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How to Navigate Accessibility Challenges While Studying Abroad

Studying abroad is meant to be a life-changing, eye-opening experience. One minute you’re studying in your uni hall, the next you’ve been whisked away to study and learn in Hong Kong, Germany, New Zealand, or the United States. 

Being an international student certainly has plenty of perks. However, studying abroad is not without its challenges. You may struggle to adapt to your new environment at first and can become a little homesick after the initial buzz fades. 

The challenge of studying abroad may be heightened if you have a physical or mental disability. Travelling alone can be trying, as some airlines continue to lag behind and fail to accommodate travellers with different needs. Some universities may also be behind the times, and fail to give you reasonable accommodations. 

But this doesn’t mean you should forgo the wonderful experience of studying abroad due to your disability. It just requires a little extra planning and preparation to ensure you have the experience you want. 

Medical Care / Insurance

Purchasing insurance can be daunting if you are used to national health services. Depending on the country you visit, your disability could end up increasing the premium you pay and make it more difficult to source appropriate insurance. 

Set up your insurance long before you fly to the country you will be visiting. The type of insurance you need depends on the length of your stay and your particular needs. Many countries offer insurance services that are catered directly to serve international students. 

Before you purchase insurance, reach out to your current university and the university you are due to study at. International departments typically have a list of appropriate providers and can help you work through your options to get the best fit. 

Flight Prep

Getting ready to jet off to a new country is exciting. The flight marks the start of your adventure, and a smooth travelling experience can make settling in that much easier. 

Unfortunately, not all airlines fulfil their responsibility to folks with disabilities. As such, you should do your due diligence and plan an accessible travel itinerary that suits you. This should include necessary accommodations like the medication you’ll need as well as technical aids, wheelchairs, or service animals. 

Once you’ve found the right airline, you’ll need to do a little prep of your own. You’ll want to bring anything you may need on the flight with you in your carry-on luggage. Just be sure that it is allowed on the flight, as some liquids and other objects may be confiscated before you board. 

If you’re flying from the U.K., it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the Civil Aviation Authorities’ accessibility webpage. The CAA affords rights to all passengers with disabilities and can offer assistance for things like wheelchairs on flights, assistance dogs, and medical equipment.  


Many accredited institutions around the world take their commitment to students with disabilities seriously. This means that you should receive accommodations and support from your university as you need it. 

You can ensure that you receive the accommodations you need while studying in a location you love by doing your research beforehand. For example, if you’re interested in studying in New Zealand, you can use UniTrust to find an institution with adequate support for medical services. 

It’s also worth reaching out to prospective universities to ask about their accessibility policies. Even a short email interaction can put your mind at ease or help you spot a red flag. You can even ask to speak with current students who have a similar disability to yourself to get their perspective. 

Doing the prep you need to receive accommodations can help ensure you settle in well and alleviate medical anxiety. Experiencing medical anxiety while travelling is entirely normal, as previous bad experiences may make you spiral. Seeking help and researching your options can help you avoid the worst of medical anxiety and ensure you stay focused on travelling and learning. 

Disability Services

Disability services differ from country to country. Sometimes adapting to a different country’s services can be frustrating, particularly if they aren’t up to date with the best practices and policies observed in your own. 

Before you fly, collect relevant resources that you may need while studying abroad. Start your search by collecting information from your new university’s disability/accessibility support webpage. You can even get in contact with folks from the university, as they can point you in the right direction and may offer to help you get up and running. 

You can also speak to your current service provider at home to see what they offer. Sometimes you can travel with their accommodations or technology and you may even be able to travel with your current carer.


Studying abroad is a life-changing experience. But, if you’re living with a disability, becoming an international student can be daunting. You can make the experience easier by making contact with your prospective universities and researching the accommodations they provide. Be sure to get the insurance that is right for you and liaise with your current service provider to see what they can offer. 

Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about education, personal development, and technology. Frankie spends her free time cultivating her zero waste garden or off hiking in the mountains of the PNW with her loved ones.