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U collaboration creates support materials for refugee communities

Documents and videos explaining how to navigate federal laws surrounding special education resources are now available in Arabic, Burmese, Somali and Swahili.

Documents and videos that explain how to navigate federal laws surrounding special education resources are now available in Arabic, Burmese, Somali and Swahili, thanks to a 1U4U Innovation grant and collaborations across campus at the University of Utah. The project will be hosted by the Utah Parent Center, a nonprofit organization that helps families receive services for children with special needs.

“We want to reach as many families as can benefit from our services in our state, regardless of the demographics,” said Esperanza Reyes, associate director of the Utah Parent Center. “To be able to do so more efficiently now, to provide that to families, is a really joyful thing.”

Beth Jennings, a law librarian at the S. J. Quinney College of Law, developed the initial idea to gather a group of collaborators from across campus­—from the School of Medicine to the College of Education—to identify ways they could use a $30,000 grant to help families access services for special needs. With a Juris Doctor of her own, Jennings often helps visitors at the law library find legal resources to answer their questions. When she thought of how difficult it has been to help her own daughter access special needs services, she wanted to help those who face an additional barrier of language to navigate the process.

“The rules around special education access aren’t easy to figure out even if you learned English at birth,” Jennings said. “Hopefully, putting this information in a language that is accessible to parents will allow them to feel more confident in helping their students receive the help they need.”

The group worked with the Utah Parent Center, the designated Parent Training and Information Center for the state, to identify what information would be most helpful for parents. As a result, the group translated documents into new languages and created 18 videos that explain complex processes more simply. The materials will be distributed through the Utah Parent Center.

“We produced these short videos so folks who can’t read a 50-page handbook can learn about the most critical pieces and access the services they need,” said Lezlie Frye, an assistant professor of gender studies and disability studies in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, and co-principal investigator for the project.