Sarah Li Zhao


As our population becomes more diverse, social workers must learn to effectively interact with clients who speak foreign languages. Providing appropriate language services is a very important component of a social worker’s cultural competence.

I am a CDS specialist working at Paraquad. I work with Ms. S, a CDS participant who does not speak English. Ms. S and her family are originally from eastern Europe.

If I want to visit with or talk to Ms. S over the phone, I need to hire a certified Albanian interpreter to assist me. Additionally, her attendant care service timesheets have been translated into her native language. But the language barrier has never become an obstacle to providing services.

The first time I visited Ms. S, she told me there was no need to take off my shoes when I entered her living room. As I know, part of her family’s culture is maintaining a clean living room. When Ms. S opened the door, without speaking a word, she gave me a warm hug that meant, “I like you and thank you!” Immediately, I felt comfortable.

Through the interpreter, Ms. S told me how she appreciated the services she receives from Paraquad.

“I am over 90 years old. Without this program, without Paraquad and my caregivers, I would not live a long life. … Paraquad provides very professional and caring services,” she said.

Before I finish my home visit, Ms. S and her attendant offer the interpreter and me traditional snacks. Ms. S was smiling throughout my entire home visit. On her birthday, I wrote her a thank you card: “Thank you very much for being my good participant. I am proud to be your CDS specialist.”

I wish Ms. S a healthy and long life!

In the St. Louis area, Paraquad and other organizations like the International Institute of St. Louis and the YMCA have developed programs tailored to the needs of clients who speak foreign languages or need help to improve their language skills.

Sarah Li Zhao, MSW, is a Consumer Directed Services (CDS) Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at

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