Students with Accessibility Needs or Health Concerns

UNC Study Abroad is committed to facilitating access to study abroad programs for students with academic accommodations, varying mobility, and medical conditions, including mental and physical health concerns. Whether you are currently registered with Accessibility Resources and Services or not, please don’t hesitate to contact your UNC Study Abroad Advisor or email accessibilityabroad@unc.edu to prepare for your time abroad. Additional information about study abroad for students registered with ARS is available on the ARS website. 

Let’s Get Started: Initial Considerations

Studying Abroad, Challenging but Rewarding

Studying Abroad is an opportunity for many students to learn about new cultures, challenge themselves academically, and develop new skills. Because of this, Studying Abroad is both challenging and rewarding. You may find that environmental and lifestyle changes while living abroad can have an impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Being adaptable and open to differences is critical to successfully navigating culture shock and challenges abroad. For students with varying academic accommodations, mobility, and mental or physical health, it is especially important to consider the resources that will best support your time abroad.

Global Perceptions of Accessibility

At UNC and in the United States, many of our policies and processes for supporting students with accessibility needs takes into consideration the American Disabilities Act (ADA). As the title suggests, this is something very specific to the US. Each country, city, and culture have their own regulations and perceptions of accessibility & ways to support individuals with these needs. Depending on your needs, accessibility and support services for persons with disabilities may not be available in certain destinations, or they may be provided differently abroad.

Do Your Research!

Because of the various global perceptions of accessibility, it is very important to research your host country and how accessibility is treated within your host culture before you go so that you know what to expect. To start, you may want to begin researching that specific country and culture online. You also can speak with your Study Abroad Advisor, the Host Program Coordinator, UNC’s ARS Office, and review the Accessibility Resources section below for more information. Example questions to research: 

  • Is my medication legal in the host country? 
  • Are sidewalks and buildings in the host city wheelchair accessible? 
  • What is the perception of Mental Health diagnosis/care in the host culture? 

Reasonable Academic Accommodations

Based on your research, you may find that the host country or culture view accessibility differently than the US and that resources for supporting students with various accessibility needs may not match what is typically offered at UNC. While we will do our best to arrange comparable academic accommodations for you abroad, standards for reasonable accommodations vary by country and in some cases, we may not be able to arrange abroad the exact accommodations that you receive here at UNC. However, we will do our best to find solutions that work for you academically to allow you to have a successful experience abroad. 

Early Disclosure: Why it’s important

We encourage students to disclose any academic or health concerns to your Study Abroad Advisor early in the study abroad process so that we can set up reasonable accommodations and locate health resources abroad well in advance of your arrival. The advanced notice will allow the UNC Study Abroad Office to collaborate with the UNC Accessibility Resource Services Office to support you prior to your departure and to ensure you have established resources for your accessibility needs while you are abroad.  

Who to contact: 

Planning Study Abroad and Choosing a Program

Before deciding on a study abroad program, it could be helpful to meet with a Study Abroad Advisor or the UNC Accessibility Resource Services Office to talk about different aspects of accessibility abroad: 

  • Discuss and explore physical accessibility of study abroad destinations (example: I use a power wheelchair. How can I get around a foreign city?) 
    • Within the university (housing, classrooms, etc.) 
    • Within the city (public transportation, travel to/from the airport, etc.) 
  • Reasonable accommodations abroad (example: Can I receive the same academic accommodations abroad that I receive at UNC?) 
  • Learning style and assessment methods abroad 
  • Health resources abroad (example: I see a mental health counselor here. How can I find a therapist abroad?) 
  • Finding local doctors and scheduling appointments 
  • Obtaining prescription medication 
  • Using GeoBlue Student Website to location country-specific health information (if applicable) 

Identifying Your Needs Abroad

Once you have selected a study abroad program, you should determine your daily needs while abroad. After you have enrolled in a program, your Study Abroad Advisor can work with you and your host institution to set up reasonable accommodation s or health resources abroad. This may include: 

  • Academic accommodations for students registered with ARS. 
  • Mental Health Counseling 
  • Medical assistance for chronic medical needs 
  • Housing (private or wheelchair-accessible rooms) 
  • Meal options in university dining halls or host families for students with food allergies/needs 
  • Personal support abroad (personal assistant or medical aid) 
  • Means of transportation 

Preparing for Your Study Abroad Program

In order to best prepare for your study abroad program, make sure to follow these steps: 

  • Disclose your needs: To officially request accommodations abroad or ask for help in locating services, you can email or meet with your UNC Study Abroad Advisor or email UNC’s ARS via ars@unc.edu with detailed information about your needs. If you are registered with ARS and are seeking accommodations abroad you can request UNC’s ARS office to send your accommodation plan to accessibilityabroad@unc.edu . If you are not registered with ARS but would like to be, please complete the Self-Identification Form on the UNC ARS Website.  
  • Disclose your needs to local staff: If your study abroad program or host university has a disability or health form associated with your application, fill out this form as honestly and thoroughly as possible. List any serious academic, mobility or health concerns, including allergies (food or otherwise). 
  • Talk about your study abroad plans with your doctors or care providers: If you have physical or mental health needs that require regular medical visits, treatment or monitoring, please discuss your study abroad plans with your doctor or care provider well in advance of your medical departure so that they know the demands of your program and can advise you on how best to practice self-care while abroad. 
  • Make sure your medications are legal abroad: If you take medication on a regular basis, you will need to verify the legality of your medication on the website for your host country’s embassy in the U.S. 
  • Bring ample supply of medication with you if needed: If you take medication on a regular basis, as your physician for a prescription of your medication to last you for the entire duration of your study abroad program if possible. Make sure to keep all medication in its original packaging and to carry your prescription or a doctor’s note with you in case you are questioned at immigration. Lastly, don’t forget to pack any vital medications in your carry-on bag rather than your checked luggage as this could get lost in transit.  
  • Bring any relevant medical documentation with you: Make sure to bring with you any medical documentation related to your accommodations or health needs, including doctor’s letters. This documentation may be required by your host university in order to set up academic accommodations.  
  • Use your health insurance and print your insurance card: Log into the GeoBlue Student Website (if applicable for your program) using the login information received via email prior to departure and print your insurance card. Use the other tools available on the GeoBlue website to look up drug equivalencies, recommended vaccinations, and translation of medical terms, as well as identify local hospitals, doctors and pharmacies.  
  • Translate your medical needs: Translate your medical condition and needs into the local language before you go abroad, and carry a health card with you in your wallet. It could be particularly helpful to make an allergy card in the local language to note allergies to food, medication or the environment.  
  • Check your technology: Verify that any technology that you use regularly is in working order before going abroad, and research where you can get replacement parts or repairs for your technology abroad.  
  • Costs: Investigate whether your accommodation needs may require additional expenditures abroad, and research ways to support these costs. Please note that financial aid can be utilized while studying abroad and of these costs may be considered part of your program budget. This is reviewed and determined on a case by case basis. Please speak to your UNC Study Abroad Advisor if you have questions about this.  
  • Make a self-care plan: Think about your day-to-day needs and how you will manage them abroad, and create a self-care plan. Don’t forget to develop a contingency plan for what to do if you have a medical emergency abroad.  

After Arriving in Your Host Country

You’ve arrived abroad, now what should you do? 

  • Check in with the Disability Office/Host Program Coordinator at your host inistitutuion: It is always best to make a connection with somoen at hour host institutuion as soon as possible after arriving in country. If your study abroad program doesn’t have a Disability Office, check in with the primary on-site contact for the program about accommodations abroad. This is especially important as some institutions require an in-person assessment in order to finalize accommodations for study abroad students.  
  • Use your health insurance: Use the GeoBlue Student website or your healthcare provider’s website for any medical needs- to locate doctors abroad, to submit claim forms for reimbursement of medical expenses, or to locate country-specific health resources, including local hospitals.  
  • Contact us: Don’t hesitate to reach out to your UNC Study Abroad Advisor, UNC ARS Office, or email accessiblityabroad@unc.edu if you have any questions or concerns while you are abroad! 

Accessibility Resources

Check out these websites for detailed information about accessibility abroad: