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Applied Creativity and Innovation student building website that educates newcomers about legal rights

Newsroom authorby Jon KuiperijApr 2, 2024

To many, learning that nearly half of newcomers to Canada are reluctant to seek legal advice might come as a surprise.

Not to Asmaa Al Refai (Paralegal ‘21).

headshot of Applied Creativity and Innovation student Asmaa Al Refai"Cultural differences, language barriers and financial challenges are a few reasons why immigrants don't consult with legal professionals," she says. "But the main one is that many of them simply aren't aware of the rights they have here in Canada."

Al Refai speaks from experience. Having spent much of her life under the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, she was immediately fascinated by the "fairness in Canada" when she emigrated from Syria in 2017. Yet, it wasn't until Al Refai studied employment law in Sheridan's paralegal diploma program that she realized she may have been wrongfully dismissed by a recent employer. "I didn't seek legal advice when that happened," she says, "because I didn't know my rights."

Now, as part of the first cohort of Sheridan's Applied Creativity and Innovation graduate certificate program, the mother of three is working to ensure future newcomers are more aware of the rights and protections they enjoy in Ontario.

As her practicum — during which students receive individualized coaching while they attempt to solve a problem for an industry partner or as an entrepreneurial venture — Al Refai is building a website that will educate recent immigrants about Canada’s legal system and the resources available to them. The project, titled Newcomers Legal Empowerment, will allow website visitors to ask questions in their native language free of charge, further removing hurdles that may deter newcomers from pursuing legal advice.

"This website can help me market my legal services when I open my own practice. But I also really want to educate and empower newcomers about their rights to help address challenges they face, because I went through those same challenges myself," says Al Refai, who came up with the idea after conducting a brainstorming session surrounding the challenges of creating a culturally-sensitive legal service.

A Miro board of ideas, ranked by participants in order of impact"The Applied Creativity and Innovation program has helped me realize that you can't just jump right into the pool. Often when we're presented with a problem, we quickly come up with a solution. But it's better to unleash our imagination to brainstorm, generate a lot of ideas, and then look at the positive and negative sides of those ideas before acting on them."

“Asmaa’s project is a perfect fit for the Applied Creativity and Innovation practicum, which was designed to provide students with the opportunity to create real-world solutions to problems they care about. It bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application; builds critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills; and ultimately leads to impactful solutions,” adds creativity and innovation professor Dr. Kasey Dunn.

“I have been so impressed by Asmaa’s work and the impact her Newcomers Legal Empowerment project will have. We can’t wait to see how she continues to iterate through the final practicum as she prepares to launch the product.”

Learn more about how Sheridan’s Applied Creativity and Innovation graduate certificate program responds to increasing global workforce demand for creativity, innovation, problem-solving and other 21st-century skills.

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