PART I — Essential Tool Overview
Youth with disabilities are likely to face greater challenges than their peers without disabilities as they transition from high school to independent living, postsecondary education, or employment. These challenges are often even greater for youth with disabilities of culturally and linguistically diverse heritage. The phrase culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) primarily refers to people of color who are not Caucasian or White, but it can also include people who are Caucasian or White yet are outside the mainstream of American culture. In this Essential Tool the term American mainstream refers to the majority of people in the United States who identify with Caucasian/White American cultural traditions and values and speak English as their first language. Caucasians who might be outside the American mainstream include immigrants from Europe who have limited English proficiency or people who live in impoverished communities.
Many Americans of Caucasian/White and CLD heritage share similar lifestyles and enjoy a relatively high standard of living. However, there are good reasons for making a distinction between these cultures. One is that CLD groups have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, or excluded from political and economic power. Although much progress has been made, numerous studies indicate that CLD groups score lower on socioeconomic measures than White Americans. This is also true for CLD youth with disabilities, who generally have less successful transition outcomes than their White peers, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students, a major research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Conducted from 1985 through 1990, the study followed more than 8,000 youth with disabilities across the country as they transitioned from high school.* The study indicated that CLD youth with disabilities achieved significantly poorer outcomes after high school compared to White youth with disabilities, including lower employment rates, lower average wages, and lower rates of continuing their educations (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996). The study authors concluded “that minority status may present further obstacles to successful transitions beyond those that youth experience because of disability alone” (p. 410).
This Essential Tool summarizes current research about transition issues and CLD youth with disabilities. It also offers information on how transition personnel can effectively support these youth by building on their strengths and enhancing natural supports available within their families and communities. This tool offers several guiding principles. One is cultural competence, which means that services and supports are provided in ways that are appropriate and sensitive to the cultural nuances and expectations of youth and their families.
However, transition personnel should not assume that a youth’s membership in a particular ethnic or racial group indicates particular values, goals, or preferences. The great range of diversity within ethnic and racial groups is evidence that stereotypes are almost certainly inaccurate for individuals of any age. Cultural competence therefore requires adherence to another guiding principle—individualization. From the perspective of this Essential Tool, cultural competence is not something that transition personnel can acquire and then apply to all youth and families. Rather, it must be redeveloped individually with each youth and family.
In order to understand and work effectively within the cultural environment of an individual youth, transition personnel must find out basic information about that person and his or her family as well as their heritage and culture. What are their hopes, dreams, strengths, and challenges? What is the youth’s place within the family and community? With basic knowledge about the youth’s ethnic/racial group and cultural background, transition personnel are better able to recognize cultural themes and ask relevant questions in a culturally sensitive manner.
It is important to establish good working relationships when making contact with family members. It is also important to recognize that families from ethnic/racial groups might be uncomfortable working with personnel from schools and other agencies. Again, cultural competence is essential to create a team atmosphere in which CLD family members can feel comfortable and be effective members.
Another guiding principle is natural supports. In contrast to formal supports provided by paid personnel, natural supports are provided by community members in the course of daily life. Natural supports may be provided by relatives, peers, community volunteers, clubs, religious organizations, etc. Natural supports are important because they promote the inclusion of youth with disabilities in the community, potentially remain in place after professionals leave the scene, and are often more easily acceptable to youth and families than formal supports provided by agency personnel.
This Essential Tool also highlights the guiding principle of building on strengths in order to address challenges. This principle is an antidote to focusing on a person’s deficits. Focusing on deficits is likely to be less effective than a strengths-based approach and may also result in unintended consequences of reducing confidence and motivation. A major problem with focusing on “fixing” a person’s deficits is that what could be lacking in the broader environment may be ignored. Building on strengths means identifying and nurturing interests, skills, and personal relationships that help youth with disabilities achieve their transition goals.
The following key questions can be asked: What cultural and other strengths might CLD youth with disabilities and their families have that can enhance transition? What are common obstacles to successful transitions for CLD youth with disabilities? How can transition personnel use this knowledge to more effectively support CLD youth with disabilities to achieve their desired outcomes after high school?
This Essential Tool is designed to help answer the key questions for teachers, counselors, transition specialists, and other personnel involved in transition planning and services for CLD youth with disabilities. This topic is important because demographic trends project that the number of CLD students in the United States will increase from about one-third of total students currently to about one-half by 2040 (Archer, 2000).
How This Essential Tool Is Organized
This Essential Tool consists of parts described below that focus on cultural and other issues that may influence the transition process for CLD youth with disabilities. Each part also has individual “tools” that offer practical support and guidance for transition personnel. The tools either condense important information in a concise format or provide guidance for conducting key transition activities. These tools can be photocopied and distributed as needed.
This part includes an overview of the primary ethnic/racial groups in the United States with a focus on information related to disability and education. It also summarizes challenges that tend to be particularly significant for CLD youth with disabilities and briefly describes how transition personnel can help address these challenges.
This part explores the contrasts between “individualistic” values that tend to be held within the American mainstream and the “collectivistic” values that tend to be more common among CLD groups. An explanation follows of how the transition process and goals of youth with disabilities and their families may be shaped by their cultural values and how values may influence the concept of “self-determination.”
This part explores the concept of cultural competence and how transition personnel can individualize services and supports through the use of proven strategies such as cultural reciprocity, person-centered planning, and resource mapping.
At the end of the Essential Tool, additional resources are described that provide more extensive information on relevant topics and are available on the Internet.
Ensuring Practices Presented Are Evidence-Based
The information summarized in this Essential Tool was gathered through a range of professional activities over the past 15 years, including preparing and teaching courses for pre-service and in-service professionals in special education and counseling/rehabilitation, conducting research in the areas of transition and diversity, and the authors’ attendance of conferences on special education, transition, diversity, and related topics. Also an extensive search of the published literature and the Internet sought resources on disabilities, cultural and linguistic diversity, and transition, which are the three key topics addressed by this Essential Tool. The results are summarized in a forthcoming article (Leake et al., in press) and are also available at a Web site (http://www.cld.hawaii.edu) in the form of an annotated bibliography of more than 400 references and links to more than 200 relevant Web sites. In writing this Essential Tool, the authors carefully focused on research- and evidence-based practices.
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Citation: Leake, D., & Black, R. (2005). Essential tools: Cultural and linguistic diversity: Implications for transition personnel. Minneapolis,
MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National
Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.