Thursday, September 9, 2021

Arrival of Afghan Evacuees in the U.S.: An Opportunity for the Disability Community

 I have many years living with a disability, writing disability legislation, and administering disability programs. The disability community is always interesting in expanding our impact, increasing accessibility, and forging new partnerships. Focusing on the pending influx of Afghans is an important way we may do that right now.


We all have watched the video feed from Kabul. It was heart wrenching. Two things are certain – people at the airport wanted to leave and most are coming to the U.S. The unanswered question is what will they experience when they get here? The U.S. military is responsible for logistics, including immediate housing when they get here and their safety. The State Department is responsible for their clearance. The Department of Health and Human Service Office of Refugee Resettlement will participate in where they will go long term and arrange start up support. All states will have the chance to play a role in this resettlement process. It will take time. So much will depend on community readiness.


The critical factor will be the nature of community-level receptivity to these Afghanistan refugees. Is a community welcoming? Is a community prepared? Are Afghans involved in deciding what they need?


We in the disability community have experience and expertise in assisting someone secure his/her rights and live a more independent life. This happens within a context of a network of support. Natural support, like that of family, is especially vital to help children and young adults with disabilities learn about choices and their consequences. As Afghans arrive in this country, even those with disabilities, they are likely to come with family. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to assist families and individuals with disabilities within them take advantage of what our communities have to offer in housing, food, clothing, employment, health care, transportation, education, recreation, and other services and supports.


These things must be coordinated for and explained to Afghans, and if disability is a factor, we need to offer appropriate accessibility accommodations. First, it makes sense, for those of us interested in helping, to get together and share what we may contribute to the effort. That means nonprofits, social organizations, including churches, mosques, and public agencies.


Second, we should identify the size of the current Afghan population in our area for several reasons. 

·      If the population is large, we may see a great increase in the number of new Afghans.

·      Members of the current population may assist with translation of print and other media material, as well as direct conversations with new arrivals.

·      Members of the current population may offer informal services and supports in a variety of ways.

·      The scope of services and supports needed and the capacity of a community to respond will be driven by the number of new arrivals and their characteristics.


Third, someone among us needs to become the point person/expert on what is available in key service sectors (housing, food, clothing, employment, health care, transportation, education, recreation, and other services and supports) and keep the larger group advised. 


Fourth, it makes sense to offer, each family with one or more members with disabilities, a coordinator/navigator to secure appropriate services and supports from varied agencies and organizations.


Fifth, we should maintain a tracking system to measure our progress in assisting new arrivals.


Sixth, we should maintain a website in appropriate languages where new arrivals and their navigators make access the most recent information, including eligibility requirements, for accessing services and supports.


These things I have outlined here require funding and person power. Securing them may take time. However, if we start thinking and talking about them now at the community level, when official funding sources become known, we will be in a stronger position and be able to access them more easily. 


I have shared common sense ideas for assisting Afghan families experienced with disability, but any family would benefit from the community commitment I have described. Moreover, the arrival of new Afghans to any of our communities provides us with the chance to set aside silos and lessen bureaucracy, so that these new people see what is best in us.

Thank you.

Common Grounder

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