Moving abroad with a disability: it's possible!

Expat interviews
  • Irina
Published on 2021-12-03 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Diagnosed with calpainopathy at the age of 14, Irina has always been thirsty for adventure. Enrolling for Erasmus, she first flies to Ireland. After that, she lived in London and California before returning to France. Today, she shares her experience of moving abroad with a disability.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

My name is Irina, I am 25 years old, and I live in Tours, France, where I work for a theatre company as a production assistant.

I did a bachelor's degree in English LLCE in Tours, followed by a master's degree in Culture and Mediation of the Performing Arts.

You were diagnosed with calpainopathy at the age of 14. Still, you completed your studies, got your Baccalaureate and went abroad with Erasmus. Tell us about this experience.

Since I didn't have to take an EPS exam for the Baccalaureate, everything went well.

During my studies, I felt the urge of discovering the world. I made a total of 4 trips abroad in 6 years. Going on Erasmus was undoubtedly easier before the pandemic, but the steps are always straightforward, and I have never had to worry about how I would be welcomed abroad! I have always loved the English language, and I was really keen on practising it in total immersion.

In your opinion, what are the things to consider before moving with a disability?

It all depends on the destination. I am lucky in the sense that my disability does not add any additional burden to my life and career. I don't have any medication or equipment other than a folding cane or intensive monitoring, so it's quite easy to travel. But even in Europe, it is wise to inquire about insurance conditions to be sure of what is covered. Also, consider registering with your consulate or embassy (this comes in handy when a pandemic arises).

Google Maps is going to be your friend during your housing hunt. Make sure to inquire about access to transportation, whether or not there is an elevator, etc. Right away with a disability, there are obviously more criteria to consider, but this remains on a case-by-case basis.

What motivated you to move to London after living in Ireland?

An e-mail! With my partner, we wanted to move to Ireland together, but we were only allowed to go for a semester and not a full year. But it wasn't so bad after all. But just after applying to Galway, I received an e-mail indicating that some seats were still available in London. So we made a few phone calls, sent a couple of e-mails, and the same day we also sent our application for London.

After London, you followed your companion to California. How would you describe this experience with your disability?

The total irony for me, who struggles with the stairs and any land that is not totally flat, was to live in the heart of downtown San Francisco! At Russian Hill! The name says it all. The view is magnificent, indeed, but there are downsides.

Having my partner by my side helped a lot. I can always rely on Alexandre to stretch out his arm whenever I reach a sidewalk or carry me on his back! Everything is a matter of routine for a person with a disability, so prior research is essential to anticipate any obstacle. Whenever I go somewhere for the first time, I always check whether there are any inclines and how to get around using public transport.

Is California a good place to live for expats with disabilities?

I really loved my stay in California. Fortunately, I didn't have any medical expenses. This is a major issue for anyone who wants to live in the US. You have to be prepared to pay huge amounts for any medical treatment. I was lucky that nothing happened to me, but it's still a risk. Accommodation is also expensive, and the price of those equipped with a lift is even higher.

Have you ever faced any prejudices during your stays abroad?


What are the main challenges you encountered during your stays abroad, and how did you overcome them?

I would say that finding housing is arguably the most complicated thing to deal with, especially in San Francisco, where the demand is higher than the supply. As a result, the only decent apartment still had two floors to reach it.

Of the countries you have stayed in, which do you think is the most welcoming to people with disabilities?

If we speak about welcoming in terms of infrastructure, all and none. No country or city was 100% accessible, but there are always ways to cope.

What made you return to France at the heart of the pandemic?

Not much of choice. After several discussions with the French consulate in San Francisco, we were advised to return. We were back in France end of March when we were initially due to return in June, so our stay would have been cut short by the expiry date of our visas anyway.

What are your plans for the future?

I'll continue working for the theatre company that I have just joined and relax a bit. I've moved around a lot, but I've always had the desire to come back also.

Is there any advice you would like to give to anyone with disabilities who would like to move abroad?

You have to know yourself first. It's essential to know what you can do and can't and care about yourself more than others.

I have been living with a disability that is as progressive as my personality for ten years. To date, the two are intrinsically linked. Disabled people have, what I call, our daily choreographies – these gestures adapted to the disease. We can there plan our move abroad considering this and our habits.

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.