Image credit: OCASI
OCASI – The Accessibility Initiative
AUDIENCE Settlement sector
POPULATION OF INTEREST Newcomers with in/visible disabilities and deaf newcomers
THE NEED There was an existing gap between the settlement and disability sectors when it came to providing appropriate, accessible and equitable services to newcomers with disabilities and Deaf newcomers.
WHAT'S PROMISING The Accessibility Initiative is representative of the collaboration of both settlement and disability sectors working together to reduce barriers to holistic settlement services.
KEY TAKEAWAY The following are identified as key components of service provision for newcomers with in/visible disabilities and deaf newcomer 1) Establishing needs 2) Beginning strategies 3) Person-centered approach 4) Building trust 5) Inclusive communication and practices
OCASI – The Accessibility Initiative
The Accessibility Initiative (AI) is a national bilingual project that aims to enhance the knowledge and skills of settlement sector professionals so that they are better equipped to serve newcomers with in/visible disabilities and Deaf newcomers. Through this initiative, settlement sector employees learn more about immigrants and refugees with disabilities and Deaf newcomers and their diversities; gain a greater understanding of the different legislations that exist internationally, nationally, provincially/territorially as it relates to the rights of people with disabilities; examine the relationship between disability, race, immigrant/refugee status and other layers of marginalization
The project aims to strengthen the sector's capacity to assist newcomers with both visible and invisible disabilities and Deaf newcomers by;
- Building strategic partnerships & relationships.
- Providing self-directed online courses in English and French.
- Providing webinars for front line settlement sector professionals and management in English and French.
- Creating an online national discussion group that fosters community interaction and discussions to share and exchange knowledge, expertise, and solve issues regarding service delivery to newcomers with both visible and invisible disabilities.
- Recruiting 'Allies in Accessibility' (AiA) across Canada with the aim of assembling a wide group of individuals who have an interest in creating accessible workplaces.
The Accessibility Initiative was created in April 2011 as a result of a partnership between OCASI and the Ethno Racial Disability Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO). This two-year (2011-2013) project (funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada) addressed the need to bridge the gap between the settlement and disability sectors when it came to providing appropriate, accessible and equitable services to newcomers with disabilities and Deaf newcomers. The project is representative of the collaboration of both settlement and disability sectors working together to reduce barriers to holistic settlement services.
Since its inception, we have trained thousands of sector employees, from management, board of directors, to frontline staff and volunteers. The project has received two awards: One for being a “Best Practice” from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 2014, and the second for a “Leader in Accessibility” award through the David C. Onley Award program. Moreover, as a result of its success and impact on the sector, the Accessibility Initiative’s scope was extended to a National lens, since April 2020.
The Accessibility Initiative addresses the mental health of newcomers by supporting the settlement sector building positive, welcoming and accessible spaces for them while receiving services. This is done through our training(s) which strengthen the knowledge of the sector as it relates to mental health and emphasize on the impact of mental health issues faced by newcomers, while navigating settling in Canada. Furthermore, the trainings highlight the effect of stigma and bias experienced by newcomers with in/visible disabilities and Deaf newcomers when seeking settlement services and provides tools and best practices on how to best address the needs of this vulnerable clientele.
Additionally, our Allies in Accessibility program provides community and peer support to newcomers with disabilities and Deaf newcomers, which help break down feelings of isolation and provide a safe space for newcomers to talk about their challenges and receive adequate support.
As the Accessibility Initiative has been around for almost 10 years now, we have built partnerships and coalitions in both the disability sector and the immigrant and refugee serving sector. In the beginning, we partnered with the Ethno Racial Disability Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO), which helped bring both the disability sector and the immigrant and refugee serving sector together in a joint endeavour to better serve newcomers with in/visible disabilities and Deaf newcomers. Through the years, we have also partnered with several organizations to spread awareness on barriers faced by this vulnerable population, created several resources and tools, and hosted awareness events such as roundtables and conferences to support newcomers with in/visible disabilities and deaf newcomers.
These partnerships are crucial to the work we do and the work that needs to be done, as we often function in silos in the different sectors, to the detriment of the clients we all serve. The partnerships have given us, and both sectors, the opportunity to work together through not only referral-based services, but through knowledge exchanges, resource creation and sharing, and much more.
- Establishing needs: determine why they have come to your agency and what they need and want. While many may be clear about what they need, some may not. It is your job to show newcomers how to secure the things they need and what their options may be
- Beginning strategies: Right from the onset of the service process, newcomers with disabilities may have many obstacles in physically getting to your agency (e.g., transportation, environmental, technological barriers, etc.). You may consider offering home visits. An effective outreach strategy would be required to communicate this option to isolated newcomers with in/visible disabilities especially in rural communities.
- Person-centred approach: It is critical to use a service user/participant-centered strategy with all newcomers rather than the “cookie cutter” approach, as there may be more services and support available to them than they are aware of or know they are entitled to. Remember that one of the keys to being service user/participant centered is regularly reflecting on your biases and how they might impact services you provide.
- Building trust: It is important that a person chooses to self-disclose their disability specific needs and barriers they’re experiencing. For people with invisible disabilities, such as mental health challenges/needs, there is a stigma that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is important for us to be aware of the stigma and provide service users with the space to communicate their wants and needs. Being non-judgemental and non-labelling helps to build trust.
- Inclusive communication and practices: People have varying ways of communicating. Avoid making assumptions about how someone communicates with you, especially if it is not something you are used to. Ask service users the best way to communicate with them. Furthermore, language has the ability to welcome and open doors for everyone. When working in the non-profit sector, we need to be aware that words can also keep people out. Regardless of what language we use, communicate using plain language to ensure our services are accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible.