NYU is committed to accessibility for all students, and that includes supporting students with disabilities as they study abroad. The University is constantly evolving and making improvements to its own facilities, but when it comes to the many cities we call home, each one is different and can present its own advantages and challenges. NYU students Emely Recinos and Johileny Meran share their honest perspectives on studying abroad with a disability, offer advice about how to prepare, and explain the NYU resources that helped them get the most out of their time abroad.
First Stop: The Moses Center for Student Accessibility
Emely Recinos, class of 2020, is an International Relations major at the College of Arts and Science (CAS) who is blind. “My regional specialization within International Relations is Latin America,” says Emely, “so NYU Buenos Aires was a great fit academically, but I didn’t know a lot about the city or the academic center itself,” she adds. Her first stop was the Moses Center for Student Accessibility. The Moses Center works with students at the New York City campus to make sure they have the necessary accommodations and services to navigate the NYU experience, and they also work with the academic centers in NYU’s global network to coordinate accommodations for students going abroad.
Emely went to the Moses Center with a lot of questions. “How would I be able to navigate on my own? I would need someone to teach me, especially when it came to how to use public transportation,” she explains. “I also needed to know if there were any organizations in Buenos Aires that were specifically for blind or visually impaired students in case I needed anything converted into Braille.” The Moses Center sent guidelines to NYU Buenos Aires staff who contacted relevant resources locally and recruited a teacher in Buenos Aires who would be able to work with Emely on mobility instruction—how to get around the city—who also knew Braille and had access to an embosser for Braille printing.
Connecting With NYU Global Academic Center Staff
Dedicated staff at NYU’s global academic centers want every student to have the best possible experience, and they can answer more of each student’s specific questions about accessibility and accommodations. “The staff at NYU Buenos Aires were definitely excited for me to come and willing to work with me,” says Emely. “That being said, it was new for them. They were looking to me for advice about what I needed, so it was important to be really clear with them about what I would need help with.”
Johileny Meran, class of 2019, a Global Public Health/Sociology major with a minor in Disability Studies from the College of Arts and Science, worked with staff at NYU London to make sure that as a manual wheelchair user, she would be able to access campus and the city. “NYU London has great staff that is very much committed to making sure their students feel like they have a place there,” she says. “I had the opportunity to arrive a week early so that I had a chance to settle in and learn how to get around, which was really helpful in terms of feeling comfortable.”
Understanding the Cultures of Accessibility
The Moses Center and the staff at NYU global academic centers don’t have every answer for every student, and both Emely and Johileny emphasize the importance of conducting their own independent research. “I looked into the culture of disability in Argentina to understand how people view disability there,” Emily says. “That was really important to do.”
For Johileny, finding the information she wanted took time, but she doesn’t regret her patience. “I actually waited until my senior year to study abroad because I wanted to make sure I was prepared to navigate a new city,” she explains. “NYU London is one of the best locations in terms of accessibility, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t only going to be able to go from my dorm to my classes and then back to my dorm. I decided that I needed time to compile the information and talk to as many people as possible that had already been there.”
There Will be Bumps—and Holes—in the Road
There are always going to be things that you can’t know in advance and that can present challenges. “I struggled my first few weeks in London because most local businesses would have a step or two in front, and I thought I couldn’t go in,” says Johileny. It was hard on her to think that she wouldn’t be able to go out with friends or browse in shops and experience the city, especially after all of her careful preparation and research into London’s accessibility. “Then I learned that many places have a doorbell by their main entrances for you to request assistance and that they bring out a temporary ramp to put over the step,” she adds. “London is a very old city with old buildings, and so the way they provide accessibility is different, but it does exist.”
For Emely, navigating Buenos Aires turned out to be more complicated than she expected. “I didn’t know until I got there that the sidewalks and streets often have giant holes,” she explains. “It’s not the safest situation for me, and I was worried about falling or breaking my cane.” She also found that everything from traffic signals to keys worked a little bit differently, and the learning curve was steep at first. “In New York City, the way that I know how to cross the street is by listening to parallel traffic to know when I have the right of way,” she says. “But in Buenos Aires, it’s not safe to assume that cars will stop. My mobility instructor explained that I had to ask someone for help every time I needed to cross the street, which made me really dependent upon other people.” Luckily, Emely found that people would often help without her having to ask. “The fact that people recognized that I needed assistance and offered to help was really cool,” she says.
Global Equity Fellows
Global Equity Fellows are students who take on the mission of empowering their classmates to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion while studying away, and they can be an amazing resource while you’re abroad. Johileny was NYU London’s inaugural Global Equity Fellow, and used the opportunity to create resources for students with disabilities. “I worked with the staff and students on programming to make sure that students felt safe and felt they had a place within NYU London,” says Johileny. “I was interested in making something for students with disabilities who would be interested in studying abroad.”
While abroad, Johileny developed The NYU London Access Culture Guide. “It’s a booklet with general information about studying in London as a student with a disability. It is very much centered around my perspective as a student with a physical disability who uses a manual wheelchair,” explains Johileny, “but I made the project with the intention that it would be a living document, and I want people to feel welcome to add more information and different points of view in the future.” She compiled information on accessible transportation, how ramp culture functions in London, and how to travel to other cities and countries from London. She also spoke with Emely, and included her perspective in the booklet as well.
Advice from Emely and Johileny
Emely and Johileny are both happy with their decision to study abroad and encourage other students to explore their study abroad options. “I wanted to study away since I was a freshman,” says Johileny. “I didn’t do it until I was a senior because I was gathering the information that I needed. Know that it’s okay to study later than your peers, especially if it means that you’re going to feel safe and enjoy your trip.”
For Emely, being able to rely on friends is key. “I felt more comfortable exploring the city with friends because I knew that they were there to make sure that we were getting into a cab that was actually a cab and going to the right place,” she says.
They both also suggest starting at the Moses Center, but add that reaching out to other students with disabilities that have studied abroad is incredibly useful. “Talk to students about what it was like for them. Although it might not be the same disability, it provides a step into thinking about things,” says Johileny. “I would suggest connecting with the Disability Student Union to find classmates who can offer their perspective.” Most importantly, says Johileny, “Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the information you want on the first try. And once you’re there, embrace it. There are a lot of ups and downs and that’s completely normal.”