Welcoming International Students
Georgia State University has a diverse student population and has students from 47 different countries (College Factual, 2015). As outlined in the university’s Diversity Strategic Plan, the university aims to become a national model for diversity in higher education by offering an inclusive and welcoming environment which promotes intercultural interactions. To support the university’s mission of encouraging diversity, Disability Services also welcomes international students to register with the office and explore all the services and resources available.
Students with disabilities coming from various parts of the world are often unaware of their rights in the United States because disability laws in their home countries are different. The primary legislation that they need to be familiar with is the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) which protects people with disabilities within the United States against discrimination. International students are also protected by the ADA (Fulbright Commission, 2017). It is also important for international students to understand the definition of a disability in order to determine if they are protected by this legislation. The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990). Disabilities may include, but are not limited to, visual impairment/blindness, hearing impairment/deafness, learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia etc.), communication disorders, developmental disorders (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder), mobility impairments, psychological disorders (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc.). Students with disabilities must be provided reasonable accommodations in order to get equal access to learning and education. Accommodations are modifications or adjustments to the tasks, environment or to the way things are usually done that enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.
International students with disabilities coming to Georgia State University have the right to request and receive these accommodations just like any other student with a disability. They can request the accommodations during the admission process or at any time during the period that they are a student at Georgia State University by registering with Disability Services if their disability is preventing them from accessing any services or resources being offered by the university. Disclosure of a disability is voluntary and it is up to international students to decide whether they would like to identify their disability and request accommodations. It is important to keep in mind that the disclosure of a disability cannot be used against the student in any way at any time. Moreover, disability-related information that students share with Disability Services is strictly confidential and is not released to anyone without the explicit consent of the student. International students with disabilities are strongly encouraged to contact and register with Disability Services while completing their degree at Georgia State University. Doing so will allow them to receive the support and assistance that they need to succeed.
Accommodations are not only limited to academics but may be sought for any other services that the university offers including dining, housing, athletics etc. If the university needs to alter the learning environment (by providing accessible furniture for example) to accommodate an international student with a disability, the modifications are made without the student having to incur any cost. International students can also request their textbooks and other academic materials in an alternative format if their disability warrants. Other accommodations such as extended time on tests, closed captioning, notetaking services are also available to international students with disabilities if their medical documentation supports the need.
In addition to Disability Services, there are several other useful resources that international students can reach out to to improve their familiarity with disability-related rights in the United States. The National Clearinghouse for Disability and Exchange (NCDE) is a project administered by Mobility International USA, a non-profit organization working towards furthering disability rights. The NCDE, among other things, aims at increasing the participation of international students with disabilities in U.S. colleges and universities. It provides a wealth of information and resources to international students as they choose a college and move to the United States to attend one. International students can find out more about the National Clearinghouse for Disability and Exchange and the services they offer by visiting their website.