Championing accessibility for newcomers: Sam’s story

November 22, 2022

By Mischa Milne, Communications Coordinator

From her home country of Iran to a refugee camp in Turkey, Sam Nikmanesh’s journey to Vancouver spans multiple years and continents.

As a Referral Specialist with MOSAIC’s newly-launched Accessibility for Newcomers program, Sam now  works to connect newcomers with disabilities to resources and services that will support their needs. It’s a role she feels closely connected to as she lives with a visual impairment.

“I felt that there was a gap and a strong need to have somebody with lived experience to understand the concerns of newcomers with disabilities. When they share their experiences with me, I know exactly where they’re coming from because I went through similar things.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sam experienced discrimination and danger in Iran. She knew that she wanted to live authentically as herself, and to do so she needed to leave behind her family and support system – knowing that she might never see them again.

“Being gay is not legal in Iran and it’s not culturally accepted. Many of us are forced to leave the country for this reason, and many people that stay choose not to come out because it’s not safe.”

In 2014, Sam left Iran and arrived in Turkey, where she stayed in a refugee camp and tried hard to make ends meet. She – along with many of the women in the refugee camp – struggled deeply with mental health. Sam explained that refugees in Turkey do not have the right to work or move freely between cities, and many are taken advantage of financially due to their precarious position in the country.

“It was such a rough experience because there wasn’t any real place to get support as a refugee. I had a very, very small amount of money to survive with. I didn’t even have money to buy a pair of boots, and it was -18 degrees.”

After more than two years in Turkey and multiple interviews with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Sam was finally able to come to Canada through the GAR (Government-Assisted Refugees) program.

She is now a Canadian citizen, but establishing a new life here came with its own set of challenges, particularly with finding housing in the Lower Mainland. Long waitlists and a lack of rental options – compounded by the needs she has due to her visual impairment – meant that it was three years before she finally had a stable place to call home.

“In 2019 when I found housing in B.C., it was the first year I was happy. It was. I couldn’t believe it because I was really in need of a safe place, one where I didn’t need to be worried all the time.”

With six years of experience navigating various services for both newcomers and individuals with disabilities in the Lower Mainland, Sam knew that she wanted to help others in similar positions. When she saw a job opening at MOSAIC with the Accessibility for Newcomers project, Sam finally found a role where she could make a difference.