Newcomers with Disabilities – A Fresh Perspective

I tried not to stare but the scene was captivating. A youngish Persian brother and sister were having a very animated discussion on the bus I was on. Of course, I had no idea if they really were Persian or even siblings, but their features were very similar. Their wheelchairs were electric, but obviously older models and very well-worn. I started to turn away, embarrassed by my fascination with this exchange that obviously was none of my business, but their hand movements became even more pronounced. The siblings obviously disagreed on some topic that was indiscernible to me. This was the quietest, “loud” disagreement that I’ve ever witnessed. It was then that I discovered that the siblings had cerebral palsy. It was easy for me to figure this out since one of my friends has the same condition.

What made this a unique experience for me wasn’t the fact that they have cerebral palsy, but also that the entire exchange was done mostly in silence and they were communicating using sign language.

Now most of us know what sign language technically means; it is a language which chiefly uses manual communication to convey meaning. Research shows that there are 137 sign languages spoken across the world. The most commonly used sign language is American Sign Language (ASL).

However, that is not my focus. I intend to speak of a little known minority group living in North America that faces monumental communication challenges: immigrants living with disabilities and language barriers.

A newcomer’s culture often affects the perception of their own and other people’s disability. It definitely shapes their understanding of it and their approach to treatment options.

The need to understand and be understood is vital, especially when those with disabilities are dealing with healthcare professionals. It’s not an option but a necessity for managing affliction and also improving their quality of life. Also, not all disabilities are visible and easily recognized by a wheelchair or a white cane.

Furthermore, newcomers with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression may not even be aware of the services available to them here in Canada. Those living with a disability want to be contributing members of society and should not have communication as a barrier. This is why I would like to thank organizations like MCIS Language Solutions that speak for the sometimes silent minority by providing them a voice. MCIS’ mission is to improve access to critical information and services through high quality language solutions.

If you are a newcomer with a disability or know of one, we’d love to hear your story.

Gregory Bourne, System Support Associate| March 01, 2017|Toronto, Ontario