Category Archives: 25th Anniversary Series: Sharing our Shared Journey

Access Alliance, Then and Now: 25 Years at a Glance

Report insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy
First clinical meeting at Access Alliance, 1989

Over 25 years ago, a group of dedicated community members, all newcomers to Canada, got together to address concerns they shared.  Here is the journey of Access Alliance from then to now; 25 years of achieving health with dignity.


1989 – Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre opens

1990 – Interpreter Services begins providing interpreters

1991 – Service model is initiated to address women’s health issues

1992 – First mission statement and creation of the ED position

1993 – 32 languages served in Interpretation Services; start of mental health screening

1994 – Services begin for the non-insured

1995 – Social work added to the list of agency services

1996 – Start of multicultural service provisionReport insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (2)

1998 – Develop an approach to food security issues and food access programming

1999 – Launch of Legal Services; Special clinic for Kosovar refugees established

2000 – Board of Directors commit to the “most disadvantaged” immigrants and refugees, causing a shift in the focus of clients served

2001 – Every Child’s Right to OHIP Coalition formed

2001 – Accredited by Building Healthy Organizations for the first time (now called the Canadian Centre for Accreditation)

2003 – The “Access Model” is developed to improve access in under serviced areas

2003 – The first Peer Outreach Worker training held, the start of one of more successful programs

greeting-card22004 – Healthcare Interpretation Network becomes incorporated, Access Alliance’s Executive Director elected president

2005 – Launch of Peer Outreach Worker Training curriculum; Best Practice Report for Mental Health Services and diverse Communities Issued

2006 – Among Friends, a 3 year program launched to support agencies becoming LGBTQ+ immigrant and refugee positiveReport insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (3)

2007 – Access Alliance changes its name to “Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services”

2008 – Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funds Access Alliance to have a robust Settlement Services Department

2009Greenwood Youth Clinic opens

2010 – Access Alliance launches its Make Yourself At Home campaign

2010 – AccessPoint on Danforth opens at 3079 Danforth Ave

Report insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (6)2011 – AccessPoint on Jane opens at 761 Jane St

2011 – Launch of the Green Access Program and Green roof opens at the APOD

2012 – Access Alliance Language Services becomes nationally and internationally certified for Interpretation and Translation

2012 – AALS launches RIO (Remote Interpretation Ontario Network)2013 SpiritAwards Trustmark_Winner_Vr

2013 – NIWIC opens at AccessPoint on Jane

2013 – Access Alliance is awarded the United Way Spirit Award

2014 – SHY clinic (for Sexually Healthy Youth) opens at AccessPoint on Danforth


In the Shoes of an Interpreter: providing comfort, confidence and assurance to those with language barriers

By Phoebe Lee, a professional Interpreter for Korean – English.  She has been an Access Alliance Interpreter for over 20 years.

How would you feel if you had a language barrier and you had to communicate with English-speaking service providers regarding your personal health issues? You feel frustrated, anxious, and useless! You even think that you do not belong in the community. You hope that someone will help you with your communication problems.

When I first came to Canada I did not know any English. I was afraid to talk to English-speaking people. Now, decades later, I work with people who have language barriers and their English-speaking service providers. I am a Korean interpreter. I go to different places every day, I meet new people every day, and I encounter different situations every day. Every assignment is unique, challenging, and precious.

When I interpret good news such as, ”You are cancer free!” then I feel so happy to be an interpreter but when I interpret bad news such as, ” There is no cure!” then I wish I was not there to interpret. No matter what messages I interpret it has to be faithful and impartial. I cannot show my emotions. But they are there, inside!

Interpreting one language to another language is a difficult task. It is not just literal interpreting word to word. It is delivering ideas, beliefs, and cultural nuances from a non-English speaking person to English speaking service providers and vice versa. Several years ago, a fatally ill teenage girl was in the critical care unit at a hospital. The doctors and her parents had a meeting almost every day for an update on the girl’s condition. The family had immigrated to Canada decades ago but they had limited English. I interpreted for the family.

One afternoon, I was present in the conference room with the chief doctor and fellow doctors to have a meeting with the girl’s parents. In the room, the girl’s parents, relatives, friends – about twenty people – were waiting for the doctors. The chief doctor talked about the purpose of the meeting and explained that the girl was dying. She did not have much time and removing the breathing tube from her would be the best for her so she would not to suffer anymore. I interpreted in Korean. One of the family’s relatives asked the doctors in Korean, “How much time she has left?” The chief doctor said, “Three hours!” The parents, relatives, and friends looked at me and the chief doctor. No one made any sound or movement. The stillness and silence in the room made me nervous. I paused for a moment. I slowly and carefully said in Korean, ”Three hours” Then, the people in the room burst out crying.
I believe that some of the Korean people in the room were able to understand English when the doctor said “Three hours”. But without realizing it, they wanted to confirm the words, “three hours” in their native Korean language. These few seconds of silence were the longest and hardest of my life as were those two short words.

Through peoples’ native languages, interpreters provide comfort, confidence, and assurance to those who have language barriers. Furthermore, they provide them with a sense of belonging to the community, making that vital connection.

After years of working as an interpreter, I’ve learned an important lesson; that everyone should be treated equally and respectfully. No matter where you come from, what language you speak, what circumstances you have, we still share our basic humanity. We are all seeking respect and love.

Sharing our Shared Journey: Connecting the dots in culture gaps

Taryn Ridsdale Head ShotTaryn immigrated from South Africa in 1994. She has lived in 5 Canadian cities since then, and virtually keeps in touch with close family that geographically spans 4 different continents. Taryn is passionate about contributing to health system improvement in Canada.


“After having numerous health professionals look at me strangely… Or assume that I express my concerns a certain way because of my appearance and accent, it sure is nice to belong to a practice where they understand what I mean and ask the right questions to help me be healthy.”

That comment from a family member turned what I intuitively and academically knew into a truer understanding of why anti-oppressive, all-inclusive landscapes improve health and well being. It’s funny how that one comment completely altered how I now reflect on my family’s journey through numerous interrelated events, contexts and choices.

Looking back to the beginning, we all have a good laugh recalling the day my younger self announced to our family that we were saying all the words wrong after discovering that everyone else spoke differently at my new school. Being young and immersed in a structured school environment, I remember learning as quickly as possible to speak as my classmates spoke. All these years later, my family member’s comment highlights how my seemingly insignificant change in pronunciation has led us to have very different experiences when interacting with the health care system and other sectors.

And it’s certainly not the only change that led to those differing experiences. I also recall the silence I was greeted with when I told an extended family member that I felt ‘at home’ because my closest friends from school were the equivalent of family to me. The combination of not having extended family around and of being in school led me to slowly learn to develop other forms of support, to develop deep relationships with friends, and to trust those friends enough to ask for real help or an ear when needed.

While my younger self wouldn’t have understood what was happening, I realize now that immediate access to social networks and supports available to newcomer youth  enabled me to successfully adjust and thrive in a new country. I wish we all knew when we moved how important those types of supports are for all family members while they are adjusting to life in a new culture. Reflecting back on our differing experiences over the last 25 years of social and healthcare reforms in Toronto, it is clear, in a beyond academic and I get it kind of way, that organizations like Access Alliance provide an invaluable service by using evidence and heart to increase the sense of belonging and positively impact the health of newcomers.