While Ontario celebrates the diversity inherent in its culture, Ritu Singarayer, Supervisor of Community Living York South’s (CLYS) Community Support Program and Respite Services, thinks it’s important that we all speak the language of inclusion. That’s why she, along with colleagues Sadia Shaukat and Annie Zhang, will be discussing “Building Family Networks and Cultural Competence” at Community Living Ontario’s 62nd Annual Conference and AGM.
Singarayer, who has been with the association for 12 years, has been involved in almost every aspect of its operation, having held positions in community support, supported independent living and many day programs on the path to her current post. Her varied positions have made it clear to her that there are far more people in her area that need support than they have the capacity to provide for. CLYS’ government-funded programs can provide for approximately 350 to 400 people in direct services, such as day programs and supported independent living. Meanwhile, they can only provide certain outreach services for the 1,500 individuals on their regional waitlist.
Many of these people have difficulty navigating the services that are available to them in the meantime, due to language and cultural barriers. CLYS serves Richmond Hill, Markham, Stouffville, Thornhill and Vaughan, and according to Singarayer, “If I just told you to think about the population in those areas, there’s one word you’ll use to descri
be it, and that’s that it is so diverse.” She cited a newspaper article estimating that 52% of Markham residents have a Chinese background. “So I am of the mind,” she followed, “that if we don’t have people who can speak Cantonese or Mandarin, how are we going to effectively make change in those people’s lives?”
Expanding the concept to more communities, she asked “If the community is such that you have a high population of Cantonese, Mandarin-speaking people, or Punjabi, Hindi-speaking people, or Farsi-speaking people, the question begs as to how are you supporting those people.”
Language barriers caused major setbacks for an immigrant family that Singarayer supported several years ago. Their son had a diagnosed disability, and yet they didn’t receive financial help for nearly a decade, simply because they didn’t know it was available. “I couldn’t believe it,” Singarayer said, exasperated. “It was almost something in the range of 10 years they could have been applying for ODSP and they had no idea.” The family had received an ODSP brochure upon entering the country, but it got lost in the shuffle since it was written in a language they didn’t fully understand—English.
There are broader concerns here than just language issues—differing cultural backgrounds come into play, as well. In some cultures, there is still a great stigma attached to having a child with an intellectual disability, and so families keep it to themselves, possibly unaware that things are different in Canada.
To combat this, CLYS has worked to reach out to community organizations these groups may be involved in. The association has partnered with Welcome Centres and community agencies to get the message of its services out there, and they have done presentations at different faith homes—churches, synagogues and mosques—to help spread the word.
By doing this, CLYS hopes to broaden a family’s vision for their son or daughter. Once the association does make contact, Singarayer said that the most important support a person can get in such circumstances is familial. The association’s motto is ‘Help families to help themselves.’ “They look at us,” she described, “and they sometimes say ‘You’re the expert.’ And we say ‘No, no, no. You’re the expert. You know your son or daughter much better than I know them.’”
While the goal is for the person with the disability to be independent, she understands that the reality is they’ll need a lot of help from their family to get there, and so CLYS points them in the direction of services that can help them. This can include linking them to other families within the same cultural community, helping them to feel like they are not alone.
Singarayer and her coworkers will be expanding on all of these topics of inclusion in their presentation at the AGM. In the meantime, the one thing she would like attendees to consider leading up to the event is “…com[ing] to the session with an open mind, thinking ‘How can we think outside the box? How can we, as an organization, respond better to diversity?’ I’m hoping they can get some answers that question.”
– Daniel Share-Strom