can we go beyond inclusion—the inclusion piece—which is just making sure can you participate to sometimes you have to kind of take the first step to get people with disabilities to see these things as belonging to them or see these—sometimes people will self-select out of things because they’ve grown up with these messages that this isn’t for them, or they have to wait until it’s a special disability-focused program or activity for them to participate.
And so one message that we tell people with disabilities is to kind of think of it as an infiltration where you’re, like, find these nondisability-focused activities and if you want to be part of it then be part of it.
But on the flip side, we’re also thinking a lot about reverse infiltration, which is the folks that are managing different projects and opportunities and activities sometimes you might have to go out of your way a little bit to invite in people from the disability community, meet them where they are, really make sure that they are expected, anticipated.
So it’s not really just enough to say, well, we wouldn’t turn a person with a disability away so that makes us inclusive but, really, how can you be more proactive and intentional in your strategy to make sure that disability is represented. So I think that that would be one distinction.
And then, furthermore, beyond just disability inclusion—are they participating—then I think another important step to look at is disability leadership, and so that’s kind of where—why I say we get really excited when people with disabilities are entering leadership positions in higher education, whether that’s working in the study abroad office or as faculty leaders and others who are taking part in these decision-making roles and, how can we create kind of a pipeline for people with disabilities to become leaders in these different areas and be that kind of next generation of leadership.
So I would keep that at the forefront as well.
HOLBEN: And, you know—
HOLBEN: Oh, go ahead.
FASKIANOS: Oh, I was just going to call on Kimberly Pace. She raised her hand.
HOLBEN: Oh, perfect. Yes. Looking forward to hear Kimberly.
FASKIANOS: From the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Q: That’s brilliant. Oh, I’m just so appreciative of this forum, and thank you both so much.
As a person with a physical disability it never occurred to me as a college student to ever go—even ask the question about study abroad and I—certainly, you’re blowing my mind that there are resources to allow students to do this.
I teach international relations and comparative politics, and I am just beyond giddy that there—(laughter)—are options for students because that’s something that, personally, I, you know, never got to experience and never, certainly, was encouraged to do that. So I’m very excited. I just want to say thank you very much for the information. So thank you.
HOLBEN: We’re right there with you, Kimberly, as far as the giddy factor. And, you know, thank you so much for sharing that experience because, actually, that is—I think that inclusive, that welcoming, encouraging messaging is so important and we kind of go into detail about that on one of our tip sheets about inclusive recruitment.
But even just something as simple as a message on an opportunity that says people with disabilities encouraged to apply, you never know who that’s going to make all the difference in the world to and one prime example is our organization, Mobility International USA, might not exist if our CEO, who is a wheelchair rider, hadn’t done her Rotary exchange program in Australia, which kind of spawned this idea of what Mobility International USA should be, and what led her to participate in that Rotary exchange program was seeing just a simple ad in the newspaper that said people with disabilities encouraged to apply.
And who was responsible for putting in that little line? We’re not sure. But it kind of led to this chain of events that kind of brought us to where we are here. And, you know, there are so many folks in the field in higher education who are—they don’t have all the answers and they don’t have a lot of—they might not have personal experience with disability.
But I think if they can help be a champion, an ally, and be kind of someone who says, well, let’s figure this out, or let’s see what’s possible and not shut it down, I think that that’s often what has led to all of these amazing outcomes and impact stories from the folks who have shared their experiences with us on our website and then who knows how many more are out there.
So, sounds simple, but it can have an important impact.
FASKIANOS: So we have a written question from Mark Scheinbaum, who’s at the Florida International University: What updates or guidance do you have for students with de jure and/or de facto comfort pets that are needed for completion of usual and customary academic tasks?
HOLBEN: If you can leave the questions up a little longer. Then I can—
FASKIANOS: Oh, sure. Sure. Sorry.
HOLBEN: That’s OK.
FASKIANOS: I’ll put it back.
HOLBEN: Well, I would just, first of all, make sure that you’re familiarizing yourself with the distinction between—you kind of use two different terms here. So there are comfort animals or emotional support animals, and then there are service animals, which are trained to do a specific service.
Comfort animals and emotional support animals aren’t necessarily trained to perform a specific service related to a disability-related accommodation whereas a service animal is. So maybe that service is helping to detect the onset of an epileptic seizure, or the service is being able to help the person open doors or pick up items from the floor, or, of course, sight dogs for folks who are blind or visually impaired, for mobility.
And so, anyway, that’s going to be a really key distinction for whether or not it’s going to be appropriate to have a service animal or an emotional support animal in a higher education setting, and especially that becomes more complicated when you’re talking about going abroad to another country where you’re also considering factors—not just the laws but also the cultural factors whether dogs are welcome in every restaurant or if it’s an animal that’s very taboo and you don’t keep them as pets, let alone travel around with them.
And so all of those questions are going to come into play. We do have some tip sheets on our website that go into more detail around some preparation for bringing animals abroad, what you should know related to quarantine, vaccinations, and things like that.
So search for animals on the MIUSA website to access some of those tips.
FASKIANOS: Great, and we’ll send out links to that section, Ashley, after this so people can access it easier.
HOLBEN: Oh, great. Yeah.
FASKIANOS: So another written question from Erin Reed, and I will leave it up so you can see it—
HOLBEN: Oh, thanks.
FASKIANOS:—who’s the student services and admissions advisor/DSO at California State University San Marcos: What are your suggestions for a university study abroad program that is not made aware of a student’s disability prior to the student’s arrival?
HOLBEN: I think my number-one suggestion would be rather than waiting for one student to participate start thinking about it now what are some ways we can build in some inclusive practices into our programming.
So one thing that some programs might do is, well, maybe people aren’t disclosing their disability because we’re not giving them the opportunity to do so. So including questions in some of those post-acceptance forums that ask how can we make this program—how can we help set you up for success in this program. Might also ask specifically, including related to disability accommodations so that folks know that—I think it’s really important for prospective students or otherwise to just know that they’re being anticipated, that someone is thinking, yes, like, we’re totally expecting that at some point some students with disabilities will participate in this program.
And I think that that can be—really signal to students, OK, this—we’re coming from a place that or we’re going to be interacting with folks who are anticipating me and, even if they don’t know all the answers to my questions they’re not going to shut me down.
So I think that some of those types of—whether it’s just amending some of your forms or putting information on your program website, having inclusive images such as if there are images of people with apparent disabilities participating in the program, seeing themselves reflected in those images can be just as important as an inclusive written message.
Let me go back to that question. Sorry. It went away again. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: If you click on the answered question.
HOLBEN: I got it. Yeah.
FASKIANOS: OK. And then I have two more written questions. Everybody’s sending in their questions at the end here. (Laughs.)
HOLBEN: But just also, going back to Erin Reed’s question, if the program—it sounds like, we didn’t know that there was a student with a disability planning to arrive. Now we—we have this—these things that we need to figure out in the meantime.
One more thing I’ll just say about how to maybe avoid that situation is working with—oh, this is so important—collaborating with the disability services office and other similar services on the campus to be able to arrange some kind of system.
So a lot of institutions—for example, their study abroad offices will share a list of all of the students who are enrolled in study abroad for that upcoming semester and they’ll share it with the disability services office so that they can kind of go through and say, oh, well, we recognize—and this is all just privately on the disability services side to protect the students’ privacy—but they will kind of flag, oh, this is a student that we work with.
And so what they might then do is connect with that student directly and say, hey, we learned that you’re going abroad—do you want to talk about some of the questions you might have or is there anything that we can do to support you and can we—are you comfortable with inviting those—the international advisors into this conversation so that we can just kind of put everything out in the open and we can figure out all the best ways to support the—that student.
So, I would say, that’s so important that we used to at NCDE pay people to take each other to lunch from the study abroad office and the disability services office because too often we heard, oh, yeah, they’re just right across the—you know, their office is literally right over there. I can see them from our office. But we’ve never talked to them or—and we don’t really know what they do.
So I think just to have it breaking some of that ice early on and not waiting for the time when there’s a student with a disability there but just kind of building that into your process, and that can also be helpful for collecting data as well. The Institute for International Education has an annual Open Door survey that provides data and statistics around who is participating in an international exchange and they’ve started including a question—some questions related to disability so that, hopefully, over time we can kind of see is disability—are people with disabilities being represented in international exchange in greater numbers, what types of disabilities do they have, and so on.
So working with the disability support office is one great way to also collect that type of information too, which is going to really help the field and, hopefully, help more people with disabilities to be able to participate in international exchange.
FASKIANOS: So we have a question from Andrew Moran from London Metropolitan University: In the U.K. inclusion is not just about access or being in a classroom. It is also about inclusive assessment methods. I wonder if you have any resources—if you know of any resources that suggest assessment methods that would allow neurodiverse or physically disabled students to fully engage and not be excluded.
They’ve done away with exams because you can’t rely on an elevator to work to get to an exam room, let alone the barriers in the exam might pose for neurodiverse students. And he’s leading a working group on allowing students to choose, create their own assessment method to enable greater diversity and meet students’ needs but always looking for new ideas.
HOLBEN: Oh, that’s really interesting. Thanks so much for sharing that, Andrew, and for sharing the example at your own institution as well. And I would love to hear other folks respond to this, too.
As far as—one, again, I would really encourage you to check out Think College as a prospective resource for—especially just because you mention neurodiverse students. So Think College operates at different campuses right now—for now, I think, only in the U.S. Perhaps their network is growing beyond that as well.
But it’s kind of this network of professionals who work with—to try to get students not only with intellectual disabilities but also those who are neurodiverse, including those who are on the autism spectrum. And so they are really a fantastic source of expertise for everything from inclusive education or specialized support and accommodations and pedagogy.
So I think that they would be probably the ones to connect with about this question in particular. But if other folks have other ideas in response to Andrew, I’m sure we’d all appreciate it.
And maybe while we’re thinking of that, we’ll check out this next one.
McKennah Andrews with the Mansfield Center: We have a blind participant on an upcoming international program taking place here in the U.S., and MIUSA’s resources have been so valuable. Can we touch on the topic of personal assistants? What advice or testimonies might you have regarding engaging with personal assistants during a program?
HOLBEN: Yes, absolutely.
So personal assistants can look like a couple—many different things, actually. You might even—since you mentioned having a blind participant, this might not be what you meant but some—for some folks who are blind they may have had some sighted guides during their exchange programs abroad. So that’s another example where a student who—or a person who is used to one type of access accommodation or assistive devices or technology in their home environment might have to look into some different ones for their host environment.
So we’ve known some people who are really—have great cane skills for orientation and mobility and strong independent mobility skills in their home environment but have felt more comfortable having the program help arrange a sighted guide for them when they’re going to, perhaps, countries where—or environments that are a little more chaotic or where, for whatever reason, their usual skills might not work out. Or, again, if that person uses a service dog in—or service animal in their home environment and that wouldn’t really be feasible in the home environment then having that kind of human guide or a personal assistant might be one method that they look into.
Personal assistants might also provide everyday living services—you know, feeding or using the bathroom or just getting ready throughout the day, assisting with lifting and transferring, and that’s going to—might—again, as somebody who—we’ve seen some instances where people in the U.S. who don’t use personal assistant services might opt for that when they’re going to a place where, you know, they might need to be lifted more often because the infrastructure is not as—going to be as smooth or not as accessible.
And so we’ve seen different situations where sometimes they are—the personal assistant in question is someone they’ve worked with a long time in the U.S. Sometimes it might be a peer who attends their school. Sometimes it’s a parent who travels. I’ve definitely seen all kind of different types of—oh, and also a local person that’s hired in the country to provide personal assistant care.
So it’s really interesting just to kind of be aware of all of the different ways that that might look and check out—again, we have a specific tip sheet about that—actually, a series related to personal assistant services.
So, yes, we can talk about personal assistant services and we have kind of a suite of resources related to that so there’s a lot that can be said. So thanks for bringing that up.
FASKIANOS: Terrific. We are almost out of time, and I did see that there was a raised hand from Justice Chuckwu—
HOLBEN: Fantastic. Let’s hear from Justice.
FASKIANOS: —disability rights, Oregon. He lowered his hand but—oh, there we go. And if you can ask it quickly and unmute yourself that would be great.
HOLBEN: I think we’ve met before, Justice. Hello.
HOLBEN: Oh, hi. There’s Justice.
Q: Yeah, I think we met a couple times. Yeah. So my name is Justice and, yeah, I’m so much appreciative of this program.
And I always have a simple question and the question is how do we—how do we unify orientation for international students with disabilities, given the fact that they come from different backgrounds and most times there are just maybe one or two or three in one university or one college and may not be able to really understand the environment early enough. Maybe by the time they would get to understand the environment they might be getting to the mid-semester.
So my question is, is there a way to kind of unify the orientation, especially since we now have online—things could be done online to unify the orientation to make sure that students—international students with disabilities are not left behind.
HOLBEN: Mmm hmm. Yes. Thank you, Justice.
And, actually, it was your bringing that to light that kind of got—we started incorporating that question into some of our resources and, in fact, you helped contribute to one of our webinars on this very topic of support for international students with disabilities coming to different campuses in which you kind of described that feeling of how do I connect with other people with disabilities, especially other international students with disabilities, who might be able to share in some of these experiences so I don’t feel so alone in this.
And I really—that really sparked a lot of ideas but one of which is, might there be some kind of opportunity for a student group of international students with disabilities but bringing together students from different campuses to be able to share their experiences. And so that’s something that we at the NCDE are exploring more.
But as for existing resources, in addition to the webinar that Justice contributed to we also added some others related to just sharing some best practices from our—MIUSA leads an orientation for high school exchange students with disabilities who are arriving to the U.S. for a State Department-funded scholarship program and we—as part of this orientation we incorporate information about your rights as a person with disabilities while you’re in the U.S. and how to advocate for yourself if there’s something that you need but aren’t getting, how to fully participate in all of the opportunities while you’re there.
So I think that those are the—some of the same messages that could be really beneficial to folks entering U.S. higher education from different parts of the world and just learning about U.S. disability culture and those steps for taking advantage of all of the resources available to you.
So, yeah, you’re absolutely right, Justice. There’s more work to be done, and I think folks like you who are voicing kind of those needs—those firsthand gaps that you’ve identified is kind of one of the first steps in helping to build out some of these resources.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Well, we are out of time. In fact, we’re a little over.
HOLBEN: Oh. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: So, Ashley Holben, thank you so much for doing this. We really appreciate it, and to all of you for your questions and comments. Again, we will be sending out a link to this webinar transcript as well as to the resources that Ashley mentioned. So stay tuned for that.
Our next Higher Education Webinar will be on Wednesday, February 22, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time with Jeremi Suri, who will lead a conversation on teaching the history of American democracy. And just please do follow us at @CFR_Academic and visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues.
Ashley, again, thank you very much for doing this. We appreciate it.
HOLBEN: Thank you. Thank you for—to everyone who attended for your time and thanks to CFR for getting this on the agenda. I really appreciate it also.
FASKIANOS: Great. We look forward to everybody continuing to participate in this Higher Education Webinar series. Have a good rest of your day.
with Ashley Holben
January 26, 2023
Academic and Higher Education Webinars