Cultural Competencies and Diversity Matter in the Disability Community

Almost 5 million Americans, representing diverse background, experience, and culture, live with developmental disabilities. The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (DD Act) assures that people with developmental disabilities and their families have access to necessary services, individualized support, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in their communities. It aims to provide services in a way that “... is responsive to the beliefs, interpersonal styles, attitudes, language, and behaviors of individuals who are receiving the services …” The vision of this act is also to promote the cultural competency of leaders, staff, and decision makers across the developmental disability network.

According to the 2010 Census, racial and ethnic minority people are growing at a faster rate than majority white Americans, which also increases the number of individuals with disabilities from diverse ethnic backgrounds. People with various disabilities from minority communities are the ones who face unique challenges on achieving self-determination, independence and inclusion in their communities. A study (PDF - 2070 KB) conducted by the University of Minnesota found that Somali children in Minneapolis have higher rate of autism spectrum disorder compared to their peers. Similarly, sexual and gender minority people who are living with various disabilities also have unique set of needs to prevent them from various negative health consequences.  These complex issues can only be addressed by providing diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent practices into the spectrum of all services provided under the DD Act. To better understand the needs of this diverse population, the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD) has implemented several strategies:

  • Data collection and research: AIDD has funded a program by the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) to develop a blueprint for cultural and linguistic competencies in the nation’s 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. In addition, AIDD has also developed a workforce within the Protection and Advocacy Agencies and Developmental Disability Councils. AIDD is also partnered with various nonprofit communities especially those who work for the racial and ethnic underserved population.
  • Cultural competency of the workforce: In 2014, it funded the Leadership Institute for Cultural Diversity and Cultural and Linguistic Competence at the Georgetown University Center for Cultural Competence, which helped to recruit diverse workforce and strengthen the cultural competency.
  • Workforce diversity: AIDD helps to increase diversity by coordinating various Federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and by providing grants and other initiatives to increase cultural and ethnic diversity of people working in social services fields (including people with disabilities).
  • Comprehensive definition of diversity: A comprehensive definition is encouraged so that all people, regardless of age, sex, gender, ability, or cultural background, have the opportunity to participate and achieve self-determination; independence; productivity; and integration and inclusion in their communities.

For more information: ACL blog.

Posted July 2015