Preparing Students with Disabilities for International Travel: International Travel Is a Wonderful Way to Practice Independent Living Skills as Well as Enhance a Person with a Disability's Quality of Life. with a Little Forethought and Practice, International Travel Can Be a Seamless Experience That Can Lead to a Life Time of Great Memories and Stories of Adventure

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Why should parents encourage their children to travel internationally? At first blush it might seem like a frivolous activity. However, preparing a child with a disability to travel internationally reinforces a whole host of skills.

International travel reinforces organizational skills, executive functioning skills, flexibility, and fosters a sense of independence as well as increases the quality of life of a person with a disability. It also provides opportunities to try new languages, foods, and skills such as converting currency or bargaining over prices when shopping for souvenirs.

The educational opportunities are endless. Depending upon the focus of a particular trip, the students may be learning about art, history, architecture, geology, ecology, biology, astronomy etc. The trips may also expose them to new adventures that they might not be exposed to if they were traveling with their family. These adventures can include activities such as zip-lining through rain forest canopies, outrigger canoeing, surfing, snorkeling through caves, exploring castles, kayaking through the jungle, hiking up volcanoes, jumping into cenotes, biking along ancient Mayan roads and climbing pyramids. The sense of accomplishment the students feel after engaging in these activities is immeasurable. They not only surprise their parents when they tell them of their accomplishments, but they surprise themselves. A common refrain is "I didn't think I could do it."

The first step in preparing a student with a disability to travel internationally is to obtain a passport. U.S. citizens can check with their local post office regarding the location of the nearest passport processing center. Alternatively, parents can go on-line to the U.S. Passports & International Travel web site which is sponsored by the U.S. State Department to find out how to obtain a passport. The site also contains helpful tips concerning traveling abroad and specific information regarding your student's destination. Simply type in travel.state.gov/content/passports/English.html into your browser to reach the website. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss with your son or daughter the importance of protecting his or her pass-port. We tell our students they can lose everything else, "but do not lose your passport!" Part of the discussion should include how to protect the passport (i.e. never put the passport in your luggage; always carry it in a passport wallet that can be worn under clothing along with some cash; use hotel safes when staying more than one night in a location; and keeping a photocopy of the passport information in a separate location like a carry-on bag in the event the passport is lost or stolen).

Next, a decision needs to be made regarding a destination and a travel group to join. Going with established travel programs is probably the safest way to travel. Many of these programs have been operating for years and know the locales quite well. They will also have an extensive network of local tour guides who are extremely knowledgeable. A part of that decision making process will also require parents and their children to make a conscious decision as to whether or not to travel with a group that caters to special needs students and travelers. If you do decide to send your student with a group that does not specifically cater to special needs individuals, then ask how they might accommodate your child with his or her specific special needs. This is particularly important for travelers with mobility issues. Many countries do not have laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires equal access to facilities. If your child attended a special needs camp, then inquire with them to see if they have a travel program for older campers. Summit Camp in Honesdale, PA offers multiple travel trips domestically and internationally each summer for their teenage campers with special needs. Transition programs like New York Institute of Technology Introduction to Independence (I to I) and Vocational Independence Programs (VIP) offer annual international trips to their students and alumni during the break between semesters. …