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Embracing Diversity: Background Information on Enhancing Support for Inclusion through Cultural and Linguistic Competence

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Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee - March 2007 Report Supplement

Consistent with the New Freedom Initiative, federal officials who participated in the 2003 National Council on Disability (NCD) Cultural Diversity Initiative forum stated that they want to close gaps in access, services, and awareness of disability civil rights among racial/ethnic groups.[1]  In subsequent years, people with disabilities from diverse[2] groups have added observations about their ongoing needs amidst changing United States' demographics. For example, transformation of the work and organization environment toward a multicultural, culturally and linguistically competent[3] body is important for today's diverse society. Dimensions of diversity descriptions include primary and secondary identifiers.[4] The authorizing statute for the National Council on Disability (NCD)-the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended-requires NCD to address policy and issues around the primary dimension of mental/physical abilities which incorporates diversity. Focused on two dimensions of diversity-race and ethnic heritage-NCD established the Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee (CDAC) in 2002, initially to address prevailing concerns about the unmet needs of underserved and unserved groups. From the beginning, CDAC members, including people involved in research indicated that issues/concerns impacting people with disabilities from diverse cultures transcend race and ethnicity and interact with factors such as socioeconomic status, primary language, and educational opportunities.[5]


Other researchers have reported findings and recommendations on key issues associated with diversity, cultural and linguistic competency across several disciplines. For example, to assist schools in overcoming deeply embedded cultural conflicts, U.S. Department of Education (DoED) funded researchers such as the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory who recommend that teachers and school leaders become experts in "culturally responsive teaching," a method that uses students' "cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and learning styles" in daily lessons. Based on research reported by a national school boards organization, such strategies can promote genuine understanding of "real-life," everyday experiences and comprehending different problems that people of other cultures might face in seeking an appropriate education.[6]  The Center for Capacity Building on Minorities with Disabilities Research (See endnote 5) is a more recent multi-year DoED project that incorporates culturally competent and linguistically appropriate research and services as a part of its mission.  The cultural and linguistic competency research and demonstration efforts by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are health care oriented, however, the practical guidance provides a set of national standards.[7]


NCD has demonstrated consistent commitment to full inclusion through its record of participatory, collaborative partnerships with communities and a variety of informal mechanisms to facilitate consumer involvement in agency activities. NCD has also adopted a policy of producing materials in languages of commonly encountered groups and/or groups represented in the disability community. To build upon these actions, CDAC suggests to NCD that adoption of agency guidance has merit and application to the broad scope of topics and areas of work that NCD addresses on behalf of all people with disabilities.  CDAC suggests further that the overall purpose of taking action to establish general cultural and linguistic competency guidance can propel NCD toward actualizing the agency's inclusive philosophy while increasing meaningful involvement for people with disabilities from diverse cultures. Future impact might be reflected in NCD's increase in effective outreach efforts, attention to and discussions about topics that present issues or constraints around cultural beliefs and/or traditions; council member/staff training about and sensitivity to cultural and linguistic issues; written materials, and other aspects of agency work.


To complement and strengthen the observations described in this brief paper, CDAC made four specific recommendations to enhance and support NCD's efforts. Council and staff members were provided that information for consideration in CDAC's April 2007 quarterly meeting report.



[1] National Council on Disability, NCD Bulletin. 


[2] An operational definition of diversity is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, beliefs, and competencies as assets to the groups and organizations with whom they interact.

[3] Aware that various definitions are used without widespread agreement on one, CDAC recommended NCD's adoption of an operational definition that is described in federal law. 


 [4] Diversity Mosaic Participant Workbook: Developing Cultural Competence (Pfeiffer Essential Resources for Training and HR Professionals).Tina Rasmussen (November 28, 2006)


[5] Putting Research to Work for the Realization of the Goals of the ADA, Paul Leung, PhD & Sylvia Walker, PhD/publications/1993/December1993 ; Epistemology of Race and Disability Research, Glenn T. Fujiura, PhD, In The Capacity Builder, Volume 2, Issue 1, April 2006.


[6] Respecting Differences: Diverse learners can blossom in culturally responsive classrooms, Susan Black. American School Board Journal, January 2006: Vol.193, No. 01


[7] National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000).


Embracing Diversity