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Supporting Global Learning for Students with Disabilities: A Framework for Reviewing Your Practices

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 1, 2018


  • Dr. Thandi Dinani, Director- Office of Study Abroad, Belmont University

  • Sarah Langston, Senior University Relations Manager, SAI Programs

  • Michelle Morris, Program Assistant, Howard University

  • Jenny Sullivan, Director of Education Abroad and International Fellowships, Rochester Institute of Technology

Over the last decade, the field of education abroad has recognized and acknowledged the significant discrepancy in the diversity of study abroad participants studying abroad each year.  The Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors Report revealed that 8.8% of the 325,339 students who studied abroad in the 2015/16 reported studying abroad with a disability. This percentage was an increase of 3.5% from 2014/15. Even more interesting, the percentage of students studying abroad with reported disabilities has increased from 2.6% (1006 students) in 2006/2007 to 8.8% (5,641) in 2015/2016. Similarly, institutions reporting students with disabilities who are studying abroad has increased from 1006 institutions in 2006/7 to 5,641 institutions in 2015/16.

Consequently, institutions have increased commitment to not only review their respective enrollment, but to implement policies and practices that reflect an institutional commitment to increase the diversity of students who have access to international opportunities. The increase of diversity amongst students with disabilities requires institutions to implement policies and practices that increase recruitment, provide support, and ensure resources are available to students, education abroad offices, and international partner institutions.

In this article, we encourage institutions and education abroad offices to think beyond simply ensuring access and resources to students with disabilities. We introduce the concept of developing “inclusive design.” Consider ways that your services and programs can be inclusive of as many needs and abilities as possible. This concept and practice goes beyond accessibility or making special considerations for people with disabilities. It challenges institutions to fundamentally redesigning policies, processes, communications, programs and resources so that fewer barriers exist from the outset. Where accessibility aims to fill in the gaps left by exclusionary design practices, inclusive design aims to surpass conventional definitions and change standards of practice. For example, making it standard practice to upload transcripts and audio descriptions of lectures is one inclusive strategy that benefits deaf participants, blind participants and everyone else. Considering all students when initially designing materials and processes ensures all students are able to access materials as opposed to providing transcripts for specific students after-the-fact. When advising students with disabilities, try to think beyond how special considerations can be made for them, and how programs can be redesigned to provide a different-but full- experience for all participants of all abilities.

While many institutions have a foundation for supporting students with disabilities who study abroad, it is important to continually refine practices and processes. The essential questions institutions are asking are: How can we provide equal access to all students and encourage all students to participate in high impact opportunities like study abroad? How can we enhance their experience abroad and measure success?  In this article, we hope to present a framework for thinking about how you can intentionally make strides and adopt strategies that will increase the participation and quality of experience for students with disabilities and all students who study abroad.

Supporting students with disabilities to study abroad is a complex topic because every student’s situation is unique. There is no one prescriptive solution for all students. To assist in identifying and developing inclusive practices, we propose the following framework to make progress toward identifying more useful and universal best practices. The framework may also help institutions and offices organize and prioritize initiatives. Making continual efforts, however big or small, in each of these areas will have a cumulative effect on the overall assistance and support provided to students with disabilities who study abroad.

The framework suggests five areas to research and review at your institution: policies, processes, communications, programs, and resources. For each of these areas, we encourage institutions to be intentional and thorough to complete five steps: 1) identify the situation, 2) evaluate possible solutions, 3) strategize ways to proceed, 4) implement your actions, and 5) assess your efforts.

Framework Section One: Policies

Consider whether your current policies are helping or hindering the student experience? What new policies might you need to better support students? We encourage you to evaluate your policies related to:

  • If/how/when a student should self-disclose

  • Role and expectations of interpreters/aides during “off-hours”

  • Office definition of “reasonable accommodations”

Framework Section Two: Processes
Review how processes in your education abroad office and other offices at your institution support students with disabilities? How can you improve or create new supportive processes? Consider examining your processes related to:

  • Accessibility of current advising and presentation materials

  • Evaluation of a location, partner or program for accessibility

  • Accessibility of how and where you meet with students

  • Training for staff and faculty for working with students with disabilities

Framework Section Three: Communications
Next, we encourage you to review your print and online materials. Are students with disabilities represented in your marketing materials? What kind of language are you using in your communications? How do you communicate with students about their experiences abroad? For example, do you:

  • Intentionally market to and recruit students with disabilities

  • Offer advising and pre-departure training that prepares students for experiencing stereotypes or discrimination in another culture

  • Have a plan for communicating with family members who may have different opinions about a student’s needs

Framework Section Four: Programs
Think about the various programs your office manages. Are the programs manageable for a person with disabilities? If not, are there appropriate alternatives you can manage? Consider the following:

  • Utilize partners who are based in-country and have experience with local laws and practices

  • Conduct program run-throughs with attention to accommodations that students may require

  • Survey your partners regarding their accessibility and services

  • Ask your campus disability services office to review the program schedule

Framework Section Five: Resources
Lastly, we encourage offices and institutions to investigate opportunities that may be available through your campus, state, or federal government. Is there a campus funding pool available to support student accommodations abroad?

  • Consider federal sources such as Vocational Rehabilitation funds, and encourage students to apply for scholarships such as the Benjamin A. Gilman Award and Diversity Abroad

  • Explore professional support staff on your campus such as captionists, note takers, interpreters, mobility trainers, personal care assistants, and others who may be able to travel

  • Include a margin in program fees that can be used for accommodations, if needed

As you are reviewing your policies and practices, we encourage you to connect with external resources as well. In addition to the Diversity Abroad network, the following organizations provide helpful information related to working with students with disabilities: Mobility International: National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice Toolbox, NAFSA’s “Promoting Inclusion in Education Abroad: A Handbook of Research and Practice.”

Increasing the diversity of participants requires continual review of existing practices to ensure that we are providing quality programming for all students. By considering the framework’s practices and ideas, your office can work toward offering more inclusive programming for all students on your campus. By offering services and programs that are inclusive of students with disabilities, we are, in turn, enhancing the experience for all students. Having diverse participants on programs not only provides an opportunity for the individual student, but also brings a new lens to the program, expands perspectives of all participants, and results in a more robust global learning experience.

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Diversity Abroad Welcomes New Team Members!

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2018


Diversity Abroad welcomes two team members to lead the organization’s Student Services division. The team will continue to develop inclusive resources and tools that support the success of diverse and underrepresented students throughout the education abroad continuum.


 Joelle Tolifero, Associate Director, Student Services

Joelle Tolifero’s passion for international education and access began when she realized she did not have funding to study abroad as an undergraduate student and instead began leading student travel/community service programs for high school students. She has explored the countries of Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos, the United States, Peru, and Greece alongside students for over 7 years. Joelle believes that cultural exchange is a means to peacemaking and cross-cultural understanding and believes all people, in particular students, should have access to this opportunity.

Experiences navigating global education with students led Joelle to pursue her Master’s in International Education with a concentration in Peace Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. There she developed her theoretical understanding of international education and applied it to her development of a Peace Education curriculum and school design for students, which served as her thesis. Joelle also served as the NAFSA Youth Representative to the United Nations where she attended the UN Department of Public Information briefings and represented the voice of youth working towards becoming international education professionals.

As a Student Affairs professional Joelle has worked for Northeastern University as an Assistant Site Director for N.U. in program in which first year students study abroad in there first semester of college and in Residential Life at Columbia University, Georgetown University, and Barnard College. Joelle’s direct student experience paired with her desire for every student to have access to global education led her to Diversity Abroad to serve as the Associate Director for Student Services where she oversees DiversityAbroad.com, manages scholarships, and supports student programming such as The Passport Tour, Campus Fellows program, and Overseas Ambassador program.

Joelle is based in New Jersey where she enjoys time spent with family, volunteering with her chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, exploring nearby cities, and blogging about her adventures and community service abroad.


Joelle can be reached at jtolifero@diversityabroad.org 



 Senait Chrisostomo, Program Coordinator, Student Services


Senait Chrisostomo is the Program Coordinator for Student Services, where she supports student-oriented initiatives, including the Passport Tour, Overseas Ambassador Program and Diversity Abroad scholarships. Senait also supports marketing and communication efforts across the organization. She was previously a Diversity Abroad Campus Engagement Representative for the Northeast region of the 2018 Diversity Abroad Passport Tour. She is an advocate for equitable access and opportunity to study abroad for diverse and underrepresented students and believes that cross-cultural exchange can serve as a medium for global understanding and academic and professional development.
Senait’s interest in global education was initiated after completing multiple study abroad programs during her high school and undergraduate studies to Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil and Dominican Republic. She has since worked in education abroad in various capacities, including administrative and event coordination in higher education and non-profit settings in Seattle, Atlanta and New York City.
Senait holds an M.A. in International Education from New York University and a B.A. in Business Administration, Marketing and a Certificate of International Studies in Business from the University of Washington. Senait is currently based in New York City. 


Senait can be reached at schrisostomo@diversityabroad.org 

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Achieving Great Study Abroad Diversity Should Begin in Human Resources

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 12, 2018

Contributed by: Adam Freed, University Relations Manager, CISabroad

It is well-documented that most participants in U.S. outbound study abroad programs are white, female, or both. Open Doors data shows that for over a decade, the representation of female students in these programs hovered around 65%, and in the same period, white students accounted for an average of 78% of all outbound study abroad participants (Student Profile, 2017). This “demographic gap” has seen increasing interest from researchers and professionals over the past decade. Universities and international education organizations have devoted significant resources into addressing some of the theorized causes of the “demographic gap” and have found some success. However, there is another clear issue within international education, one that influences participant diversity and if not addressed may slow the progress of diversity initiatives: The same “demographic gap” that is seen in participants is also present among the professionals in the field. Until we take a hard look in the mirror and address our own failings when it comes to diversity, we will do our students a disservice in advocating for their diversification. 

First, it is important to understand where we stand today in terms of how the field of international education understands the “demographic gap”. Across all of the research that has been done thus far relating to student diversity in outbound study abroad, there are a number of common factors that are theorized to impact a students’ decision to participate or not participate in study abroad programs. Some of the most frequently cited factors are: overall student demographics among U.S. undergraduates (Terra Dotta, 2015), course offerings and applicability to graduation requirements (Barclay Hamir, 2011), financial aid availability (Bandyopadhyay, 2015), student predisposition/motivation (Salisbury, et al., 2008, Li, 2013), expectations/perceptions from students and families (McClure, et al., 2010), and marketing strategies (LaCount, 2016).

Professionals looking to address diversity among participants may find it daunting to know where to direct resources in order to have the biggest impact. To more clearly understand where an initiative can be most effective, it is useful to categorize these theorized factors. All of these factors have a subject, which is to say that each places the emphasis on one particular entity. In this case, these two possible entities are the student (the individual participant) and the system (the study abroad office or provider), so every factor is either student-centric or system-centric. Each factor can be more distinctly categorized by whether it comes from inside the entity (internal) or from outside (external). For example, financial aid is categorized as external student-centric because the availability of financial aid is largely dependent on the student but is controlled by an outside force (the university). The factors previously mentioned and others are categorized in the chart below for reference.


Factors Impacting Students’ Study Abroad Participation Decision 

 Internal Student-centric External Student-centric
Predisposition to study abroad
Career aspirations/personal motivation
Perceptions of study abroad as a possibility
Applicability to graduation requirements
Financial aid/other costs
Cultural/familial expectations
 Internal System-centric   External System-centric
Program duration
Course offerings
The X-Factor
U.S. undergraduate demographics
Political climate 


The X-Factor: Diversity Among Professionals
The chart above is useful for anyone working towards greater diversity in outbound study abroad because it shows where professionals can have an impact and what factors may be out of their hands. However, there is a major gap in the research on one factor that has the widest-ranging impact across multiple other factors: international educators themselves. Using the categorization above, this internal system-centric factor has arguably the widest reach of all. From program development to marketing, international education professionals have an incredible influence over the entire study abroad process.

For this article, I examined eight higher education institutions and eight study abroad provider organizations regarding the demographic makeup of their staff based on the staff directory pages on their public websites. On average, white women represented 67.5% of staff, with white representation overall averaged 84.9%. When compared to the Open Doors data on demographics of outbound students, it is hard not to note a similarity. If the field sees the “demographic gap” among students to be cause for widespread action, shouldn’t it also
approach its internal “demographic gap” with the same gravity?

Until now, diversity initiatives have largely focused on what is being done. From scholarships to new program models to changing advising/marketing practices, the field has been addressing the “demographic gap” through changing methods. The data suggests that another pertinent and effective area to address is who is directing the efforts, and that in addition to changing the methods, it is also changing the people doing the work that will bring about a lasting impact.

Consider the example of a study abroad office advising staff. If, in the case of many offices, the advisors are all white, a student from a racial minority may find it difficult to resonate with the advisor’s excitement about their own experiences abroad. The sharing of the advisor’s experience may not be useful in drawing that minority student in, as it is a near certainty that the student’s experience will be different because of racial bias or outright racism from which the white advisor may have been entirely shielded. Likewise, the white advisor may not have a good answer to a question like “What can I expect as a black woman abroad?”. Of course, there are myriad resources available online and through organizations like Diversity Abroad, but the best resource is the one that is already in the office and available immediately.

Study abroad staff may also unconsciously influence programs and student participation. If one majority group has control over the design, development, recruitment/marketing, and implementation of programs, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there may be some unintended biases toward members of that same majority group. At the very least, having a field that is visibly dominated by one demographic assuredly feeds the perception that study abroad is for one type of student.

What Can We Do?
The best news is that there are some relatively easy ways to reverse the field’s “demographic gap”. First, we need to elevate diverse professionals in the field and provide them opportunities to share their knowledge and unique perspectives. Secondly, we need to hire diverse staff to fill our study abroad offices at all levels. It isn’t enough to simply organize an annual diversity training for an all-white staff; we need to intentionally change the demographic makeup of our offices. Diversity trainings are important and should not be minimized, but no amount of training can replace the value of multiple perspectives and experiences being present daily.

There will undoubtedly be reasons cited for why the field looks the way that it does, just as there are reasons given for why outbound programs lack diverse groups of participants. Over time, it’s possible that some of these trends will reverse as more and more non-white undergraduates enter our offices, but until then, how many students will be left without the chance to study abroad? Either the field is committed to diversity or it isn’t. If we are, then we must look in the mirror and admit our own failings if we are to make any sort of an impact at all.


Bandyopadhyay, S., & Bandyopadhyay, K. (n.d.). Factors Influencing Student Participation In College Study Abroad Programs. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060059.pdf

Hamir, H. B. (2011). Go Abroad and Graduate On-Time: Study Abroad Participation, Degree Completion, and Time-to-Degree. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from Go Abroad and Graduate On-Time: Study Abroad Participation, Degree Completion, and Time-to-Degree

LaCount, E. (2016, April). Gender Gap in Studying Abroad. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/195813/LaCount, Emily (The Gender Gap in Study Abroad)Capstone2016.pdf?sequence=1

Li, M., Olson, J., & Frieze, I. (2013). Students’ Study Abroad Plans: The Influence of Motivational and Personality Factors. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from Students’ Study Abroad Plans: the Influence of Motivational and Personality Factors 

McClure, K. R., Szelényi, K., Niehaus, E., Anderson, A., & Reed, J. (2010). “We Just Don’t Have the Possibility Yet”: U.S. Latina/o Narratives on Study Abroad. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgiarticle=1038&context=cehsedadfacpub 

Salisbury, M. H. (2008, June 20). Going Global: Understanding the Choice Process of the Intent to Study Abroad. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from Going Global: Understanding the Choice Process of the Intent to Study Abroad Student Profile. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/US-Study-Abroad/Student-Profile 

Tackling the Gender Gap in Study Abroad. (2015, March). Retrieved August 5, 2018, from

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Diversity Abroad Welcomes New Director of Operations & Organizational Development

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2018

Wagaye JohannesDiversity Abroad is pleased to announce that Wagaye Johannes will join the team as Director of Operations and Organizational Development in September.

Diversity Abroad is the leading national organization advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in international education. Well into its second decade, Wagaye will oversee the growing infrastructure of the organization and work closely with senior leaders to map out and implement Diversity Abroad’s five year strategic plan.


“I am thrilled to join such a entrepreneurial organization which has had a tremendous impact on the field of international education in its first decade, ‘says Wagaye.  

Wagaye brings with her extensive experience in international education, scholarship administration, and nonprofit management. Born in Ethiopia and raised with a foot on either side of the Atlantic, Wagaye’s personal and academic background led her to the field of international education. In 2014, she launched the Institute of International Education (IIE)s national campaign “Generation Study Abroad” to increase and diversify study abroad participation, which now has grown to a global network of 800+ partners from higher education institutions, study abroad organizations, foreign governments and the private sector.


“Wagaye is an exceptional leader and is a great addition to our team,” says Andrew Gordon, Diversity Abroad CEO & Founder. “Her contributions will allows us to be even more effective in serving our diverse community of students and professionals.”


A thought leader on international education, access, and diversity, Wagaye’s academic pursuits focused on comparative studies of citizenship and integration between the U.S. and the European Union. She has presented at several conferences on how to expand study abroad and diversity, including Diversity Abroad, Council for Opportunity in Education, Germany Academic Service Exchange, and Fulbright Colombia.


She holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Amsterdam and a B.A. in International Relations from Mount Holyoke College. She is fluent in German, speaks some French, and has a basic understanding of Dutch, Hungarian, and now is learning Arabic.



How did you get started in the field of international education?


As the daughter of a German immigrant and an Ethiopian international student, I have always been fascinated by the role of identity when it comes to living and traveling abroad. I grew up in California and Germany, surrounded by multiple languages and cultures. When I got to college, I decided to major in International Relations and planned to go to Austria for an academic study abroad experience. But with a single parent household and limited scholarships offered at that time, it was simply not possible.


It was this pivotal experience that took me to the Director of Study Abroad at Mount Holyoke College and ask about her job. If I couldn’t study abroad, I wanted to see to it that others could. I wanted to make it possible for other students, who may have not had the same global access as me to have an international experience. She told me about NAFSA and IIE.


That very same summer, I managed to secure on my own a summer internship in Japan leading pre-departure orientations for Japanese students headed to the United States for their studies. And years later, I finally studied abroad. I started my Master’s degree in Ethnic and Migration Studies at the University of Amsterdam on September 11, 2001. It was an incredible time to be abroad— I had the opportunity to discover and listen to different perspectives (my classmates were from literally every corner of the world), build a global network, and most importantly discover who I am as an American.



What advice to you have to the those entering the field now?


Be open! Volunteer, intern, and learn all that you can from everyone you meet. With such a small field, you never know who you might work with several years down the road.  


I am glad to see the field becoming much more diverse. It is important that those advising and setting policy reflect the growing diverse student population not only in the United States but around the world. My hope is at Diversity Abroad we can continue these efforts especially at mid-career and senior level positions.


Wagaye, a Bay Area native, will be based in New York City and can be reached at wjohannes@diversityabroad.org.

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Diversity Abroad Welcomes 3 New Campus Engagement Representatives!

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 13, 2018
Updated: Friday, August 10, 2018

Diversity Abroad is excited to welcome three new staff members to the team! As Diversity Abroad Campus Engagement Representatives, Tiffany, Senait, and Mya will be part of The Passport Tour (TPT) this fall, a nationwide campus-based initiative designed to introduce study abroad resources and opportunities to students, faculty and administrators, particularly from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

Since 2008, TPT has brought Diversity Abroad to hundreds of campuses across the country to connect thousands of students to resources. Each campus visit looks different, but can consist of various on-campus outreach initiatives such as tabling at a study abroad fair, hosting information sessions, moderating alumni panels, making classroom visits, and more.


Meet Tiffany Brown 

Tiffany Brown

Tiffany Brown is the Southern Campus Engagement Representative for the 2018 Diversity Abroad Passport Tour. Tiffany is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in global educational and professional opportunities and believes that equitable access in international exchange is the ultimate medium for an educated and inclusive global citizenry. 

Shortly after graduating with a BA in Spanish (2014) degree from the University of Georgia, Tiffany moved to Medellin, Colombia and worked as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Universidad de Antioquia. There, she delved into the world of international education and continued to nurture her interest in the intersection between language, race, and narrative. Most recently, Tiffany worked as a Princeton in Latin America fellow at Yspaniola, a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic, where she bridged her interests in Latin America, experiential learning, social justice, and community education. Tiffany is excited to return home and represent the South on this year’s Passport Tour and encourage diverse and underrepresented students in their decision to pursue educational opportunities abroad! 



Meet Senait Chrisostomo

Senait Chrisostomo

Senait Chrisostomo is the Campus Engagement Representative for the Northeast region of the 2018 Diversity Abroad Passport Tour. Senait is an advocate for equitable access and opportunity to study abroad for diverse and underrepresented students and believes that cross-cultural exchange can serve as a medium for global understanding and academic and professional development.
Senait’s interest in global education sparked after completing multiple study abroad programs during her high school and undergraduate studies to Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil and Dominican Republic. She has since worked in education abroad in various capacities, including administrative and event coordination in higher education and non-profit settings in Seattle, Atlanta and New York City.
Senait is a recent graduate of the MA in International Education program from New York University and holds a BA in Business Administration, Marketing and a Certificate of International Studies in Business from the University of Washington.


Meet Mya Peters

Mya Peters

Mya Peters is a recent graduate of Trinity College-Hartford, where she received her BS in Psychology. Mya joined Diversity Abroad as the Midwest Campus Engagement Representative. During the 2018 Diversity Abroad Passport Tour, Mya will continue her personal commitment of advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion for underrepresented young professionals seeking global educational and professional opportunities.
Mya knows from experience how powerful and transformative global education can be on a person’s life. As an undergraduate, Mya had the opportunity to study abroad in Argentina, Uruguay, India, South Africa, and Brazil. During her time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she worked at L.I.F.E. Argentina as the Program Director’s Assistant, where she exercised initiatives to enhance the accessibility to education for underrepresented youth living in poverty. She further built upon her interest in serving underrepresented groups through her comparative research project hosted by the School for International Training. Her research focused on Health and Community: Globalization, Culture and Care across a diverse range of communities in India, South Africa, and Brazil. After acknowledging her privilege to have had such eye-opening global experiences, Mya developed a passion for increasing diversity within the realm of international education. She vowed to support diverse students through the process of applying to global opportunities, being abroad and re-entering into their home lives with their new set of knowledge and skills! 

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