Rehabilitation Cultural Diversity Initiative: A Regional Survey of Cultural Diversity within CILs

Article excerpt

The rapidly changing demographics in this country have been well documented (Feist-Price, 1995; Fobbs, 1994; Leung, 1993; Thomas, 1991; Whitfield, 1994; Wright, 1993). Based on the 1990 National Census data, it is projected that by the year 2010, ethnic and racial minorities (Asian Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics) as a group will constitute a 51% population majority in the United States, with Caucasians becoming a minority (Wheaton, 1995; Walton, 1994). Along with this demographic shift, it has also been projected that a higher percentage of racial and ethnic minorities will enter the workforce in service and other labor intensive jobs. A number of contributing factors, including living conditions and employment situations, will result in many of those entrants sustaining injuries requiring rehabilitation (Walker, 1987).

The ability of the nation's rehabilitation system to meet the needs of racial and ethnic minorities with disabilities (i.e., equitable provision of services) has been questioned (Dziekan & Okocha, 1993; GAO, 1993; Giles, 1993; Atkins & Wright, 1980). Giles (1993) observed that concerns about the system have a historical basis as research from the 1970s found that Hispanic Americans were more likely than their white counterparts to be found ineligible for vocational rehabilitation services. Data from the General Accounting Office (GAO) report, Vocational Rehabilitation: Evidence of Federal Programs Effectiveness is Mixed (1993), based on 1988 case service reports, suggests that African-Americans and other ethnic minorities (a) do not receive services at the same rate and (b) are closed out of vocational rehabilitation services at a disproportionately higher rate than their non-minority counterparts. More recently, findings of Section 21 of the 1992 Amendments to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act address continued problems in the vocational rehabilitation system:

Patterns of inequitable treatment of minorities have been documented in all major junctures of the vocational process. As compared to White-Americans, a larger percentage of African-American applicants to the vocational rehabilitation system are denied acceptance, Of the applicants accepted for service, a larger percentage of African-American cases are closed without being rehabilitated. Minorities are provided less training than their white counterparts. Consistently, less money is spent on minorities than on their white counterparts.

Section 21 findings from the 1992 Rehabilitation Act Amendments (hereafter referred to as 'the Act') identifies issues and problems associated with the provision of services to minorities within the public vocational rehabilitation system. However, a paucity of information exists on services available and/or being extended to minorities under other titles of the Act, including independent living services and centers for independent living. Section 704(1) - Outreach, for example, specifically requires centers funded under Title VII of the Act to "set forth steps to be taken regarding outreach to populations that are unserved or underserved...including minority groups, urban and rural populations" (pg. 101).

The Rehabilitation Cultural Diversity Initiative (RCDI) emanated, in part, from the above referenced findings of Section 21 and targeted all programs within public rehabilitation. Funded by Rehabilitation Services Administration's (RSA) as a five year initiative, the RCDI identified two goals: Goal 1 - Provide and enhance equal access, quality services and outcomes within the public rehabilitation programs for individuals with disabilities representing cultural diversity; and Goal 1 - Expand career development in rehabilitation for individual representing cultural diversity employed in the public rehabilitation program. Fobbs (1994) observed that the RDCI goals were "broad and comprehensive" (p. 54).

Purpose Statement

This article focuses on three areas: (1) a brief review of independent living centers and the movement which preceded their establishment; (2) results of a survey describing diversity within independent living centers in a federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) region; and (3) considerations and strategies for outreach to traditionally unserved and underserved populations referenced in Title VII of the Act. …