Organizing to Achieve the American Dream

Disabled Immigrant Association seeks better life for disabled Somalis In a recent town hall meeting, Disabled Immigrant Association (DIA) members […]

Generic Article graphic with Access Press logo

Disabled Immigrant Association seeks better life for disabled Somalis

In a recent town hall meeting, Disabled Immigrant Association (DIA) members met with a representative from the U.S. Immigration Service to discuss such things as the establishment of a disability community-center where Somali, and other immigrants, can go to “learn,” “practice” and “exercise.” But the feeling expressed by some people at this meeting was that “Not much is expected of the disabled.”

In pursuit of a better life, the DIA members have the right idea. Like immigrants before them, they’ve learned that in order to get ahead, it is necessary to be organized and to work together.

Past waves of immigrants, from Irish to Jewish to German, struggled with life in slum tenements, low-paying jobs and cruel treatment by the people who would later embrace them as “one of our own.”

Likewise, today’s Somali immigrants face many hurdles. Most who resettle in urban and rural Minnesota towns and cities experience some degree of racism, job discrimination and prejudice in housing. Moreover, according to one DIA member, “Large families are broken up when they come to the country because accessible housing large enough to accommodate the entire family is not available.” In 2001, some Somalis were arrested here in the Twin Cities for sending money to family members overseas. And others fear that what happened to Japanese Americans—the forced removal from homes and businesses—will also happen to them.

As people with disabilities, Somali immigrants with disabilities face even more difficult hurdles. Since people with disabilities are expected to work twice as hard as nondisabled people if they want to be accepted as capable, disabled immigrants have to work even harder to get out of the slum conditions that befell so many immigrants in our history.

DIA was recently formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation to help fellow Somali immigrants. Their goals include:

• Establish a center where all disabled immigrants can meet.
• Have equal access to education and information.
• Develop health and advocacy groups to connect up with a
variety of agencies.

DIA members want jobs, housing where their families can live together, better access to transportation, and education that will help each disabled immigrant develop better independence and employment skills.

Minneapolis is the defacto capital for Somali immigrants. Between fifty to eighty thousand Somalis live in Minnesota cities and towns. Some, approximately fourteen to twenty percent of the total population, live with physical and/or mental disabilities. If Somali immigrants with disabilities cannot get jobs, then we’ll have relegated this population of people to welfare roles, which are not a good use of their talents and skills.

To learn more about the Disabled Immigrant Association, contact Mahad Abdi, DIA Secretary, 612-824-7075,

Join Us! 2023 Virtual Legislative Forum: December 16th, 2022 - MN Council on Disability