DIA offers help

Immigrants with disabilities seek TC services

Immigrants with disabilities arrive in this country seeking a new life while burdened with physical and sometimes mental challenges. These challenges may cause immigrants to have low self-esteem and hamper their ability to succeed in their new homeland. But these immigrants also know that they are lucky in coming to this country where they can get better health and education, and can become contributing members to the community.

People with disabilities often lack access to needed services and support. For immigrants with disabilities, especially immigrants who have been victims of torture and ethnic cleansing, and who struggle with negative biases within their own culture toward disability, it is a courageous act to step forward and ask for help. Many of their disabilities are either birth or war-related. Some of these disabilities are physical including amputees, those born without limbs, the blind and the deaf. The rest of the disabilities are mental including treatable emotional ailments such as depression and culture shock. Many of these immigrants have language barriers as well and do not speak English.

African immigrants, as a whole, have many social and cultural barriers to quality health and health care. Mental illness, especially depression, is almost never diagnosed or treated since there is no understanding what it is. There is also major stigma associated with immigrants who have symptoms of mental illness.

At a recent Somali town hall meeting on health issues, depression, STD, tuberculosis, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and interpersonal violence were most often cited as problems that need addressing in a culturally sensitive manner within the community. In the discussion, Somali doctors also cited health education as a barrier to better health and treatment. Proper use of medication, for instance, was cited as a problem for many immigrants. Once diagnosed and given medication, rarely is there appropriate communication or understanding about the pharmaceutical treatment modes such as taking one pill daily at the same time for 10 days or taking one pill in the morning and one pill in the evening for a week.

In addition to the numerous reasons why disabled immigrants do not receive or have access to proper health education and care is the issue of what health professionals in the Twin Cities metropolitan area know and understand about disabled immigrants. We know that Ramsey and Hennepin County Public Health Departments have Somali-born or Somali-speaking health education staff, but we are unsure of staff availability for the other five metropolitan area counties. We believe that if the major health plans, hospitals and clinics that serve disabled immigrants or that may serve them knew about the Disabled Immigrant Association (DIA) then our participants would get better access and a higher quality of care.

By utilizing our collective cultural knowledge and partnerships with local healthcare organizations, DIA will work to reduce health disparities among the disabled immigrant community by providing much needed information and education. For more information (612) 824-7075 or link to www.dialink.org