The Barrier to Going Abroad and Other Experiences No One Tells You About

The Barrier to Going Abroad and Other Experiences No One Tells You About 

I’m not sure if this is the elephant in the room or the thing that should be the elephant in the room but isn’t. Depends on your experiences I guess. What I’m talking about is the why behind people with disabilities not seeking out international opportunities and frankly not seeking out a multitude of other new opportunities either.

I addressed the power of low expectations being part of the problem here. But that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the barrier we’re not really talking about. New experiences bring out a whole host of emotional responses. These responses are complex and working through them isn’t as easy as we’d like. That’s the real elephant in the room.

Let’s shine some light on those emotional responses so we can start to deal with them, shall we?

The inner struggle of feeling different can be a deterrent to new experiences. From personal experience it’s not about lack of self-acceptance, but rather that it’s hard being confronted with how other people view me and my abilities. Sometimes there’s that worry about how other people are going to react if I say or do something. I know on one level it’s not supposed to matter but let’s be honest, it often does feel like it matters. Other people do influence our decisions even though we don’t like to admit it. We all have unique needs but when you have some sort of disability your unique needs are looked at differently. The way the world is set up for the so-called “typical” person doesn’t necessarily work for one reason or another. Then we have to confront that issue and find a solution in order to have access to that part of life. People with disabilities become good at making these adaptations and often we don’t think much of it. But there are times where we need to communicate our needs and ask for help in one way or another. Sometimes it’s because we need assistance accomplishing a task and other times it may because we need help brainstorming how to make a situation work for us. In the face of a new experience sticking your neck out and starting that conversation is hard. Let’s just admit it. It circles back to that point about being worried about other people’s reaction and the fear of not being accepted because we might need to ask them to do something for us or to do something differently than the norm.

Sometimes people are so focused on how the “typical” person handles a situation that a wider variety of possibilities is never considered. As a result the person with the disability must take the time to educate the other about different possibilities. It should be noted that it takes effort to educate people in any situation whether it’s at home or across the world. These situations where we are confronted with educating people who don’t think outside the box is often a common occurrence. But the reality is it’s not necessarily an easy occurrence to deal with time and time again. As a result, we often find ourselves picking our battles and potentially the situations where we think we’ll need to explain ourselves the least.

An international experience doesn’t strick most people as fitting that descripton, does it? No, not really. If you’re participating in an international program you have to stick your neck out and let it be known that you want to participate in the program. This can feel risky because we might have to confront program directors and others who could be unwilling to learn and work with us and even particularly adamant that this experience wouldn’t be an option without giving it much consideration. On the flip side you might find a program director and other professionals who either already have some experience making overseas accommodations or are eager and willing to learn. There’s some emotional risk involved. On the one hand not sticking our head out might save us from dealing with someone who is adverse to our participation in the first place. On the other hand we might have missed out on working with someone who could have be wonderfully helpful. Either way, under the surface we also miss out on all the new experience could teach us.

The responses both by perspective participants and organizers comes down in large part to fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown kills so many opportunities. Fear of the unknown is a two way street. People with disabilities considering new opportunities are afraid of a lot of the same unknowns people without disabilities are afraid of in those situations. We can also be afraid of how our disabilities will affect the situation. This fear of the unknown is exacerbated when there is a lack of information that targets the details people with disabilities are needing to know. We may also pick up on other people’s fear of the unknown because professionals and people in charge of whatever the new experience is are often also experiencing a fear of the unknown. It’s intimidating to consider doing things in new ways and in the world we live in the unknowns can bring on liability concerns. Fear can be a silent killer to new opportunities of all kinds if not properly managed.

So how do we deal with this particularly quiet elephant in the room?

There’s no way around it. We need to acknowledge this elephant in order to get it out of the room. We need to acknowledge the attitudes and actions that cause people with disabilities to react by not seeking out new opportunities. Not only do we need to acknowledge those negatives, we need to actively work on including people with disabilities. I laid out 3 specific action steps here. We need to commit to changing how we think and act and work to see changes in participation. Specifically, we need to make sure we are educating ourselves on inclusion and marketing programs in a way that communicates inclusion and draws people with disabilities in. We need to be just as committed to the participation of people with disabilities as we are to any other demographic’s participation. That requires continued effort over a long period of time. It involves being aware of and willing to talk about hard things like the why behind lack of participation in order to holistically work on inclusive solutions.

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