Disability Rights Iowa (DRI) provides legal services and legal assistance to people with disabilities. To reach all populations in Iowa, they added an exclusive schedule for Spanish speakers: Tuesdays from 11am to 1pm and Thursdays from 4pm to 6pm
The organization, which is financed with grants, is designated by a federal mandate as a state protection and advocacy system (P&A). Every state and territory has an income statement.
“Our mission and goal is to protect the rights of people with disabilities and promote community integration and access to services for these people,” said lawyer Charissa Flege. She made it clear that DRI is an independent, private, not-for-profit organization that is not part of the government.
To get their clients to reflect the state’s population demographics, DRI staff worked with community leaders within Latin American and Spanish-speaking communities to see if the first step was to offer these exclusive Spanish lessons.
Vanessa Santos-Nila, the new bilingual recording specialist and outreach coordinator at DRI, helped lead the initiative. She said bringing the conversation to the state’s Latino communities is a long-term project.
“They know that there are many barriers in our community, there is the stigma, the fact that disability or disability is not even something that is talked about. And if so, it will be talked about in a very negative light, “said Santos-Nila.
DRI is working with the Iowa Office of Latino Affairs on an awareness campaign for the new Spanish admission hours. They started by simply promoting a definition for “disability” in Spanish.
“For people who don’t speak Spanish or from Spanish speaking communities, they don’t understand that we have to start from the basics, like what is a disability? What’s the definition? And from there you just work very methodically to be kind to make the community aware of it, “explained Santos-Nila. “Then hopefully years later we will become an agency that you can look at and realize, ‘Okay, yes, I have a disability or I have a child with a disability.'”
As an example of the difficulty of speaking about disability in Spanish, Santos-Nila brought up the complexities of Spanish grammar. When describing a person’s feeling, a temporary verb is used in the Spanish language. There isn’t a lot of flexibility in language to describe a long-term mental or emotional state.
Santos-Nila said there is one more aspect to consider: “I think just a lack of information means that we are unable to talk about it.”
The exclusive opening hours haven’t warranted many calls yet, but Santos-Nila said that reaching a new community will take time.
Time is well spent, according to DRI attorney Flege. She said that ensuring that all communities have access to resources has an impact on the entire state.
“If you look at our community as a whole, we will all do better when all needs are met, when everyone has access to employment, when everyone has access to health care, when everyone is able to stay at the jobs they want loves. ” Said Flege. “That’s important to Iowan’s. Together.”
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