How Studying Abroad Boosts Employability of Students with Disabilities

MIUSA,,  has played an important and singular role in widening awareness of and supporting opportunity for those with disabilities to participate in education abroad programs.

Guest Post by Michele Scheib

Mobility International USA

One of the disability community’s top priorities is how to improve employment outcomes.

People with disabilities complete college at a statistically significant lower rate than people without disabilities, and those who do complete college have a persistently lower rate of employment irrespective of the level of degree attainment (associate’s, bachelor’s, and higher).1  University researchers, government agencies, and non-profit programs have used all types of approaches to reduce these inequalities. One strategy that holds promise is to tap into the power of study abroad.

Recent studies among study abroad alumni, though not specific to disability, have shown that study abroad increases retention and reduces time to graduation of postsecondary students (see:  Study abroad is also perceived as positively impacting career development and developing the skills that employer’s value, such as adaptability, self-confidence, and problem-solving skills (see:

“A great many prospective employers are hesitant about hiring someone with a disability, because they unfortunately make a lot of negative assumptions about people with disabilities,” such as their ability to meet job responsibilities or costs for accommodations, says Jessica Chesbro, who has a mobility disability and is a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Department of State. “If you can show employers that you have successfully lived and worked or studied in a developing country, it’s much easier to get them to believe you are capable of facing challenges.”

Jessica studied abroad in Europe as a high school, undergraduate, and graduate student, and joined the Peace Corps after graduation. “Many exchange programs teach skills which are applicable to a wide range of professional environments. Working with people from different cultural backgrounds, finding creative ways to solve problems, coping with challenging environments, communicating effectively, these are all excellent skills to have for any kind of career,” she says.

And students with disabilities who develop an ability to understand their disability and advocate for the accommodations they need – also skills developed in negotiating access in study abroad — do better in transitions to employment.1

To read more from Jessica and others with disabilities, read A World Awaits You, a publication of the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Mobility International USA:


Barber, Paula. (September 2012). College Students with Disabilities: What Factors Influence Successful Degree Completion? A Case Study, Disability and Work Research Report, A joint publication from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the Kessler Foundation

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