It’s March again, when Americans celebrate many things including the first day of spring, Easter and Disability Awareness Month. Along with hanging posters and participating in other events, I would like in this column to share some information that I received from Indiana’s Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities. As an employer and as trustee of an office that serves the general public I found the following not only informative but eye-opening and an inspiration to keep working toward greater understanding and inclusion of people from all cultures and walks of life. The following is from the Council’s Bulletin entitled Increasing Cultural Awareness and Inclusion:
When people of all ethnicities and abilities work together, employees are more productive and organizations represent the people they serve. A culturally diverse workforce or classroom is more creative and better reflects the diversity of the population.
Cultural perspectives on disability issues vary among ethnic groups. While specific beliefs and practices might vary on an individual basis, many people within an ethnic group often share general beliefs. In order to build understanding about disabilities, it is important to know how various ethnic groups tend to view disabilities. For example, according to the Louisiana Advocacy Center for the Elderly and Disabled many Hispanic cultures believe that a disability could be a punishment from God and, therefore, a source of shame and guilt.
Although many variations exist among Native American tribes, there is a general belief in the interaction of spirit, body and mind in relation to illness, according to C.S. Locust’s “American Indian Beliefs Concerning Health and Unwellness.” Many tribes believe wellness is rooted in the concept of harmony, with unwellness seen as disharmony in the body, mind and spirit. They only accept disabilities which are perceived to be part of an individual’s harmony.
African-Americans with disabilities are often better accepted with fewer stigmas than in the case of Caucasians with disabilities, according to the report “Building Cultural Competence in the Disability Community,” which was supported by the Washington D.C. Developmental Disabilities Council.
However, among Asian-Americans, disabilities might be associated with punishment for past sins. Also evident among Japanese Americans is a reluctance to bring children with developmental disabilities for services because of a sense of shame, a belief in fate and a strong sense of privacy, the study reports.
To make sure that organizations address the diversity in those we serve and those we employ the Governor’s Council suggests the following:
The first step in breaking down barriers to people of color with disabilities is to evaluate your organization for its cultural sensitivity. Form a committee (with ethnic representation) to identify and address these common barriers to accessible services:
Lack of desire or interest in serving persons from different backgrounds with different beliefs or languages.
Fear of serving persons from different cultural backgrounds.
Lack of a multicultural staff, board and council members.
Lack of people of color in management positions that deal with hiring, training, policymaking, etc.
Prejudices, stereotypes held by staff, board and council members.
Locations of service facilities in an area where transportation is a problem and in a building where architectural barriers are present.
Methods of communication that are inaccessible by members using a different language (includes printed materials).
Failure of your school, business or organization to explain its mission so that persons from a different cultural background with different beliefs and languages can understand.
In other words, to be at our best, businesses, schools and organizations should continuously look at their own practices and work to break down all barriers that stand in the way of including and welcoming everyone regardless of cultures and abilities.
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