Studying abroad is often encouraged at universities, but not to all students. Oftentimes, students with disabilities have a harder time organizing a trip abroad than their peers do. Juanita Lillie, a senior at Grand Valley State University who is legally blind, is working to change that.
After talking with friends and family, Lillie decided to travel to Costa Rica. The Spanish major spent the 2013 winter semester there earning credits and having fun. While studying abroad, she lived with a host family that she said is “like a second family to me.”
About a month ago, Lillie started researching study abroad opportunities for other students with disabilities. She found that there wasn’t a lot of information available on the topic so she decided to create her own site for students.
“It is a platform to share experiences and resources,” Lillie said. “It allows students with disabilities to speak with other students with disabilities. The ultimate goal is to provide an open networking opportunity to students with disabilities despite the university they come to.”
She added that she hopes this project expands to other universities so that more students can access study abroad. She emphasized that it needs to be more diverse and inclusive of other disabilities, such as colorblindness and dyslexia.
Natalie Gomez, a GVSU Spanish professor and a friend of Lillie, also has a disability and traveled to Costa Rica. She met Lillie in their Spanish 410 class last fall and shared the idea to start researching study abroad for students with disabilities. The pair has been collaborating on the project since then.
“Our main goal is to create a network for student with disabilities interested in traveling abroad,” Gomez said. “This is an inclusive space where students can openly talk about their doubts, fears, experiences — anything pertaining to traveling abroad.”