To be successful in an increasing number of jobs, young adults need to have leadership and cross-cultural skills. These skills can be developed and enhanced through international exchange or study abroad. Plan now to gain international experience in high school or college. This experience will give you an edge applying for jobs in the future.
Broaden your horizons
From participating in an intensive French language program in Switzerland to interning with an international business in Singapore, from taking part in a school-to-school exchange in Mexico to studying wildlife in Kenya, youth and adults with disabilities can participate fully and equally in international exchange programs. Start planning early, see the world and enhance your employability.
The Social Security Administration and Mobility International USA want to ensure that young people with disabilities, parents and the professionals who work with people with disabilities understand the importance of international exchange and options for including it as part of education and employment preparation.
Some people with disabilities are eligible for assistance under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program if they meet the definition of disability and their income and resources are within the allowed limits.
The Social Security Handbook states:
"A student of any age may be eligible for Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits while temporarily outside the U.S. for the purpose of conducting studies that are not available in the U.S., are sponsored by an educational institution in the U.S., and are designed to enhance the student's ability to engage in gainful employment. Such a student must have been eligible to receive an SSI benefit for the month preceding the first full month outside the U.S."
Understand your benefits and options
To continue to receive SSI while studying abroad, ensure that:
- The international exchange course of study is not available to you in the U.S.
- The study abroad program is sponsored by a school in the U.S.
- Participation is critical to your educational and vocational success
- You are eligible for SSI for the one month immediately prior to leaving the U.S.
- You will earn academic credits towards your high school or college degree while abroad
If you receive SSI payments and plan to study abroad for up to one year, work with your transition or benefits specialist to arrange to continue your SSI payments while you are abroad. Specific SSI and study abroad guidelines are listed here. If you instead receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) payments, these are not subject to out of country limitations.
If you receive a fellowship to go overseas, such as the Fulbright program through the U.S. Department of State, this fellowship will be considered income and may affect SSI or SSDI payments. As part of getting ready to travel, exchange participants with disabilities who this affects should contact SSA for information.
The Institute for Community Inclusion in Boston "" informs people with disabilities about social security benefits and how these benefits can be affected by earned income. The guide details how to calculate an estimated social security benefit, and how to measure the impact of any earned income. The guide also outlines methods on receiving maximum benefits. For alternative formats of the guide email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the fellowship ends in less than one year, then SSI or SSDI can often be reinstated without need to reapply. If your SSI or SSDI remains "suspended" for 12 consecutive months due to income from an international fellowship, the eligibility is considered “terminated.” Even after eligibility has terminated, it may be possible to get back on SSI or SSDI benefits by contacting SSA and asking for expedited reinstatement.
People who have Medicaid or Medicare will not be covered while they are outside the United States.
- Medicaid recipients may be dropped from enrollment in the medical plans if they do not keep a U.S. state residence or address or lose their SSI eligibility by being out of the country for more than 30 days for anything other than studying abroad for credit through a U.S.-based educational program for up to a year.
Loss of enrollment creates a gap of coverage on return home from being abroad, especially if the travel health insurance does not cover participants in their home country. Contact the Medicaid office for more information.
- Individuals who are entitled to Medicare and leave the United States are still entitled to Medicare coverage. The issue is that Medicare will not make payment for services rendered or supplies sent outside the United States (the "United States" means the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and, for purposes of services rendered on a ship, includes the territorial waters adjoining the land areas of the United States).
Research alternative travel health insurance by reading the tipsheet Insurance Considerations for Exchange Participants with Disabilities.
What young adults gain from international experiences...
- Improved competitive stance in applying to college and future jobs;
- Improved maturity by causing youth to take responsibility for themselves on their first significant "away from home" experience;
- Exposure to new ideas and cultures, helping young people to understand underlying difference among people and improving their tolerance of those differences;
- Education about the culture, history and language(s) of another country;
- Experiences to help in making choices about future career directions, including those in international education, international relations and diplomacy; and
- A new excitement and optimism about the world they live in.
The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel/CSIET, Administering Youth Exchange.
Vocational Rehabilitation funding options
Vocational rehabilitation (VR) funding is available to some individuals with disabilities. Students with disabilities who receive VR funding for their education should consider studying abroad to be competitive in their future careers. This handout is available for VR counselors to learn more.
Propose the Inclusion of Study Abroad in Your VR Plan
- Visit your campus study abroad or department head office to find out about study abroad programs related to your major.
- Contact the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange for other programs, accommodations abroad, and financial aid resources.
- Check with your international exchange advisor and health insurance provider to find out about medical coverage abroad.
- Bring information on a study abroad program that is required or supports your educational/vocational goal to your VR counselor's attention.
- Write down the program information in a letter to your VR counselor.
- Clearly state how the experience will enhance your educational and vocational goals
- List all the study abroad program expenses (students can request cost information from the study abroad office, and consider any disability accommodation expenses - see the sample expense form here)
- Include how much you are able to financially contribute towards the expenses
Study abroad expenses that VR has funded:
- Tuition, books and supplies for a student with a visual impairment to study for a semester in the Czech Republic and Greece
- Personal Care Attendant (PCA) wages when a PCA was needed for a student who uses a wheelchair to spend a summer session studying in Scotland
- Tuition and room/board for a student who is Deaf to study Spanish for one semester in Costa Rica, and for one month of summer school in Mexico
- The program fee for a student who is blind participating in a summer educational program in Costa Rica
- Rental of a golf cart for transportation for a student using a wheelchair on a large university campus in Australia
- Tuition, housing, fees and books for a student who has a visual impairment to study for a year in England
People with disabilities succeed
"Having international experiences on my resume was definitely an asset in my job search. The work I'm doing now is for an organization with offices all over the world, so they do look for people who have that international experience."
"I put my international exchange experience on my resume and it did spark questions in my job interview. I'm now a camp program director and a quarter of my staff are international, so I'm sure that my international experience really helped me to get the job."
"I put my Mexico and Russia exchange experiences on my resume and it worked - I got a job at an independent living center and I actually work with Deaf people from different countries who are living in the US."
"The international experience helped me to change my job. Now I'm working for international NGOs."
"In my job, we're serving more and more Japanese people with disabilities. My international exchange experience helped me to be more sensitive to other cultures."
"My year of study in England really put disability rights law and policy issues into a global framework. Now I envision a career that brings domestic and international law together. I see them as inseparable now."
During her 1998-99 academic school year at Northern Illinois University (NIU) Beth Ocrant studied at the University of Sunderland, located in Sunderland, England. During her time in England she took courses in both English literature and special education. "My time in the UK was both an enlightening and extremely positive experience. It not only gave me opportunities to travel, but it also allowed me to become a part of the British culture. Moreover, I feel that studying abroad is an experience that everyone at some point in their lives should do."
"When I say "everyone" I truly mean everyone, including those with disabilities. I am considered legally blind and have studied abroad, so I know it can be done. I was in direct contact with the Sutherland disabilities support coordinator long before I arrived. I was able to order my text books on audio tape before I left, and thus was able to bring them with me. The Sutherland coordinator also provided me with a new computer, in which I installed my own enlarging software to."
"While preparing to study abroad, I not only had to consider which program would best meet my academic needs and my disability needs, but also like most students, I was concerned about how much it was going to cost. I was receiving SSI benefits and involved with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, (DORS). DORS was able to support my year in England. Throughout my college career, including the year that I was in England, I remained eligible, and thus received full financial support from DORS. This included payment of tuition, housing, fees, and books. Moreover, because the study abroad program I participated in was an exchange, technically I was still a NIU student, and thus was only required to pay the cost of tuition, fees and housing of my home university. In turn, DORS was able to fund my international experience, because they were simply paying for the cost of my attendance at NIU, which they would have done anyway."
Unfortunately, at the time, Beth and her counselor where not aware of the SSI Study Abroad Provision which allows individuals abroad for educational purposes to continue to receive their SSI payments for up to one year. Beth could have probably received her SSI payments while she was abroad, but they were discontinued. Beth shares, "For those of you with disabilities, studying abroad is an experience that is available to you. It would have been such a shame if I would have let my disability keep me from all the life altering experiences that I encountered during my time in England." Beth is currently working for a non profit organization which provides educational services for individuals with disabilities. She also hopes to obtain a master's degree in international and special education.
Get the experience you need to be employed
It is important that youth and adults with disabilities recognize the importance of international experience, and, when possible, include it as part of education and employment preparation. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) offers free information and resources related to the numerous international exchange options available to people with disabilities of all ages. NCDE is managed by Mobility International USA and sponsored by the United States Department of State.
Mobility International USA and
The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange
132 E. Broadway, Ste. 343
Eugene, OR 97401
Tel: (541) 343-1284 (voice/TTY)
Fax: (541) 343-6812
Christa Bucks Camacho
Office of Retirement and Disability Policy
Office of Program Development and Research
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Blvd., 3-A-25 Operations
Baltimore, MD 21235
Tel: (410) 966-5147
Fax: (410) 597-1613