Thursday, February 17, 2011

Students with disabilities travel with People to People

As Hillary says, we want everyone one to travel.

At the annual Overseas Security Advisory Council meeting back in November, I heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton say she wants every American to Travel and that she knew how important these People to People contacts are. I even tweeted these sweet words as she said them.

Our goal at People to People Ambassador Programs is much the same. We bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange, making the world a better place for future generations.

That mission is not intended for only those that can walk, talk, and hear as most of us can. Our mission is to provide the opportunity for everyone, no matter what their physical abilities are.

That is one of the reasons we require a health form for every traveler. On the health form we ask if there are any conditions we need to be aware of, such as mobility limitations, hearing or vision impairment, allergies, diabetes, etc. We are not asking so we can disqualify these students. We are asking so that we can properly prepare for their arrival and ensure they have as good an experience any other student would enjoy.

Several years back we developed a strong partnership with the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC). This group of ADA specialists provides People to People Ambassador Programs with the most up-to-date information on ADA laws and how to effectively incorporate them within our program. With DBTAC's support and mentorship, we have worked to design one of the most comprehensive reasonable accommodation programs in our industry.

In the United States organizations such as ours has a responsibility to meet the ADA laws. Other countries sometime have very different requirements or none at all. That doesn’t deter us in our mission to open up borders for all students and we are very creative in finding a solution that works for the student in need.

Each of the past three years we have seen our enrollments for those needing reasonable accommodations flourish - which makes us very proud. That means many more students now have access to a life changing experience, including those that may not have had the opportunity with other organizations in the past.

The key ingredient in developing a solid reasonable accommodation starts long before the actual travel. It is founded on early notification of the need by the student and the parent.

For example last year in Europe, there was a portion of the day where the students had to walk a long distance uphill to visit Monmartre in Paris, France. We had a student with limited mobility, who was in a wheelchair and was accompanied by a medical attendent. We made special arrangements to ensure she could experience Monmartre with her other delegation members. One of our leaders personally escorted her medical aid and her on a tram to the top of the hill where she waited patiently for the tired hikers to arrive so so that they could all enjoy the fantastic views of Paris—together.

(My photo of the Sacre Coeur at the top of Monmartre - which has a lot of stairs. Below is the view from the top - courtesy of smemon87 via Flickr.)

I thought it was important to share this information with you all as every year we continue to have a few students arrive on program in need of a reasonable accommodation, but provided no advance knowledge of the condition (i.e., no condition is listed on the health form). This forces us to make last minute accommodations which may not be as complete as possible and can jeopardize the student's enjoyment and comfort, not to mention limit our ability to provide for necessary health and safety accommodations while on the road. That student in a wheelchair might not have been able to see Monmartre if we hadn’t known before to make special arrangements for her.

The lesson here is to always disclose ANY condition when submitting the health form. If you have failed to do so and you have submitted the health form already, please contact our Health & Safety Team at They are a great group of folks and they will quickly update your file, work with you to collect the needed information from your family medical provider and then work diligently to create the right accommodation that will ensure your child’s safety.

Come back next week when I will be discussing (live from China) the training we provide to the Delegation Managers around the world.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!


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