A Personal Story of a Cultural Broker (MA UCEDD/LEND)

By Oanh Thi Thu Bui, Diversity Fellow, Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston

November 7, 2016

In Part 2 of our series about cultural brokering, Oanh shares more about how her organization supports Vietnamese parents whose children have disability. Read Part 1 here.

Part 2: From isolation to empowerment

Many Vietnamese families have been isolated from the community due to a perceived social stigma, cultural difference, or language barrier. Culturally, these parents do not know that the system can help.

When parents reach out to me, their stories may be very complicated, requiring intensive support in multiple areas, from medical and educational to social support. A few families have contacted me more than 150 times over the course of one year, both in person, or on the phone or via email.

Communicating with schools and participating in school activities is often not part of Asian culture. Many of these families have high expectations for their children, but they don't expect a child with disability to be independent and to work. It's been satisfying to see some of the parents who attend my support group get more involved in their children's education.

Waiting for a child to talk without seeking speech therapy is common among Vietnamese families. With help from our group, some parents have sought services at an earlier age. Many have attended as many trainings as possible, to become better educated about the system and make informed decisions in the course of advocating for their beloved child.

These are positive steps, all growing out of opportunities to share our parenting experiences with others who share our road.

Learning together

As one parent put it who has attended the group from the beginning, "I did not know anything before I joined Oanh's support group. I just signed my child's IEP right after every meeting as they wanted me to, threatening that if I did not sign, my child will not receive any services--even though I did not understand the document."

The parent explained, "I did not know that I have the right to request an interpreter, nor asking the school to translate materials into my home language. I did not know that I have to request for transition services for my child when she turns 14. My child missed so many services which she was entitled to while she was at school. Oanh helped me understand the special education process, how the system works, and also connected me to an attorney to advocate for compensatory services that school failed to provide to my daughter while she was at school."

Seeing parents become informed and empowered in this way is satisfying. It helps me feel that I am not only working for my daughter's benefit, but for the benefit of our entire Vietnamese community.

This concludes Part 2 of Oanh's story. Stay tuned for Part 3.