Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 12 January-March 2002

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U.S. Disabled Students Can Find Support for Studying Abroad, if Career-related

Vocational Rehabilitation Funding
For an increasing number of careers in the US it is important that individuals develop skills such as cross-cultural and second-language skills to be successful. These kinds of skills can be developed and enhanced by including study abroad as part of employment preparation. Some US college and university students with disabilities are receiving funding for their education from a state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) department, if study abroad is found necessary to be competitive in their future careers.

University and college students with disabilities can become more aware of how to add study abroad to VR plans. If the study abroad program is necessary for successful academic completion, VR funds should be used to support the student participation in the study abroad program. If VR has approved funding for tuition, books, fees, personal care attendant, adaptive technology or a note-taker, those funds should be available to cover the same costs while the student is studying abroad.

How students can propose study abroad participation:
  1. Bring information on study abroad programs that are required or support your educational/vocational goal to your VR counselor's attention
  2. Write down program information in a letter or proposal format:
    1. Clearly state how the study abroad experience will enhance your educational and vocational goals
    2. List all the study abroad program costs and expenses (students can request budgets/cost information from the study abroad office)
    3. Include how much you are able to financially contribute towards the costs
Examples of Study Abroad expenses that VR Departments have funded:
  1. Personal Care Attendant (PCA) wages when a PCA was needed for a student to spend a summer session studying in Sctland
  2. Tuition, books and supplies for a student with a visual impairment to study for a semester in the Czech Republic and Greece
  3. The program fee for a student who is blind participating in a summer educational program in Costa Rica
  4. Rental of a golf cart for transportation for a student using a wheelchair on a large university campus in Australia
  5. Tuition, housing, fees and books for a student who is blind to study for a year in England
The SSI Study Abroad Provision
The Social Security Handbook states:
"A student of any age may be eligible for SSI benefits while temporarily outside the U.S. for the purpose of conducting studies that are not available in the U.S., are sponsored by an educational institution in the U.S., and are designed to enhance the student's ability to engage in gainful employment. Such a student must have been eligible to receive an SSI benefit for the month preceding the first full month outside the U.S."
Details about this SSI Provision:
  1. It is an exception to the "SSI presence rule." The "presence rule" does not allow for the payment or continuation of SSI benefits to an individual who is outside the United States for a full calendar month or 30 consecutive days or more.
  2. This rule was amended to allow for study abroad
  3. Through legislation introduced by California Congressman Pete Stark in 1994
  4. It was part of the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act effective January 1, 1995.
To receive SSI while studying abroad:
  1. The required course of study must not be available in the US
  2. It must be sponsored by an educational institution in the US
  3. It must be designed to substantially enhance the individual's ability to work
  4. The individual must be eligible for SSI for the one month immediately prior to leaving the country
  5. The individual must earn academic credits towards a degree while abroad
Make use of this SSI provision:
  1. SSI benefits are available while studying abroad for up to one year if the qualifications are met.
  2. If you are working with an SSI recipient planning to study abroad work with them to explore continuing their benefits while abroad Also.
Think about PASS Plan Options
Students and others receiving SSI benefits based on a disability may proactively plan for international exchange through the SSI work incentives program.

An individual with a disability receiving SSI benefits or eligible for SSI benefits can work with their VR counselor to apply for a PASS (Plan for Achieving Self-Support). Through a PASS, an individual can set aside income and/or resources, other than the SSI payment, that will be used to achieve a career goal. The income set aside in a PASS will not be included in determining the individual's continued eligible for SSI benefits.

The international experience must be approved by the VR counselor as necessary to meet an individual's career goal, and the travel abroad must meet the SSI requirements for continued eligibility. An approved PASS would allow the individual to set aside income and/or resources to cover unreimbursed expenses related to the career goal. One example shared by a PASS Specialist whose client participated in an international pharmacy internship in the Netherlands as part of her university program; "Tina was also using a PASS to exclude income from a part-time job for education expenses. The PASS was amended to include some of the out-of-pocket costs she incurred during her international program."

For a brochure on this topic or information on the numerous international opportunities for people with disabilities contact:

Mobility International USA
The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange
PO Box 10767
Eugene, OR 97440
Tel: 541-343-1284 (voice/TTY)
Fax: 541-343-6812
E-mail: clearinghouse@miusa.org

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