This initiative of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) provides training for settlement sector employees on how to support the integration of newcomers with disabilities.
The Accessibility Initiative began in 2011 in partnership with the Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO).
The initiative has produced several tools and resources for settlement workers, including an online webinar covering the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); online and in-person facilitator-directed training; numerous stories documenting the experiences of newcomers with disabilities; fact sheets; handout packages for frontline and management staff; other print and online material on issues directly affecting newcomers with disabilities, and tips and tools on how to support them.
These tools and resources have formed the basis of training sessions conducted among settlement service agencies across Ontario. Moreover, newcomers with disabilities may access culturally inclusive services with dignity, independence, equal opportunity and respect, and service providers can work free from discrimination based on (dis)ability and other forms of discrimination.
While immigrants in general experience an array of challenges upon settling in a new country, the process is especially challenging for newcomers with disabilities, who are further marginalized due to social and material barriers.
The AODA provided a greater understanding of the barriers – customer service, organizational, information and communication, technological – that are not visible (i.e. environmental barriers) that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis. In addition, settlement workers have expressed a need to learn more about supporting clients with a range of disabilities.
This motivated OCASI to work with newcomers with disabilities, their allies and sector employees to develop and implement the Accessibility Initiative.
To support their positive integration into Canadian society, OCASI needed to learn about the barriers that newcomers with disabilities experience and what the sector can do to bring greater attention to this marginalized population.
Assisting newcomers to Canada requires in-depth knowledge and skills. Through this initiative, settlement sector employees learn more about people with disabilities and their diversities; examine the relationship between disability, race, immigrant/refugee status and other layers of marginalization, and explore the relationship between accessibility and the law. They also become more aware of AODA requirements and how their organizations can increase accessibility in their policies, practices and procedures to create a more accessible and inclusive environment in the long term.
There is a general presumption that newcomers with disabilities do not exist. This misconception is not unwarranted, as under the 'excessive demand' clause in the Immigration Act, people with disabilities can be deemed inadmissible to Canada. However, this provision does not apply to refugee claimants or to those who migrate under the family class category as the spouses and/or children of Canadian permanent residents and citizens.
There is also a presumption that newcomers do not develop disabilities once they are in Canada; however, statistics show that one in seven Ontarians has a disability and this number will grow as the population ages. The Accessibility Initiative provided a space for discussions about removing barriers to their inclusion.
Making a Difference
Settlement sector employees have gained knowledge, skills and tools to help their clients access the services they need to integrate into Canadian society. Moreover, organizational capacity within the settlement sector has been increased to better respond to the needs of newcomers with disabilities.
Given the demand for the training, OCASI has begun offering the training online for settlement sector employees with the goal of further reaching remote populations.
OCASI began by doing consultations across Ontario to document the experiences of newcomers with disabilities who have used settlement services, as well as barriers to accessible settlement services that have been reported by settlement workers.
Issues that were raised included the amount of time involved in serving newcomers with disabilities; a lack of dedicated funding; a lack of understanding of the disability sector, and the physical inaccessibility of buildings.
Vision for the Future
Overall, participants were pleased with the quality of training delivered, the information shared, and the opportunities for sharing and collaborating. There was a strong suggestion that OCASI continue to develop its accessibility training into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels to support the array of learning needs. Moreover, there was a desire for training focussed on specific populations of newcomers with disabilities; for example, newcomers with disabilities who are experiencing violence. In addition, OCASI plans to develop an Accessibility Assessment Tool for agencies.
About the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants was formed in 1978 and incorporated in 1981 to act as a collective voice for agencies serving immigrants, and to coordinate responses to shared needs and concerns. OCASI is a registered charity governed by a volunteer board of directors. Its membership is comprised of more than 230 community-based organizations in the Province of Ontario.
OCASI's mandate is to promote the full participation of immigrants and refugees in building a prosperous and harmonious Ontario, thereby fostering a society that recognizes, respects and reflects the diversity of cultures in Canada.
OCASI acts as an advisory and resource body in matters of immigrant and refugee services for its member agencies, other community and human service organizations, and governments. OCASI facilitates the exchange of information and training among its member agencies, reinforcing their common goals in developing active citizens with the capacity to participate and shape their communities in Canada.
Best Practice Contact
Chavon A. Niles, Accessibility Initiative Coordinator
110 Eglinton Ave. W., Suite 200
Toronto, ON M4R 1A3