According to Dawn Blankenship, program officer, Refugees with Disabilities, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, "In recent years there has been an increase in the number of newly arrived refugees with disabilities resettled in communities throughout the U.S."
Most refugees originate from areas where armed conflict, disease and malnutrition are common, thereby making them more susceptible to acquiring a disability.
For refugees born with a disability, treatment, services and access to assistive technology to increase their capacity to participate fully in life is frequently not available in their country of origin.
Newly arrived refugees with disabilities need information and services related to living and working with their disabilities, however they are challenged by such barriers as differences in culture and language, lack of knowledge at the local resettlement agency, and a communication gap between those individuals working in refugee resettlement and mainstream disability programs and services.
Concerned about this trend and its implications to the futures of refugees with disabilities, last year, USCRI established the Disabled Refugees Program, with funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to address the needs of this population and those serving them. In addition, the program seeks to bridge the gap between refugee service providers and mainstream disability service providers and advocates.
Blankenship says, "Accessing services such as employment or vocational training, medical care and state and federal benefits programs can be challenging for refugees with disabilities or care givers who are unfamiliar with services available benefits.
The Disabled Refugees Program enhances refugees with disabilities understanding of their rights and available benefits.
The program seeks to enhance services to refugees with disabilities by:increasing refugees' access to culturally appropriate information related to disabilities. This activity includes understanding benefits programs and accessing services to increase their independence (e.g. rehabilitation services, special education, mental health services and independent living skills.); conducting outreach beyond the USCRI network to include all resettlement sites serving refugees with disabilities;increasing refugee resettlement organizations and promote dialogue with the refugee resettlements to improve service provision and access for refugees with disabilities. USCRI strengthens resettlement agencies and service providers capacity to serve all disabled refugees by:surveying USCRI network of resettlement organizations and collecting data on prevalence and frequency of particular types of disabilities, needs of clients with disabilities and current practices among service providers; investigating, compiling and producing resources and disseminating these among local resettlement sites; and providing technical assistance to help refugee service providers enhance community orientation and case management for refugee with disabilities.
USCRI obtained figures from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) on the medical conditions, disabilities arriving between FY2003-to-2006 were: 1,490 identified as having a mobility challenge, 221 had a visible disability, 453 were blind, 147 had a speech impediment, 52 had a communication disability, 300 were deaf and 89 were identified as being learning disabled. The total is 2,732.
The results included individuals identified as deaf and blind, but individuals identified as having vision or hearing loss were excluded because USCRI did not know the extent that their disabilities impact their lives.
Still, USCRI believes the reported numbers of refugees with disabilities is low, therefore it is likely that health providers will identify more refugees with disabilities post arrival. In fact, PRM anticipates resettling 60,000 refugees in 2007. Up to a minimum of 6,000 may have a disability, serious medical or mental health issue when applying the estimate that 10% of the population has a disability.
USCRI is developing resource guides, including one with information on assistive technology products, for providers and refugees to ensure that refugees with disabilities receive the support and services to address their needs and promote their integration into their new communities.
To request assistance in serving refugees with disabilities contact Dawn Blankenship by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.