A study about the arabic speaking participants in DRW

DRW interview report:

Nine participants with Arabic as a common denominator


This report is written on the study of the first nine interviews that the Disabled Refugees Welcome project team carried out with people who speak Arabic as a native language or as an official language of the countries they come from.

All interviewees arrived in Sweden via different routes seeking a better and safe life and sought asylum. Two persons are still waiting for a decision from the Migration Board and one of them has a temporary residence permit.

The journeys to Sweden often were with harsh and dangerous conditions. The majority of Interviewees for this study have different kinds of mobility impairment with some also having an intellectual impairment. They are from age 30 to 50 years, with three being women and six men. All have faced difficulties in communication and getting information due to language barriers. Interviewees having an intellectual impairment were represented by a family member.  

Our findings:


The level of language was quite different for these people with the knowledge of the Arabic language varying for different reasons:

  • First of all, the Arabic language has two forms being formal Arabic or what is called Fosha, and spoken Arabic which is the different local dialects. Dialects also vary from one country to another, with each country having different dialects.
  • Secondly, minorities and ethnic groups living in Arabic-speaking countries have their own languages which they use instead of Arabic. Among the nine interviewees, five people are coming from three different minorities and language group: Kurdish, Armenian and Nobiin.

Consequently some of the interviewees lack basic knowledge and use of the Arabic language.


Taking language to another dimension there is also people who are illiterate. Our study shows that there is a lack of education and that the ability to read and write can be limited due to not having accessed schooling and education.

Accessible information:

The majority of newcomers to Sweden face problems related to communication and languages due to the lack of information with documents and translations in the languages understood. In the DRW study it is found that the newcomers with disabilities who arrive in Stockholm, are not accessing the information needed with documents and brochures in a language they understand. One example is the Stockholm’s service catalog. For this reason DRW has done a translation of the document into Arabic as this will facilitate access in the Stockholm region.

DRW has also translated the easy to read version of LSS into Arabic. Through the translations people will be able to learn about their rights and what support is accessible in Sweden. Language is an important element of accessibility. Understanding the support system allows people to know what they need to do to access  support.

The need of these translations is quite clear as well as learning about one’s rights when analyzing the DRW cases. Results show that people after several years in Sweden are still not aware of certain services. One example is the access to living arrangements through LSS. For three years a person has been applying for services but has not understood the right to a living quarters due to the person’s physical impairment.  


Another problem is with the system that hires the interpreters mostly via telephone in order to save money and time, without realizing that interpretation via phone calls affects the quality of translation and communication, and causes a lot of misunderstandings between the interpreters and the people who need them.
Moreover, the interpreters who work with the authorities have different levels of translation capabilities, knowledge of different dialects and cultural understanding.

Translation is important and can be quite crucial. There is a responsibility on the translators to understand what people are expressing as well as understanding the systems and how they work. DRW has had one case that shows clear consequences of lacks in translation. One interviewee with an impairment due to Cerebral Palsy that affected the speaking and pronunciation abilities of this person had an important interview with the Migration Board. Due to difficulties in speaking, the interpreter translated in a wrong way that affected the decision from the Migration Board because resulting in a temporary resident permit. However, with the proper help from the right person who understood the person an appeal was processed with the new decision being a permanent residence permit. This case illustrates the importance that interpreters have the skills and knowledge to deal with the cases on hand.

Reply – Refutation:

From language to expression – mastering a new language takes time which can have major consequences for a person with disabilities. Difficulty in expressing oneself and how this affects access to services is another finding of the DRW study.
One person applied for access to the special transport system called färdtjänst. When filling in the application the person could not express the need in the right way which resulted in a denial and rejection of the service. Understanding the questions and answering in the proper way can be simple for some Swedish speakers though not always, and a larger barrier for the newcomers.

Another type of problem related to the accessibility of expression can be described through a DRW case where the social worker asked the person to write a description of needs or to email on what needs the person had. This person could not describe the needs in writing although it would have been possible to do this orally. The social worker did not want to hear about the needs but wanted them in writing. As a result, the person was denied services because the mode of applying was not accessible.  

Relatives’ dependency increase:

Family responsibility has also proven to be a hinder for persons with disability in need of services. The social services are showing a tendency of expecting support to be given by a family member of the disabled person. There is also an expectation that a family member is to speak for the person.

One of the DRW cases is with a disabled man married to a woman who does not have any disability. The social services expected the wife to support her husband with the decision of support being much less than the needed hours of support. The consequence was that the couple divorced with the wife being too tired from this expected responsibility, she also supported the children and was trying herself to learn Swedish for the possibility of integration.

Gender related dependency:

Gender is another element that is affecting cases. There is one disabled woman not knowing Swedish and not being able to read or write her own language as she had not had the opportunity to go to school in her home country due to her disability. She wanted to separate from her family and live independently but was afraid since separating from her family would mean losing the support and help. She was also unaware of her right to live independently as she became an adult and unaware of how to access the support to allow living independently.

This report has raised the issue of language and information access and problems faced by Arabic-speaking people who have a disability. However, such language-related problems and access to information issues are not limited to Arabic-speaking people. Such issues can be faced by any newcomer coming to Sweden regardless of the language. DRW with this report wants to stress the importance of access to information in the language of the person and in an accessible format. The concept of accessibility is wider than the physical world and has many elements from gender to cultural traditions.  


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.