Event Organizers: We Need to Talk About Inclusion

I know, I know. You’re busy and there are so many factors that go into putting on a successful event. Give me 5 minutes to talk about something that I’ve felt desperate to tell you about for years. Please. I promise it’ll be worth it. Just keep an open mind and hear me out. Okay? Great, thanks!

Inclusion is a big word with a lot of meaning. But it’s an abstract concept and to be inclusive means to implement concrete ways that support the concept of inclusion. There are so many ways for an event to “be inclusive”. But have you stopped to think who you’re being inclusive of? Obviously, you’re hoping to be inclusive to everyone. But what does that even look like. There have to be actionable steps to achieving the goal of inclusion. Have you considered if those actionable steps you’re using to achieve inclusion are really communicating inclusion to your audience?

Inclusion includes disability. I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to point out but as a disabled person I’ve seen plenty of times where that seemed to be forgotten. In other words, the actionable steps an event used didn’t effectively communicate inclusion of disabled people.

I get that there are already lists out there about how to implement (communicate) disability inclusion. But, as with anything else there comes a time when we need to look with fresh eyes to achieve new results. Let’s talk about some actionable steps to communicate disability inclusion that maybe, just maybe you haven’t fully considered yet.

Every single one of these points comes from real world experiences and conversations that throughout my life I desperately wished an event organizer would have with me in the moment but didn’t. You see, when people are attending events we are interacting with what I’ll call “frontline workers” rather than the organizing staff. That means there’s room for miscommunication between what those two groups of staff understand and expect and also room for messages from visitors to not be relayed to the organizing staff at all.

  1. Consult with people with a variety of accessibility needs throughout the planning process.

It’s so important to verify that what you think will work for people with various access needs actually works for those people. You don’t need to keep wondering if your intentions are effectively meeting needs. You can consult with people who live with those access needs and find out! Connecting with disability organizations in your community is a great place to start.

2. Understand that people with similar disabilities may prefer different strategies to meet their needs.

It’s the classic don’t judge a book by it’s cover. While there are times that people with similar disabilities will have the same strategies to meet their needs this is not ALWAYS the case. It’s important to be open to the individual. I know what my body can and can’t do. Someone who is just meeting me doesn’t know that better than me. Sadly, I’ve gone to events and met people who communicated like they did know better than me what my body could and couldn’t do. That doesn’t make for a positive experience!

3. Language matters

I know this one gets talked about a lot but it needs to be said again and frankly shared with staff and volunteers. It doesn’t need to be complicated though. But, if I’m in a high stress situation where accessibility is less than great and then I’m interacting with a staff member or volunteer who is being shall I say sloppy with their language it heightens the emotions and makes the feeling of being excluded and frankly, unseen even worse. In contrast, a staff member or volunteer who uses polite, generally accepted language in a less than great accessibility situation can at the very least not make it worse and actually make me feel seen and heard even if in a small way. I once was in a less than accessible situation and the staff member I interacted with kept referring to ‘wheelchairs and scooters’ as ‘carts’. That seemingly small word choice made a world of difference in the emotion in the situation and just added to the feeling of me being invisible.

4. Staff/volunteer training needs to be detailed and not just pointing out an accessible seating section, ramps and an elevator.

The disability experience is complex. Everyone’s individual experience is unique and yet when non-disabled people speak about it it tends to be a fairly watered down version of reality. Not terribly helpful but unfortunately many non-disabled people don’t realize how unhelpful it really is. Of course, there are basic things like like where the accessible seating, ramps and elevators all are. Keep including that! But don’t stop there.

5. Make sure that guests with disabilities are able to successfully contact other team members about accessibility if the guest feels the accessibility coordinator hasn’t met their needs satisfactorily.

This, at first glance sounds like a hard, potentially scary one. But it’s really important that disabled guests can have their experiences heard and sometimes that may mean talking to someone other than the accessibility coordinator. I’ve given feedback in the past and seriously doubted if my feedback was heard by the planning team. Obviously, the hope is that the accessibility coordinator will share that feedback with the rest of the planning team but in practice that doesn’t always happen. If a guest reaches out to another part of that planning team with accessibility feedback, welcome that feedback! Don’t simply relegate that feedback to one person. Collaboration is essential to progress.

6. Strive to create an environment that provides an equal amount of autonomy and freedom of choice for disabled guests as non-disabled guests.

Implementing inclusion is not only about gives people with varying abilities access to the event, it’s about the overall experience which includes autonomy and freedom of choice. Containing disabled people in certain areas while everyone else is moving around generally has more choices gets noticed by disabled people. As much as possible, reimagine spaces and scenarios that allow people with varying abilities to experience the event on their own terms to the same level you think about non disabled people experiencing the event on their own terms.

7. Team members’ names should be visible on the website. Guests who make inquiries should know who they are talking to.

For some of you this is going to sound really obvious and you already do it. Thank you! But personal experience has shown me this is a practice not all events practice and it’s an important one to not overlook in it’s simplicity. Being personable goes a long way in building positive relationships which effects event growth. If you’ve had a negative experience and you share it, even if the feedback you get isn’t exactly what you’d hoped for knowing you’ve share your experience with a real person who you can name can give a positive feeling. In contrast, simply knowing the name of the one you’re talking to can add to the negativity.

8. Follow up intentionally with people who share their experience or offer advice.

It’s sad the number of times I’ve shared feedback and either gotten no response or a very generic response. Even when I’ve asked to be kept informed or offered to give more information people won’t follow through. It’s incredibly frustrating and disheartening. Don’t lose out on valuable information by not genuinely following up. Genuine follow ups foster good relationships.

9. Make sure that accessibility upgrades are part of long term growth of an event and therefore the budget and communicate that to the public.

Stop kicking the can down the road! Make accessibility upgrades a priority by including them in the budget and how you grow the event. Change takes time and the sooner you start take actionable steps the sooner everyone gets to see the benefits. It’s not enough to desire accessibility upgrades. It’s not enough to keep things in the hypothetical realm of someday. Put those upgrades in the budget and get moving now so you can reap the benefits you know are there when an event is inclusive.

How things get communicated to the public always varies. But if you’re already in the habit of sharing about upgrades then don’t keep accessibility upgrades a secret. Heck, even if you aren’t in the habit don’t keep accessibility upgrades to yourself. If seen events with publicly known budgets over one million dollars that had accessibility upgrade needs and when their annual upgrades were announced to the public accessibility was not on the list. Doesn’t get disabled people excited for next year! Get as many people excited for what’s to come by sharing about these things through the marketing.

Remember that disability is part of diversity. It’s a problem when an event talks about a commitment to diversity but makes glaring errors in disability inclusion. Rethinking the different aspects of inclusion and remembering that its about tangibly communicating that people with diverse abilities are welcome and valued are vital to future success.

A to Z Guide to Accessible Minnesota

Travel is for everyone. Travel information should be too. But far too often travel information fails to speak to the more than 26 million disabled travelers in the U.S. alone. And globally that number is obviously much higher. Connecting people directly to accessibility information is a vital part of making travel information for everyone.

Your time is valuable. It can be so frustrating spending hours chasing down details to help you decide what’s really worth investing your travel time doing.

Enjoy this A to Z list of everything you should know, see and do in the state of Minnesota which includes direct links to to accessibility information so you can make the best travel choices for yourself and spend more time enjoying your experience rather than stressing about the uncertainty of accessibility details!


Take in a Minnesota United soccer game at Allianz Field.

Learn about Minnestoa’s Swedish heritage at the American Swedish Institute.


Learn about the history of electricity and see some of Benjamin Franklin’s experiments at the Bakken Museum.

Visit the beautiful Basilica of St. Mary.

Visit the planetarium at the Bell Museum.


The Minnesota State Capitol Building

Watch the horse racing at Canterbury Park.

Learn about Minnesota’s history and government at the Capitol Building and don’t miss the monuments along the paths throughout the capitol grounds.

Take in a St. Paul Saints baseball game at CHS Field.

See the animals and relax in the beautiful indoor gardens of the Como Zoo and Conservatory.


Check out the Department of Natural Resources website for specific accessibility details for parks throughout the state.

Explore the northern city of Duluth!


Consult Minnesota Monthly’s Events Calendar for the latest on what’s happening around the state.


Visit the Farmers Market and make yourself a picnic!


See the animals at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Enjoy the theater scene at the Guthrie Theater.


Entrance to the Minnesota History Center

Learn about history at the Minnesota History Center.

Check out the replicas of a Viking ship and Norwegian stave church at the Hjemkomst Center.


At the water’s edge at Itasca State Park

Go to Itasca State Park to see where the Mississippi River begins. There’s a paved path from the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center to the waterfront. It’s sandy towards the water’s edge.


Go back in time by taking a tour of the beautiful James J Hill House.

See Native American sacred rock carvings at Jeffers Petroglyphs.

Eat a Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 Club or Matt’s Bar, both claim to be the place the burger which is stuffed with molten, bubbly cheese, was created.


Rent accessible kayak equipment in St. Paul.


Explore the home of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh at the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum.


Shop til you drop at the Mall of America and check out the indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe, formerly known as Camp Snoopy.

Check out the Metro Transit website for everything you need to know about getting around by bus or light rail train.

Learn why Minneapolis is nicknamed the Mill City at the Mill City Museum.

See fabulous art from around the world at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Consult the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport website to make your arrival/departure as smooth as possible.

See the famous painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Only one other copy of this iconic American painting exists and it’s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.


Enjoy the shopping and people watching along Minneapolis’ pedestrian street, Nicollet Mall. Look for the statue of Mary Tyler Moore while you’re there.


Experience a musical performance at Orchestra Hall, one of the most acoustically acclaimed venues in the world!

Enjoy a show at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

Indulge your love of the arts and history at the Orpheum Theater.


Take a picture with the huge statue of Paul Bunyan & the Blue Ox in Bemidji and while you’re there check out the accessible playground located right by the statue.


Take a self-guided tour by car of the barn quilts in Caledonia.


Enjoy a river boat cruise down the St. Croix.


Have some fun with science at the Science Museum of Minnesota and while you’re there take in an Omnitheater film!

Walk through the paved paths of the outdoor Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis and take a picture with the iconic Spoonbridge and Cheery.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have extensive downtown skyway systems, particularly great in winter!


Cheer on the Minnesota Timberwolves or Minnesota Lynx at a basketball game at Target Center.

Enjoy a day at the ballpark cheering on the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.


See one of the newest NFL stadiums, US Bank Stadium, and catch a Minnesota Vikings game.


Have fun riding the rollercoasters at Valleyfair!


Check out the art at the Walker Art Museum which is also home to the outdoor sculpture garden.

The Weisman Art Museum is another great option for the art enthusiast.

Book an accessible outdoor adventure trip with Wilderness Inquiry!


Watch a Minnesota Wild hockey game at the Xcel Energy Center.


Take an adaptive yoga class.


Visit the animals at the Minnesota Zoo.

Unlocking an Inclusive Business Mindset

We can all agree that inclusion is good for business; that it’s the right thing to do. But why do inclusion efforts fail and even more frequently, why do inclusion efforts fail to include people with disabilities? It all starts with mindset. Unlock and inclusive mindset and you’ll move forward to actually implementing inclusive practices.

Evaluate the Beliefs that Build Your Company Culture

What would happen if you regularly looked at the beliefs that are building the culture of your workplace? How many of those beliefs would you find that you’re holding onto because they are familiar rather than because they’re effective? Outdated beliefs can be stifling the creation of inclusive environments.

Make a Conscious Commitment to Action

Our actions don’t come about by chance. They reflect our deepest beliefs and values. When we are intentional about getting specific results we take action to get those results. That’s goal setting 101. Without taking specific actions towards disability inclusion then disability inclusion remains a goal without a plan. And we all know that a goal without a plan is just a wish. You will not build a disability inclusive business without conscious commitment to those actions that are disability inclusive.

Inclusion at All Levels

Inclusion in business is not just about employment. That’s one element. But businesses must reflect the communities they are a part of. Inclusive businesses means inclusive hiring at all levels, inclusive marketing, inclusion related to customer support/relations and product/service development. Inclusion allows businesses to unlock innovation that is otherwise impossible. Holding back disability inclusion from any area of business activity is a surefire way to inhibit innovation. Sadly, most businesses don’t even realize that.

Communication Inside and Outside of Organization

Disability is part of diversity and inclusion. Simple. But I can’t tell you how many times diversity and inclusion are addressed and disability is left out of the conversation. This shouldn’t be happening.

Inclusion of people with disabilities should be as visible to those in the organization and outside the organization as other minority inclusion. It’s not helpful to leave people wondering if the organization realizes the value of disability inclusion.

If people are left guessing that translates to a business losing out on money, talent and opportunity. Why would a business want to do that? But if I don’t feel welcome through how your business is communicating (marketing) why would I do business with you? Then you lose money and the opportunity to innovate and reach a new market.

And if your business isn’t communicating internally about the value of disability inclusion it’s going to have the same effects. If employees aren’t reminded of the value of disability inclusion then the work is far less likely to reflect disability inclusion and you lose opportunities to innovate and reach a new market.

Stop assuming “someone else” can do it better or is more qualified to implement inclusion

This is a thought process that sabotages so many individuals and creates big problems. There are more people buying into this idea than just you! You’re not the only one who feels inadequate and unqualified. That being the case translates to people with disabilities being turned down for jobs, being denied services and countless other experiences that others so easily take for granted.

It takes one individual, one business to create change. Yes, we need consistency from all individuals and businesses. But you have no idea the power individual encounters have in shaping our life experience. A bad experience marked by someone not being inclusive in one way or another can effect someone in ways the other person never would have realized. Likewise, a good experience marked by being inclusive can effect someone in ways the other person never would have realized.

You can create situations where people with disabilities are included by simply doing it, making the effort and not worrying that you can’t do it as well as “someone else.”

Rethink the word Inspiration

Inspiration is a word that is thrown around in connection to disability All. The. Time. And it’s not very helpful. I don’t exist to inspire you. People with disabilities are real people living in the real world.

Here’s the thing about inspiration that nobody is really talking about, it’s easy to be inspired to feel good. What isn’t easy is being inspired to action. And it’s action that makes an impact, not nice inspired thoughts.

Disabled employees don’t exist in a business to make people feel good. They exist in a business to do a job and reflect the way society is. Now, disabled employees can bring new innovative ideas based on their life experiences that in turn allows the business to grow and have new opportunities to connect with the diverse world around it.

There’s Always Room for Growth

The thought that prevents many from even making an initial effort is inadequacy. Just like we can think that someone else can do it better we also think about how inadequate those first actions can seem. It’s especially common to think that when you’re comparing your situation to another you see as being ‘better’ at building inclusive practices.

If you don’t start, you won’t grow.

If you don’t start being inclusive now, nothing changes.

If you start being inclusive then you will find more opportunities.

Unlocking an inclusive mindset isn’t as much a matter of learning more as it is a matter of putting into practice the principles we already know. Of course, some of those principles might be more buried than others and learning will happen along the way. Intentionality is key to unburying those parts of our current mindset and transforming our mindset so that we can create an inclusive reality. In the words of Green Bay Packer great, Jerry Kramer, “You can if you will.”

Disability Inclusion for Global Businesses

1 billion people live with some form of disability, that’s 15% of the world’s population. The global employment rate for people with disabilities is half that of people without disabilities. Do you realize that the disabled community represents a spending power of nearly $7 trillion? No? For some context, that makes the disabled community the third largest in the world in terms of purchasing power behind the US and China.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that disability inclusion is the right thing to do. You found your way to this article and according to a recent study conducted by Business Disability Forum more than 90% of businesses in the study stated it was important.

But, there’s still a disconnect between knowing it’s the right thing and doing it. Let’s talk about that.

Moving From Nice to Have to Must Have

Disability inclusion in global business is an issue of inclusion at all levels; both employment and client/customer engagement and is vital to business sustainability and growth. That’s why it’s a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’. It is crucial that business leaders see the connection that both of these areas being disability inclusive is integral to business sustainability and growth. It is a key step in making lasting and tangible adjustments that actually make inclusion an everyday reality rather than a pie in the sky idea that we merely hope will happen someday.

In practical terms, this looks like moving away from disability exclusively as an initiative topic. That might sound scary. It doesn’t need to be. I’m not proposing a scenario where we don’t highlight disability topics. I’m saying that its possible that when we think in terms of initiatives businesses may be prone to some burnout on the topic or think that when the initiative ends and we find a new initiative to spend time on we can drop the ball when it comes to the details of past initiatives.

Disability inclusion should never be a one and done; single point in time type of concept. For example, you may implement a specific initiative for disability employment awareness month in October. But that shouldn’t mean you’re not still talking about inclusive hiring practices in May! Thinking about these issues is a year round priority because the opportunities are year round.

Diverse employment is part of attracting diverse clients/customers. But inclusion needs to be at the heart of every aspect of business activities. Disability must be a visible part of client/customer marketing plans. Marketing is about attracting the clients and customers a business wants; people with disabilities are found in every other kind of demographic. Businesses must understand this intersectionality.

Businesses Driving Social Change

Businesses are drivers of social change. When businesses lead, society will follow. Greater equality in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation has made great progress and businesses have played a role in that change. But one area of diversity and inclusion has been neglected: disability. In other words, inclusion is really only being done halfway. Disability is another dimension of diversity and inclusion but that doesn’t make it completely separate from the other dimensions. Let’s stop acting like it’s separate!

Making the change to greater inclusion shouldn’t be a chore; it’s an opportunity; an opportunity to unlock innovation. People with diverse experiences have different approaches to problem solving which drives increased innovation in any area of business. Looking at the potential dividends that the disability experience can offer for future success is a vital growth step.

Addressing inclusion across all systems/departments of an organization is crucial because without a consistent approach pockets of good and bad practice may arise based on dynamics within specific departments or in the case of organizations spread out across the globe, local leadership teams.

Changing the Work Culture

Change can be scary. The familiar is, well, comfortable and familiar. Change can be risky even when we can admit it’s necessary and even long overdue. A lot gets said about evaluating your current practices and how disability inclusive they are. There is a lot of information out there about steps businesses can take to be more disability inclusive. Those are great pieces of information that you’re probably already familiar with. The specifics will look different for different businesses.

The pandemic has caused us to look at how we all work together rather than taking a more siloed approach. It’s an opportunity to see disability as part of a new culture of work.

What I want to challenge you to think about is whether the practices you’ve implemented are ‘best practices’ or just practices that seem to work and are the way we’ve always done them.

Now, some practices that fall into the latter category may also be a “best practice”. I’m not suggesting that everything about your current practices needs to change. I’m saying there’s a common pitfall that we think because something has been the common practice for a long time that it makes it a best practice. However, in reality, they may be archaic practices that we’re still using simply because that’s what we’re accustomed to. This reevaluation process involves an open mind and listening to people who have been impacted by these practices.

When we continually remind ourselves and each other of these guiding principles we can all move forward into more inclusive workplaces.

The Conversation I Should’ve Had BEFORE the Faculty-Led Study Abroad

This season of reflection has brought me to unpacking my experience on a faculty-led study abroad to the beautiful country of Tanzania. This trip was a required part of my master’s program.

From the information we we given I did what I could to prepare. I disclosed my physical disability when I was asked to on an electric health information form that the International Education office asked all of us to fill out.

And that was it.

No personal conversations. No inquiring about additional details. No asking directly about accessibility. No organizers asking me for clarification.

The professor leading the trip was the head of my degree program and my advisor. I had been in the program for a year leading up to this trip. He knew I used a wheelchair and I thought that already knowing that would mean accessibility was part of the planning process.

And throughout our time in Tanzania it was obviously to me that accessibility was not planned for as much as I thought it would and frankly could have.

Having grown up with a physical disability I’ve always danced between speaking up about my needs and shrinking back and saying nothing, as if speaking up may be seen as a problem or inconvenience to the non-disabled people around me. That’s called code switching.

Surprised to hear that diversity term used in relation to disability? You shouldn’t be. Disability inclusion isn’t completely separate from other diversity topics. It’s not a medical term; it’s a subtopic of diversity. If we’re talking about diversity in terms of the other subtopics of race, gender and sexual orientation then there should be an expectation that disability is talked about comparably.

Code switching is the act of modifying your behavior in an interaction in order to accommodate different sociocultural norms. People with disabilities are constantly working to assimilate into the majority culture aka the non-disabled world and code switching is one of those strategies.

I like being as self-sufficient as possible. That’s my comfort zone. Going abroad involves getting out of our comfort zones. For me, and I think a lot of disabled people, being intentional early on about having detailed conversations about accessibility is part of getting out of our comfort zones.

I didn’t fully come to that realization until after I returned home and processed my experience.

Learn from my experience! Speak up and have that more detailed conversation beforehand. Everyone stands to benefit from it.

Knowing what I know now I should have initiated a conversation. If you find yourself in a similar situation and need some help thinking through what that conversation could look like, keep reading! If you’re in a position to support someone with a disability, keep reading!

Here is an example of how this conversation could go. I hope this helps you have the best possible experience!

What I should’ve said!

I’d like to talk about the upcoming experience and get a better understanding of the plans.

I’m really looking forward to the experience and want you to be aware that planning is an important part of having a successful experience. It’s going to be different than my day to day life here at home. It would be helpful to me if you were aware of that. It’s somewhat difficult for me to anticipate all of the specifics right now but I will likely need help in ways I don’t at home.

  1. Where are we staying? Specific names would be great. What do you know about the accessibility of each place?
  2. What transportation will we be using? What do you know about the accessibility?
  3. What specific sites/venues are going to be part of the program? What do you know about the wheelchair accessibility?
  4. Are you working with someone in country to make arrangements? Do they know that wheelchair accessibility is a factor? Accessibility might mean some different to them based on their cultural experience.

Thank you for filling in these details for me. It’s given me some context to share what I anticipate my needs to be in this situation.

What do you wish you had said before you studied abroad or what do you wish your students would ask? Leave a comment and let us know!

11 Travel Reflection Questions to Spark Positivity Right Now

The world feels so upside down this year. We don’t know what normal is right now. We want things to go back to how they were but have no idea when that might happen. At times it feels like we take a step forward but then the next week we take two steps back.

And the travel industry has taken a brutal hit. As I write this in early fall, some travel is coming back but it’s nothing like it once was.

In a year with so much loss and abrupt change, self-reflection might seem especially painful. Self-reflection doesn’t mean descending into a pit of despair over plans that fell apart or longing for the past. Reflection can be a profound experience that points us in a positive direction by giving us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and look at our circumstances in a fresh way.

A lot of people have a lot to say about what travel means to them, what the advantages of travel are and what you’re “supposed to” learn from it. An overarching theme is gaining cross-cultural skills.

But travel doesn’t automatically translate into cross-cultural skills. It does give us the opportunity to develop these skills. Cross-cultural skills help us work in harmony, building better relationships in cross cultural interactions. Cross-cultural competence means you can be effective in your interactions with people from other cultures. It is about your ability to understand and engage with people from different cultures effectively. Cross-cultural competence and the skills that build that competence is a necessary part of achieving professional goals.

Let’s clarify what cross cultural skills actually are. Curiosity, being informed about the world, interpersonal communication, flexibility, patience, inclusivity and understanding your core values & how they impact your attitude/behavior are all examples of cross cultural skills.

Traveling teaches a lot of people a lot of things but what did it teach me and why does it still matter in a season or seasons when I’m not traveling internationally?

Continuously reflecting on past experiences at different points of life means that different things will stand out at different times. It’s easy to forget that reflection can help us reframe our experiences and grow. Our experiences form the stories of our lives but without reflection it’s hard to find the words to express those stories.

Don’t shy away from the powerful growth opportunity that is re-entry but don’t stop at the initial re-entry phase. There is always more to learn by revisiting past experiences through the reflection process.


Honest self reflection opens your mind to reprogramming, change, success and freedom.


Trudy Vesotsky

Seasons of life where we take a detour and nothing goes the way we envisioned it are rough and scary for so many reasons. One of those reasons that I’ve felt is the pressure to always be growing in order to stay relevant. And it’s easy to fall for the idea that growing means doing. It doesn’t actually mean that. We can grow in any season.

It’s also easy in the quiet seasons where perhaps we know we need to transition to something else such as a new job or career to feel pressure to say the right thing about our experience or skills and yet have no idea what the right thing is in any particular new or future interaction.

When we’re feeling stuck and anxious self-reflection can feel scary and create even more stress. How do we get past that mental roadblock and actually put in the work to get positive, potentially life-changing results?

If you need someone else to tell you that it’s worth it, here you go. I’m telling you it’s worth it.

Still not convinced?

By reflecting on past experiences, you can make changes that lead to more harmonious relationships, and other positive changes in any area of your life. Self-reflection and knowing yourself more intimately can help you become more confident in yourself and your actions. With greater certainty comes less stress and anxiety.

Processing past travel experiences should help you appreciate your past and give some clarity to move forward with a greater sense of confidence in understanding yourself and what you have to share with the world.

These events are part of my story regardless of how long ago they happened. They will always have an impact. It’s in the reflecting that I reconnect with their significance in my life again and again.

There’s no one size fits all approach to how to put self-reflection into action. Do what makes sense to you. Some like journaling and letting words flow naturally. My personal favorite is working through structured prompts. In this guide I’m sharing 11 questions that have really helped me to see my past experiences in a fresh way and find new words to apply what they showed me and how they shaped me to work in my current reality.

I hope this helps you refocus and reframe your experiences no matter what your current reality looks like!

Self-Reflection Question Guide

How have I stayed connected to travel and international experiences when not traveling?

How have I used travel to develop new habits?

What have I learned about people as a result of travel?

How has travel helped me improve how I react to difficult situations?

How has travel been a window to me?

How has travel been a mirror to me?

How has travel helped me figure out what I’m passionate about?

What would I include in my personal travel manifesto right now?

What Can I draw from my past travel experiences to help me in my current circumstances?

If you could use five words, how would I describe myself based on these travel experiences?

What soft skills have I gained that can be connected or represented in travel?

Disability Inclusion as Part of your International Education Brand

Disability is a natural part of diversity. But could it be that it’s such a natural part that we’ve nearly forgotten it at times? Or perhaps there is an unconscious bias that influences the lack of disability inclusion? Why is it that even when diversity is discussed the conversation rarely addresses disability?

Why is that when these omissions are pointed out there is often an air of defensiveness taken. Are individuals or businesses as likely to be defensive if it’s pointed out they omitted a different minority group as they are towards people with disabilities? I would say absolutely not. Society (which is made up of individuals) is far more vocal about failures to include other minority group than people with disabilities.

What potential biases are at play? What holds people back from actually practicing disability inclusion and how can we break through those barriers? Why in 2020, do we struggle to re-examine why we don’t talk about disability inclusion let alone actually be people who are disability inclusive?

If we say we communicate what we value, what are we saying when we don’t communicate about disability? Seriously. What are you communicating by continuing to shy away from communicating about disability; by continuing to only talk about it on a case by case basis? Hint: it’s not that people with disabilities are as valued as anyone else or that the issues that effect us are as valuable. Yikes! That’s a dangerous message.

Individual Ideas Working Together

Do we stop and think about how individual ideas (or bias) ultimately work together to create group ideas, company ethos, and brands. Individual ideas have power. Committing to understanding diversity and inclusion requires a group effort and a group understanding. Group dialogue about the importance of disability inclusion and the practical implications is an important step. Taking stock of what bias exists in the group is essential to working through the bias and embracing new ways of thinking.

Embrace the Power of Welcome and Information

Everyone wants to feel welcome; like they belong. Marketing campaigns are created based on the idea of making people feel welcome. If a person doesn’t relate to see themselves represented in the marketing campaign then they’re probably not going to interact with that brand in the future.

And why would they?

Your brand should say people with disabilities are welcome. You’re probably nodding your head right now. Of course, we want to be welcoming but how exactly do we do that on a practical level. After all, it’s usually those practical steps where our intention to be welcoming to a diverse audience falls flat and our actions end up not matching our intentions.

What Are You Communicating Without Saying Anything

Are you really communicating that a particular group of people matters when you aren’t addressing them particularly when talking about diversity topics?

Inclusion is about valuing individual contributions and providing the opportunity to participate. Simply put, an inclusive International Education office or any other business provides meaningful involvement and equal access.

Inclusion means everyone is accepted, welcomed, and has a sense of belonging.

Let’s be specific about goals rather than simply saying we are working to diversify out staff or the students we work with we should be more specific about what that diversity actually is and make sure that in that conversation people with disabilities are included. This change in perception can result in more substantive conversations and strategies.

Why is diversity part of our values? For whom are we creating an inclusive environment? How will we ensure that inclusion is not just a talking point?

Provide with resources in the pre-departure process that help them understand their own identity and prepare them for differing cultural norms and viewpoints in their host country.

Assess Specific Inclusion Challenges that Exist to Increase Diversity

What specific challenges do you face in making inclusion a reality? Is it lack of education? A small budget? Physical barriers? Small staff? Something else…?

The first step is always to broaden your awareness (education). The best way to educate yourself on disability topics is by listening to people with disabilities. It is absolutely vital that the people who live it everyday are the ones sharing their experiences and recommendations with the world.

When it comes to budget/staff constraints and physical barriers always keep an open mind. Inclusion inherently involves all of us. Solutions can exist in the most unlikely of places and can be far more simple and inexpensive than you originally thought if you keep an open mind and actively commit to the value of inclusion.

Images and information/stories posted to websites, social media and in printed media needs to communicate disability inclusion! Website accessibility or lack there of communicates inclusion too!

Small changes can make the difference in terms of who is able to access your message. Don’t underestimate that!

It’s time for people with disabilities to be recognized as valued members of the global community. Commitment needs to be shown through action right now. Not at some point in the future when we think it will be easier. 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we need to adapt to change. Let’s take that attitude of adapting forward into the future.

18 Examples of Disability Inclusive Marketing in Study Abroad

Everyone wants to be inclusive. Being inclusive is being respectful and welcoming.

But in practical terms what does being inclusive look like? How can disability topics be addressed outside of one-on-one conversations with an individual? There are a number of strategies you can use to market study abroad programs in a disability inclusive manner.

Here, I have laid out specific examples of ways to be inclusive of people with disabilities on a website. There are a lot of options to suit different departmental and organizational dynamics.

While this guide highlights two websites for each strategy you will notice that many of these websites use several of the strategies outlined here. For the sake of highlighting each specific strategy I have intentionally chosen to focus on grouping the examples by strategy rather than dissecting every strategy used on each website.

I hope these examples encourage you to find practical ways of being inclusive of people with disabilities in your study abroad program marketing in the future!

Provide a PDF guide

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Provides a PDF document specifically guiding students with disabilities through the study abroad process in detail.

Santa Barbara City College

Provides a PDF guide to study abroad for all students with a section of detailed information dedicated to students with disabilities.

Provide detailed questions to consider

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Provides detailed questions for students to consider which are organized by category.

University of California

Provides detailed questions to consider which are organized by disability type.

Provide detailed info for various disability types

Western Michigan University

Provides links to travel information produced by Mobility International USA based on disability type.

The Ohio State University

Provides detailed information based on disability type including specific action steps.

Provide a welcome video

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Shares a short video (~4 mins) with interview clips from study abroad alumni with disabilities sharing their experiences.

University of Minnesota

Shares an orientation video (~11 mins) specifically for students with disabilities explaining the study abroad process.

Link accommodation request forms

St. Olaf College

Provides a link to the student accommodation request form in PDF format.

Babson College

Provides links to the student accommodation request forms in electronic format. There are two different forms for different program types.

Provide detailed program information


Provides detailed, non-disability specific information organized by country with specific program details such as typical housing options.

University of Minnesota

Provides detailed accessibility information for select university sponsored (developed) programs around the world. Check out the Site Accessibility Questionnaire to provide similar information about programs.

Provide links to additional resources


Provides links to other websites to give students with disabilities more information on study abroad.

Texas A&M

Provides links to other websites including the Transportation Security Administration (airport guidelines) and International Narcotics Control Board (country specific guidelines on medication regulations) to give students with disabilities more information on study abroad.

Provide a detailed explanation of disclosure


Explains why disclosure is important and how disclosure is helpful in a non-intimidating manner. How staff will be able to assist students with program information when accessibility needs are disclosed is clear.

Emory University

Explains disability disclosure and accommodations through a series of FAQs. This is located specifically on the Office of Disability Services webpage and a link is listed on the Office of International & Summer Programs webpage. There is also a link to electronically request a study abroad accommodation letter from the department.

Share stories from alumni with disabilities

Northwestern University

Provides tips from students with disabilities who have studied abroad in the form of a Q&A.

The University of Iowa

Provides reflections on study abroad experiences from students with a variety of disabilities in a searchable database. Linked here is the disability tag but there are other diversity ambassadors in the database too.

The Essential Guide to Understanding Disability Disclosure in International Education

Disclosure is sharing something that was previously unknown. Disclosure is complex and influenced by more factors than may be realized. Factors such as self-identity, personality, disability type, context, and previous experience all color the topic and experience of disclosure. It’s complicated but learning about what really colors the topic is an important first step in truly addressing disability disclosure in practical, effective ways.

Different Views of Disclosure

While international education professionals always prefer as much information as possible as early as possible students are often weary of the impact of providing that information. Students are naturally weighing the need/benefit of reasonable accommodation against the cost of labeling, potential discrimination & differential treatment.

It’s important to evaluate what you regard/accept as disclosure. Many think that a specific disability label will provide all the necessary information. Therefore, the expectation becomes knowing the label. Be careful with this idea! People with the same disability can have varying issues and varying ways of working through the same issue. Knowing the label doesn’t mean you know the individual’s unique set of issues or their unique preferences.

Another issue at hand is a person’s comfort level with disclosing a specific disability label. As previously mentioned, there are several factors that color the issue. Previous experiences can cause fear when disclosing a specific disability label. Fear can also come from wanting to be in control of what information is made public (disclosed) and what information remains private. There may be some elements of a condition a person doesn’t need accommodation for or assistance with and wishes to keep private.

When you disclose you are intentionally releasing personal information about yourself for a specific purpose. It should also be noted that the internet is fraught with cut and dry details about various disabilities that often sound incredibly intimidating and offer no real world context. There are a lot of worst case scenarios out there that aren’t prefaced as worst case scenarios which can often lead to misconceptions. In light of living in the digital age many people with disabilities can be hesitant to disclose a label because maintaining control over what their issues are and what their issues aren’t is important and once a detail has been disclosed there can be unintended consequences. Unintended consequences that then need to be dealt with.

On the other hand, it’s important to know how a disability may impact the experience. Figuring these details out is a far more practical approach. Knowing how the disability may impact the experience and what accommodations may be needed can be learned without asking the title of a disability. This approach involves guiding a student towards thinking thoroughly about not only needs but also how you go through your everyday life.

Disability is defined and viewed differently in different cultures. This will impact outgoing students (study abroad) who are used to a high level of inclusion and access to certain accommodations that may not be common or easily available in some countries. This will also affect incoming international students in a way that many don’t realize. Learning disabilities are not commonly diagnosed in some cultures. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist though and students find their own personal coping strategies. Compound this with an education system that may have different standards and it’s entirely possible that a student with a learning disability can find themselves studying at a foreign university. Once that student is at a university in a country that more readily recognizes learning disabilities you may find that a student has developed coping strategies that actually constitute plagiarism or other form of academic dishonesty in the host country. It’s food for thought when dealing with those situations that an undiagnosed learning disability may be going on.

While it may seem like a person with a disability is going to easily be able to say exactly what they’ll need abroad this isn’t exactly reality. We all have aspects of our everyday lives we take for granted and easily overlook. It’s also difficult to anticipate what will or won’t be available abroad. Starting out with a detailed picture of how you go about your everyday life can help you advocate for what you’ll need abroad and find alternative accommodations when necessary. I recommend the Access Information Forms from Mobility International USA to help guide students through the process. Also, check out the the Advisor Guidelines for general information about what each question on the Access Information Forms means as you plan accommodations.

Practical Strategies to Create a Culture that Supports Disclosure

Include disability when talking about diversity

Don’t forget to mention students with disabilities when mentioning other diverse groups. Making the excuse that there aren’t that many students with disabilities compared to other diverse groups highlights the lack of opportunity. When people with disabilities see evidence that they are welcome they are far more likely to openly disclose!

Provide resources on website

Students are likely going to be drawn to start a conversation and ultimately participate by the information provided on a website. What information is there or not there can speak powerfully to what a department or organization’s priorities or values are. If students with disabilities are not included in written materials, especially when other diverse groups are, it can create the impression that either students with disabilities can’t go abroad or that the department or organization doesn’t value working with students with disabilities. These are not messages that should be going on! Linking to websites such as The Global Access Files and Mobility International USA is a great start. Providing specific information to students with disabilities about the process is also important.

Be descriptive about program details

Remember that a lot of details that are helpful to students with disabilities are helpful to students without disabilities too. Being descriptive about program details helps students gain a better understanding of whether or not a program is a good fit for them and also what details they need to disclose, how they want to disclose those details, and what accommodations need to be set up. Just like disability disclosure itself should happen as early as possible detail disclosure should happen as early as possible and often will help disability disclosure to occur.

Build personal understanding of accessibility needs

While there are certainly individual needs and individual preferences in meeting those needs there are also some commonalities. Being informed about common issues and needs will help program professionals communicate in a more effective manner to a diverse audience, increase the likelihood of disclosure and participation, and success international experience.

Understanding disability disclosure takes an understanding from all sides. Understanding the complexities of disclosure gives each and every one of us the opportunity to connect with each other on a deeper level and find practical ways of achieving a common goal. Whether you have a disability and are considering studying abroad and are concerned about disclosure or you’re an international education professional I hope these thoughts on disability disclosure in international education can be a catalyst to a positive and impactful experience.

A Quick Guide to Beginning to Address Disability Questions in Study Abroad

There are so many variables to consider when anyone goes abroad. Many times the additional variables that people with various disabilities bring to the table can feel even more intimidating for both the person considering going abroad and the professional helping them through the process. Obviously, each person is a unique individual disabled or not. There are so many ways to meet the same needs or challenges and a single disability can mean a variety of different practical realities depending on the individual. Disclosing the need for accommodations is an essential part of the process. But disclosure can be more complicated than meets the eye. Not only can there be fears of being judged or rejected; sometimes it’s hard to know where to start asking for accommodations in a new environment that isn’t very clear before detailed information has been given.

What is Disclosure?

First, let’s address what disclosure is. Disclosure in its simplest form is the act of making previously unknown information, known. Disability information is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The information shouldn’t be used to screen out students from participating but fears can still remain to the contrary. Initial health questions that are often included on initial (conditional) applications are a way of essentially making a preliminary assessment of a situation. While this officially is not meant to be used to screen out students with disabilities many are still concerned about that possibility. After the application is accepted, generally called “conditional acceptance”, the predeparture planning process where specific needs are discussed and accommodations are planed begins.

There’s also another form of disclosure that many professionals may overlook which happens if a student wants to make a general face-to-face inquiry about a program or feels the need to ask accessibility related questions before filling out an application as part of their exploration of study abroad. It’s crucial that professionals realize the potential difficult emotions that students may be faced with not only during the more detailed disclosure that happens during the predeparture planning process but also the potential disclosure that is included on many initial applications when health questions are included. It’s a sensitive issue and it can be hard to know how to ease the worries while not making assumptions, generalizations, or giving inaccurate information.

But what kind of details can be given without getting into the murky waters of assumptions, generalizations, perceived discrimination? How can organizations catch the attention of people with disabilities and create an environment that leads to people being open about what their needs are? Here are the topics I suggest you consider including more readily in your program marketing both written materials, class presentations, and program information provided online.

What is the location like?

Urban city center, suburban neighborhood, rural area, close to a beach? Does the terrain have lots of hills or is it mostly flat? These differences could have a profound impact on how a student envisions not only whether or not they participate but how they envision some of their key needs.

What is the daily schedule/academic schedule generally like?

Any details about how the program is structured can be helpful! Knowing what sort of course load or amount of time spent in the classroom is valuable. Some students benefit more from a flexible schedule, others benefit more from a structured schedule.

Are excursions part of the program or are students responsible for any excursions?

Some programs involve excursions to learn about and explore various places in the host country as a group. Others do not facilitate these supplemental learning experiences outside of the classroom. As with any student, one format may make more sense to an individual than the other format. Some like the idea of independent exploration. For others this could be really intimidating and group excursions could be a better format to meet their needs.

What are the transportation options?

Transportation options can be an intimidating factor in deciding if and where to study abroad. An international experience is often the first time some are experiencing public transportation. To do this in another country that has different accessibility standards can be extremely difficult. Having an idea of how reliant you would need to be in one program versus another can help students make a wise decision about what the more realistic options could be. Accessible transportation option details add another layer of consideration but having a basic understanding of the usual options can either calm concerns or guide an individual to a different option. For example, needing to take a bus across the city from the housing to the university presents a different accessibility picture than the housing is typically located across the street or a couple of blocks from the academic building. A student may have a different reaction to either of those scenarios and knowing those scenarios will help guide those early decisions.

What are the housing options?

Similarly, do students typically live in dorms on-site, home stays, or apartments? How close are the housing options typically from the academic building? Of course, there can sometimes be an alternative arrangement made to accommodate individual needs. But it can be a significant concern for a student wondering upfront what the housing options are and how they’re usual needs fit into that typical scenario.

Are meals provided or are students responsible for finding/preparing their own meals?

Depending on the environment/location it can potentially be problematic to need to go out for most meals or to prepare your own versus having access to a campus cafeteria or meals provided by a host family. Knowing early what the typical expectation is can either guide a student in choosing that program or knowing that this is a detail where an alternative accommodation needs to be requested. For example, a host family may not typically be required to provide lunch. But if a student with a physical disability is situated in a location where it is more difficult to get around independently it may be good to ask the host family to provide lunch for that student.

What is the technology situation in this location?

If a program is in a remote area where technology/electricity is quite minimal or the electrical outlets are different it can have a serious impact on a student who uses assistive technology such as a power wheelchair. Many times solutions can be found but being aware of the technology in-country gives a student another idea of what to expect and what they need to be sure to address. If you haven’t been abroad before you may not always think about the electrical outlets being different and how that can potentially impact you.

Other Details to Address Early

There are other details that are more disability specific which may not need to be widely addressed but are common topics students with various disabilities. These are great details to include on a welcome page on a website specifically addressing disability issues. These details could include the following list.

What are the host culture’s attitudes towards disability and are disability accommodations common/well developed?

The answer to this will vary from country to country. But it is still important to provide general information to help students prepare. Mobility International USA is a great resource for individual stories of people with disabilities’ experiences traveling all over the world.

What questions about disability might an individual need to be prepared to answer in the host language?

Students are often accustomed to addressing questions about their disability. These same opportunities may come while abroad and it is worthwhile to be aware of basic vocabulary and phrases to address these situations. Writing common explanations about your disability and specific needs in the local language can be very helpful as well as practicing speaking those basic words and phrases that may need to use to communicate.

What are the guidelines for bringing prescription drugs?

This will vary from country to country but providing guidance in where to find that information is important and can help students be open about their need and prepared for anything they need to address concerning prescription medications. The following link from The International Narcotics Control Board provides country by country information and this list of U.S. Embassies around the world. Most embassies give prescription drug information by clicking on the “Medical Assistance” section under the “U.S. Citizen Services” tab.

What are the laws concerning service animals?

Similarly, the laws concerning service animals varies from country to country. This can be a particularly difficult detail to find concise country by country information online. Check out this article from Mobility International USA for a step by step guide on how to travel with a service animal and be sure to also consult the additional links at the bottom of the article for a list of foreign embassies. Some embassies list service animal information while you will have to email others for that information. Verifying specific airline requirements is another necessary step and this information is typically easier to find on the airline’s website.

Was that so scary? I hope not! See, the same things that are helpful to people with disabilities are also helpful to people without disabilities. While disclosing these to people without disabilities may fall into the “Thanks, that nice” or “that’s interesting” category these details could be the difference between a person with a disability declaring a desire to participate or disclosing non apparent needs. Then there are some specifics where it’s a good start to provide preliminary, general information that can lead to individual, specific conversations. Let’s commit to finding ways to encourage disclosure that go beyond saying, “we encourage early disclosure!” Let’s be committed to a culture of diversity where unique details are highly valued!