If you ask many gap year providers whether they would accept disabled people, the answer is often yes. If you then ask for case studies, the answer is often ‘We don’t have any’. So are applicants being put off by a lack of positive messages from gap year companies? It is said that the messages from gap year organizations applies to all people, whether they’re able-bodied or have a disability. Or is the lack of applications due to those with a disability making the decision for themselves not to apply? Most gap year companies apply the same criteria as for any applicant, in the sense that it is important to match the individual to the receiving organization. This entails a clear understanding of both the needs and capabilities of both. Many receiving organizations will not have the resources that you might expect to find at home and adding extra demands (eg linked to mobility, sight, hearing) may be beyond their capabilities. There may be health and hygiene issues and an hour’s walk up a mountain to get to a placement involves its own problems.
There are of course ways round this. Getting the funding to provide a support worker is one. Also, some charities abroad will specifically request a volunteer with the same disability as those to be worked with. In some cases, attitudes to disabilities vary from country to country. In any event, a thorough interview will be needed to assess the specific requirements, linked to medical advice and appropriate insurance. It is often social barriers rather than medical barriers facing disabled people, the problem being the lack of support rather than the medical condition.
The decision to take a gap year can only be made by the individual concerned. The nature of the activity will need to take into account the ability of the receiving organization to provide any necessary support.
The newspaper ‘Disability Now’ has an article in the September 2007 edition on gap years and disability:
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