OCASI and the Ethno Racial Disability Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO) formed a two year (2011 – 2013) partnership to train immigrant and refugee-serving settlement sector employees on the needs of newcomers with disabilities. This partnership is representative of the collaboration of both settlement and disability sectors working together to reduce barriers to holistic settlement services. Through this partnership OCASI and ERDCO developed accessibility training for sector service providers, with the aim to build community partnerships with leaders in the area of disability specifically within ethno-racial minority and newcomer communities and continue to promote an understanding of the Accessible Customer Service Standard within the settlement sector. To date over 400 sector employees have received the training across Ontario.
Based on the needs identified from the accessibility training, three round table discussion sessions were conducted where representatives from the disability and settlement sectors were invited. The objective of the round tables, which took place in Toronto, London, and Ottawa, were to provide the sectors with an opportunity to discuss the gaps that exist in serving newcomers with disabilities and to network and work on developing strategies to support newcomers with disabilities.
The following are the highlights from the sessions:
1. Need for strong partnerships between the disability and settlement sectors
Both sectors felt that each operates in a silo format with little room for interaction and collaboration. This is mainly because there is a lack of knowledge and awareness of each sector and services offered. Services that are offered seldom take into consideration the needs of newcomers with disabilities. Moreover, each sector competes for funding and in some cases from the same funders which leads to competition as opposed to working together to holistically support clients. It was suggested that there is a need to educate service provider agencies about different programs and services available to support newcomers with disabilities.
2. Establish regional networks
At all three round table sessions it was suggested that OCASI and ERDCO should develop and implement a train the trainer curriculum. This would allow experts to be trained in each region who would then be responsible for being up to the date on the new programs and services in place to support newcomers with disabilities as well as promoting accessible customer service.
3. Provide ongoing networking opportunities
OCASI Professional Development conference is a great opportunity to invite representatives from the disability sector to share their knowledge and experiences about people with disabilities. In addition, OCASI should consider holding annual networking workshops and seminars to refresh both sectors capacity to support newcomers with disabilities where best practices and resources are shared. There is also a need to build “like minded” networks that support the same groups of clients. This would provide further opportunities for networking to occur to holistically support clients. In addition, when applying for funding the needs of clients would be represented across various agencies perhaps opening room up for more funding.
4. Promote accessibility at YOUR agency
While it is important to be trained on the needs of newcomers with disabilities, both sectors must make a commitment to promote accessibility at their agency. During staff meetings experts could be invited to share best practices across agencies. This would also combat the limited time we currently have to support our clients.
5. Need for public education/outreach
In order for OCASI and ERDCO to support the sectors we need to continue to ensure that they are connected. This can be accomplished through creating an online forum where the sectors can discuss current issues, share experiences and best practices. In addition, a listerv can be used to connect the sectors, along with connecting with Local Immigration Partnerships, utilizing webinars to promote the accessible customer service standard, partnering with the Ministry to educate newcomers with disabilities of their rights upon settling in Ontario, and the use of flyers/brochures as a first point of contact. There is also a need to develop the “Untold stories of newcomers with disabilities.” This will be accomplished by taking each standard of AODA and highlighting barriers newcomers with disabilities experience. This would provide both sectors with greater information on the multiple barriers newcomers with disabilities experience upon settling in Canada. In addition, disability organizations need to promote services to support newcomers with disabilities within settlement agencies.
While it is understood that funding cuts are always occurring both sectors need to come together to lobby for more resources to support clients. In addition, the funding model should be changed to reflect needs of clients rather than number of clients served.
The Accessibility Project wiki has also been launched with the purpose of serving as a hub for community and service resources for both the disability and settlement sectors. On the wiki, visitors will find resources such as accessible transportation in their region, employment supports for people with disabilities, independent living centres.
The Accessibility project is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).