Finding employment as a person with a disability can be particularly difficult, but for refugees, it is nearly impossible to navigate alone.
Refugees living with disabilities an overlooked subpopulation in both the refugee and the disability communities. A prime cause of this is the lack of data on this group. There are still only gross estimations available for the number of people that fall into both categories. The most updated statistics, according to the International Journal of Refugee Law, estimate the number of refugees living with a disability in the millions. Often, they face barriers such as language and communication, unfamiliarity with support systems in the United States, cultural shifts in accessibility, and lack of awareness about disability rights. As a result, many are excluded from necessary supports, such as resources and training opportunities that would enable them to join the workforce. An example of such resources is vocational training in a multitude of different languages and connections with potential employers.
Co-founded in 2016 by Dr. Rooshey Hasnain and Dr. Mansha Mirsha, Partners of Refugees in Illinois Disability Employment (PRIDE), provides disability rights and employment-based training for refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities, as well as disability awareness training for providers and peer mentors. These trainings allow refugees to explore their employment pathway by developing skills in self-advocacy, networking, and self-determination, such as helping refugees reflect on their existing skills and identify barriers they need to overcome in order to achieve their desired job.
PRIDE has since worked with 50 refugees of diverse backgrounds, helping them find work or improve their current employment. For example, Muhammad Zaazaa, a PRIDE participant from Syria, says that PRIDE has helped him with everything from general problems within his life to government meetings to hospital visits. Since he does not know English or the laws and rules of the United States, this assistance made all the difference in his ability to thrive in this new country.
Working with multisector community partners and allies, including refugees and employers, PRIDE also focuses on making refugees aware of their rights, inclusive of seeking employment. For example, refugees actually have permanent permission to live and work in the United States, which is protected by several federal laws. Because of the complexity of these laws, many face overt attempts at the deprivation of these rights.
Dr. Rooshey Hasnain has a long history of advocating for refugees. Before co-founding PRIDE, she spent 18 years working with immigrant populations through ADOPT (Asians with Disabilities Outreach Project Think-Tank), where she recognized the lack of awareness and support for refugees with disabilities.
Although funding for PRIDE ended in 2019, the mission continues through student volunteers and interns. In 2021, students involved with PRIDE hosted a virtual community event that included several testimonials in an attempt to raise awareness for PRIDE and its mission, potentially drawing new avenues of support.
Dr. Hasnain says the biggest focus for the project moving forward will be to simply “keep pushing” the agenda. “I hope to find a mechanism that allows PRIDE to continue to grow, taking it beyond what was accomplished in its first few years,” says Dr, Hasnain, adding that this includes eventually expanding it to a national level.