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Most Memorable Experience

I travelled in four different countries, climbed Machu Picchu and Glacier Perito Moreno, took classes in a different language, made new friends and found my way around the chaotic city of Buenos Aires. However, some of the best days abroad involved getting on and off the right bus or providing an Argentine with accurate directions. The sense of accomplishment from those little things made the whole experience that much better.

Julie-Ann Spatz

Legal Studies, Criminal Justice Certificate
IAP Buenos Aires, Argentina

Study Abroad for Students with Disabilities

UW-Madison is committed to supporting students with disabilities in all aspects of their Wisconsin Experience and encourages students 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 a student might consider for their study abroad experience. There are many study abroad programs in which students with disabilities have successfully participated 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 students allocate a minimum of six months (preferably up to one year) in advance of their travel 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 the International Academic Programs office are here to assist you before and during your time abroad.

Getting Started

Planning a successful and accessible study abroad experience is a collaborative process that includes the student, International Academic Programs (IAP), 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 fully participate in a study abroad experience.

Student Responsibilities

McBurney Disability Resource Center Responsibilities

International Academic Programs (IAP) Responsibilities

UW-Madison Faculty and/or Host Institution Responsibilities

Timeline and Success Strategies for Studying Abroad

Study Abroad Program Considerations

The following series of questions prompt you to consider aspects of the different programs you are contemplating. Different situations that may arise before and during your study abroad experience are identified. This is not a comprehensive list and there may be additional factors that should be discussed with your Accommodation Specialist and IAP Advisor.

Attitudes about Disability

  1. How important is it for you to study in a place where disability accommodations are well-developed and cultural attitudes are progressive?
  2. How will your independence or use of adaptive equipment be affected based on the program you are considering?
  3. How does the chosen host culture define disability?
  4. What questions about your disability might you need to be prepared to answer?
  5. Consider carefully how your communication needs may change while you study abroad. How may this impact your daily activities and/or accommodations?

Curriculum Questions

  1. How are the courses designed and what type of coursework will be required in your study abroad program?
  2. 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?
  3. Can you arrange for test accommodations?
  4. Will there be multiple choice or essay exams?
  5. How much reading is involved?
  6. Is document conversion available for on-site reading materials?
  7. For students using interpreting and real-time captioning, what is the duration of the program? How many classroom hours are required in your program?


  1. How will you approach traveling on an international airline and in an international airport?
  2. 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.
  3. What types of accessible public transportation are available in the host country?
  4. What types of transportation will be most often used in your study abroad program?
  5. What are the overall conditions of public sidewalks and pavement of streets?


  1. What are the housing options through your program and what accommodations do you need?
  2. Are the room dimensions physically accessible to individual needs?
  3. Are there elevators available in your housing facility?
  4. Are there accessible bathroom and shower facilities? How close are they to your room?
  5. Are there flashing fire alarms in your housing facility? In your room?
  6. What are the sleeping arrangements like in your program?
  7. How might technology in the host country impact your assistive technology housing needs?

Medical Care & Auxiliary Aids

  1. Are replacement parts for auxiliary aids readily available in the event of loss or damage?
  2. Can your current treating specialist refer you to possible agencies or professionals who may assist you in the event of an emergency?
  3. Can your current treating specialist refer you to possible agencies or professionals who may assist you in the event of an emergency?
  4. Can you bring your prescribed medications through customs and to your host country?

Service Animals

  1. Are there any laws in the host country which support service animals?
  2. Are there veterinary services conveniently available in your host country?
  3. What vaccines, documentation, and tests are required to bring your service animal into your host country (or other countries) and back into the US?
  4. Will public transportation allow service animals in all the countries you may be visiting?
  5. Research the different rules and regulations that may impact service animals during international travel.

Financing Study Abroad

Every year, IAP distributes over $300,000 in scholarships for study abroad. Additionally, if you already received federal and state financial aid at UW-Madison, you can apply your award to any UW-Madison study abroad program that is at least four weeks in length. For more information on funding study abroad, please visit the cost/funding section of the IAP website.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. 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. Students may disclose disability information and are strongly encouraged to do so. FERPA authorizes IAP 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 US.

2. 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 a student to meet the essential course standards. Likewise, if a student does not provide sufficient notice to allow accommodations to be arranged, the student may not be able to attend. However, a student may still be allowed to attend in these same situations - 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.

3. 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 accommodations specialist. Let them know what happened, providing any detail and documentation that you have. Although UW Madison cannot guarantee any particular result, IAP can follow up with the program to determine the source of the denial and to determine alternative solutions.

4. What if I decide not to use accommodations abroad?
The choice to use accommodations is entirely up to the student. However, if refusing accommodations while abroad could pose a risk to the personal safety of the student or others, a student might be denied participation in a study abroad program. It is also important to remember that if a student declines to use available accommodations provided during the study abroad experience, and does poorly in classes, the grade earned will stand.

Additional Resources

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.