Voices of Ethiopian blind immigrants and their families : facing the challenges of life in Canada




Teklu, Abebe Abay

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When educated professionals with a disability immigrate to Canada with their families, they are full of hope. Because they were told that Canada is a land of opportunity, they expect to build on their past careers and become fully employed. Nevertheless, the experience of many immigrant families with an educated adult member with a disability has been long years of poverty and unemployment in Canada. My phenomenological and heuristic study was designed to explore the central research question, "What is the lived experience of Ethiopian immigrant families in Canada in which one adult member is blind?" My study also examined several sub-questions: I-low does the fact that one family member has a disability affect the family as a whole, in their experience as immigrants in Canada? What are the social barriers that the blind immigrant and his or her family have encountered during the experience adapting to Canadian society? What are the strengths and coping mechanisms of the family members? What changes do immigrants suggest to improve the lives of immigrant families with a blind adult family member? Using interviews, I gathered the family experiences of six blind participants, as well as two sighted participants whose partners were blind. All were adult immigrants from Ethiopia. I chose to use methodology that would give participants a "voice" and would allow their own words to be used when describing the findings. Transcripts went through a process of narrative analysis. Data was divided into categories and then separated into themes. Twelve metathemes emerged from data analysis of 323 themes: Comparison of Ethiopia and Canada's treatment of blind people, High Achievement, Persistence and perseverance, Ethiopian expectations about a blind child or student, Social construction of disability, Importance of Advocacy, Unemployment in Canada, Desire to be independent and self-supporting, Personal and family strengths, Importance of social support network, Participants' experiences accessing help from CNIB and employment agencies, and Recommended Government Policy Improvement. The emerging metathemes supported the view of scholars who hold that "disability" is a social construction and is merely a characteristic. Despite "disability", my six blind participants achieved academic education and entered fulfilling careers in one country. Afterward, they endured long years of poverty and unemployment in a second country. The sighted partners of educated blind professionals verified their partners' experiences of poverty and ableism since immigrating to their new country. The two contrasting experiences demonstrated that "disability" was framed either positively or negatively by the social environment in which the educated blind professionals lived and worked. Participants' experiences revealed that Canadian employment agencies lack accountability. As well, employment agencies and organizations for the blind are providing ineffective help for blind people seeking employment. Several participants noted the need for "organizations of the blind, not, for the blind" in order to improve the services of such organizations. In contrast to the stereotype that successful blind people must he special or talented, the study revealed that blind people can become educated and employed in their careers when there is motivation, opportunity, and some small amount of social support. The participants all believe that employment is part of full citizenship. The study revealed that certain personal and family strengths of sighted and blind participants have supported them to stay together as a family and to persist in seeking employment without losing hope. Despite hardships related to long term unemployment, participants continue to live fairly peaceably within their families. Their support for each other within the family, and their persistence and refusal to give up hope was striking. All participants called out for increased activism and advocacy for both Canadian-born and immigrant blind people, on the part of the Canadian government.



blind, Ethiopians, Canada, immigrants