Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity for students to push their limits and live outside their comfort zone. While it is definitely a challenge to live abroad and experience new cultures, living abroad with a disability is even more difficult. Traveling anywhere can be a huge struggle for anyone with a seen or unseen disability, but with extensive planning and a drive to try something new, it can be just as fun and meaningful. If you have questions about how to study abroad with a disability in Germany, Dreams Abroad is here to help.
Luckily, Germany is excellent at creating spaces that are accessible to people with disabilities. Modern laws and up-to-date public transportation systems make it easy for people with disabilities to live “barrier-free” lives in Germany. Even the European Union (EU) is making strides to improve themselves in this area. As with any city or town, there may be certain challenges that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Creating backups and researching ahead of time will allow you to navigate the country more easily and save yourself time and energy.
What is a disability?
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes that a “disability” limits an individual’s “major life activities” because of a “physical or mental impairment.” Similarly, The Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) defines disability as ”an impairment that is ‘long-term’ and ‘hinders an individual’s access to, participation in, or advancement in employment.”
Disabilities are either seen physically or unseen. Visible disabilities include a person in a wheelchair, a blind person using a special cane, or someone hard-of-hearing using hearing aids. Unseen disabilities include mental health issues like bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. Unseen disabilities also encompass food allergies, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, and dyslexia.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of stigma and negative connotations surrounding disabilities in various cultures around the world. Germany in particular has a dark history with negative attitudes towards people with disabilities. Thankfully, attitudes have changed, and Germany is working to create barrier-free cities to support people with disabilities. This is good news for those who wish to study abroad with a disability in Germany. Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency successfully fought to establish The General Equal Treatment Act (AGG). The AGG “prohibits discrimination on account of disability in everyday activities as well as in working life.” Since this implementation into the law, Germany adapts and continues to provide suitable accommodation services.
5 Tips on How to Study Abroad With a Disability in Germany
- Choose a program that is upfront about their accessibility. If a study abroad program provider is making you dig for details about their accommodations for people with disabilities, that is a red flag. Choose a program that talks about their benefits and how they implement safety measures for people with disabilities proudly and clearly.
- Pick a city that has modern capabilities and updates. Sure, Germany has historical sites and old buildings, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely inaccessible. In fact, many major German cities like Berlin or Frankfurt are known for implementing and making adjustments to make locations and attractions more accessible. This is why many students choose to study abroad with a disability in Germany.
- Talk to your study abroad advisor. Your university’s study abroad office is available to help. They have years of experience sending students abroad, including students with disabilities. Communicate your concerns to your study abroad advisor and they can help you gather resources on how best to study abroad with a disability in Germany.
- Ensure you can easily communicate your needs abroad. Luckily for English speakers, most Germans speak English. It should not be too difficult to find help in English in major German cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich.
- Talk with study abroad alumni, especially one who knows what it is like to study abroad with a disability in Germany. Chatting with study abroad alumni is helpful for anyone who wants to study abroad. This is especially true whether you are temporarily or permanently disabled. Speaking with someone who has experienced it will ease your nerves, answer your questions, and help you feel more confident about taking on this adventure.
Advice For Living in Germany With a Disability
- Research disability-related laws in Germany, and find out what your access to healthcare services are while abroad. Tourism for All helps people with disabilities to travel to Germany. Check out Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency before you study abroad with a disability in Germany.
- Look into the public transportation systems to make sure they are accessible. This is crucial, because you need to know how to travel and get around a city independently and safely.
- Create backup plans to take care of yourself. Establish a Plan B if something goes wrong. This includes refilling medications and prescriptions before you arrive. Making this backup plan will help put you at ease before you study abroad with a disability in Germany.
- Understand the cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities in Germany. The attitudes towards people with disabilities has drastically changed in Germany since the previous century. Germany’s government has made great strides to support and help people with unseen and seen disabilities navigate their lives in public.
- Communicate your needs and define what accessibility means to you. Do you need a ramp in order to enter the building? Will you need to read in braille? Are you almost out of your medication? Speak up and let your needs be known. Advocating for yourself is the best way to receive support.
- Get a diagnosis before you study abroad with a disability in Germany. It’s going to be more difficult to get an official diagnosis outside of your home country. If you suspect you have a disability but are not yet diagnosed, reach out to your doctor. It is best to work towards treatment plans before you study abroad with a disability in Germany.
Disabilities Don’t Have to Limit You
You have as much of a right as anyone to take up space, explore, travel, and learn. Disabilities do not have to hold you back from attending college and going to school. With proper planning and research, it is possible to study abroad with a disability in Germany.
Each semester, more and more students with disabilities are able to study abroad. They learn about different cultures, values, and ways of living while earning their degree abroad. While there are more challenges that students with disabilities have to face when they go abroad, it is still achievable. Now get out there and start planning early. You got this!