As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong. Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.
When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away. Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding. Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.
Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+. Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health. Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.
Secondly, is ‘other funding’. This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course. It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.
Thirdly, is proximity to home. As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition. This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!
Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!). Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world. There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country. Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!
There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options. I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.