In honor of Disability Awareness Month, Services for Students with Disabilities hosted an informational session for students with disabilities on Thursday to share their experiences studying abroad, keeping in mind the theme of “See the Able, Not the Label.”
Education and business senior Shalom Hernandez, who is in a wheelchair, traveled to Barcelona this past summer to intern for a non-profit teaching students. Hernandez said she encountered obstacles abroad, but they didn’t impede her from having a fulfilling experience.
“Europe is not that accommodating for people with disabilities,” Hernandez said. “Especially physical disabilities because everything is so old. I knew I could do it because I asked for help. I was only there six weeks, but I had stuff to do every day, every weekend there.”
The most vital aspect of a student with a disability being able to study abroad is communication, Hernandez said.
“I’m very open about my disability,” Hernandez said. “You have to reach out. You really need to be very specific because people don’t know if you don’t tell them.”
Laura Kaplan, academic program coordinator in the International Office, said UT offers a wide variety of programs and access to affiliate companies abroad that can be more accommodating to students with disabilities.
“We have over 400 programs in 80 countries,” Kaplan said. “We can dig a little bit deeper to learn about accommodations in a country and figure out what would be feasible, (but) affiliate providers generally do offer a higher level of support than an exchange program.”
Zoe Colaluca, a communication sciences and disorders junior, who hopes to study in New Zealand or Australia, said she feels she can study abroad despite having to use a walker after this informational session.
“I hadn’t really considered studying abroad that much until now, because accessibility is an issue obviously,” Colaluca said. “But I feel better informed now.”
Hernandez said learning how to deal with difficult situations abroad taught her to focus on the positives of her experiences, like working with children and learning from her colleagues.
“Being disabled, we are going to encounter some problems,” Hernandez said. “Everywhere in the world, people can be rude. There are going to be people like that, but the majority of the time people will be generous and wanting to help you. You’re going to be fine, you’re going to get through it.”