Addressing Compounding Barriers: Natsa’s Story

"Addressing Compound Barriers - Natsa's Story

Natsa and her son, Ethan, have partnered with Lifeworks for services since 2019. With limited access to culturally relevant information on disability services, Natsa, who immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia as a teenager, has primarily had to navigate services for Ethan on her own. Even with guidance from Lifeworks on their Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) budget, Natsa still faced barriers that left her and her family in a difficult situation. Staff at Lifeworks adjusted their approach to best meet her family’s needs, ensuring they get the personalized support they deserve.

Natsa immigrated to the United States with her two daughters over a decade ago. She initially arrived in Atlanta but did not know anyone in the area to stay with. She sought a support system and moved to the Twin Cities, where her cousin lived.

Natsa’s cousin helped her family adjust to life in a new country. “He support me for long time,” she says. Sometime after settling in the Twin Cities, her son Ethan was born. In addition to providing for her two daughters, Natsa had to learn how to care for a child with a disability. Her knowledge of disability services in the United States was narrow, to no fault of her own. Most of Natsa’s time was spent supporting her family at home because as a single mother, the responsibility solely fell on her.

“I don’t have any opportunity to go to school because of my kids and my home. I don’t have any communication with anybody because I was working with my language,” she says. Natsa’s native language is Amharic, a language spoken by around a third of people living in Ethiopia. The language barrier proved challenging, especially as she sought services that could benefit Ethan.

I don’t have any opportunity to go to school because of my kids and my home. I don’t have any communication with anybody because I was working with my language. -Natsa

The disability service system in our country is overly complex and can be hard to understand, even for native English speakers. Many individuals and their support teams turn to organizations like Lifeworks to break down barriers to resources and services as they navigate the system. Language and cultural backgrounds create compounding barriers to accessing disability services. Even as Lifeworks makes intentional efforts to partner with historically underserved communities in our state, we acknowledge that the systems we operate within are not designed to address language barriers.

After Natsa established support for her son by partnering with Lifeworks in 2019, she experienced hurdles that were tough to overcome on her own. “That time [keeping system] was 100 percent confusion,” she says. As the support manager for her son, Natsa was responsible for handling paperwork, submitting reimbursements, and logging her time accurately to be paid for the care she provided for Ethan, all while understanding rules and regulations to adhere to. Even with assistance from Lifeworks, she still felt very overwhelmed. “I don’t know anything. [It was] very hard.”

Natsa eventually connected with Adam, a Fiscal Systems Coordinator at Lifeworks. Their role was to train and support employees and support managers as they transitioned to a new timekeeping system.

Adam took a personalized approach to help Natsa. “When we have families that are experiencing barriers, it’s really important to be aware of their communication styles and what they prefer,” says Adam. After being introduced to Natsa, they learned early on that communication via email was not working well, so they gave her a call.

When we have families that are experiencing barriers, it’s really important to be aware of their communication styles and what they prefer. -Adam, Lifeworks

“After speaking with Natsa, she disclosed to me that she thought her English wasn’t very good,” says Adam. Without judgement, Adam identified solutions to ease some of the stress Natsa had. “I realized that translation services could be something that we could utilize to bridge the barrier with Natsa,” they said.

This one solution was immensely beneficial for Natsa. Adam was also patient with Natsa, taking the time to ensure she was equipped to be successful. “They show a simple way of how to do something, like timesheets and paperwork,” says Natsa. “They explained openly. Before, I don’t have any idea for that.”

With a personalized approach from Lifeworks, Natsa has a better understanding of Ethan’s CDCS budget and can use it efficiently. Now, she is able to purchase food for Ethan’s gluten-free diet, access services and activities, like music therapy and swimming lessons, and purchase items that benefit Ethan in his day-to-day life, like noise-canceling headphones, sensory toys, and a weighted blanket.

Ethan, who is nonverbal, uses a speech device that allows Natsa to better communicate with him. Natsa adds that Ethan can experience frustration, especially when he is not able to convey his needs. Natsa hopes that in the future, and with support through speech therapy, “he can talk to me what he wants. One day, I want to talk to Ethan.”

Natsa takes great comfort in her family’s love and support. Her two daughters, now in their 20s, have taken on some of the care work for Ethan. “Saturday, Sunday, they work for Ethan,” Natsa says. Together, with Natsa’s cousin, they recently celebrated Ethan’s 9th birthday.

After facing barriers in the disability services system for years, Natsa feels she is in a much better place. “It’s not hard anymore,” she says. “[It’s] very comforting working with Lifeworks.” Even when she felt helpless, Natsa advocated for herself and her son. “Natsa’s such an amazing advocate, even when she has run up against barriers and challenges,” says Adam. She encourages others going through the same journey to be open with those who are there to help navigate the system.

It’s not hard anymore. [It’s] very comforting working with Lifeworks. -Natsa