Providing Accessible Services to Minority Ethnic Deaf People: Insights from a Study in Alberta, Canada

Article excerpt

Evidence suggests that minority ethnic people in general and minority ethnic deaf people (MEDP) in particular face numerous formidable obstacles in their attempts to gain access to services in the community. Deaf people from minority ethnic groups who have no English and/or American Sign Language (ASL) skills have particular difficulty gaining access to services. The study therefore was concerned with identifying some of the special needs and difficulties of MEDP who are trying to gain access to services in multiethnic communities. Qualitative approaches were used in data gathering and analysis. The results indicated six areas of difficulty for MEDP in gaining access to services: (a) communication barriers, (b) a lack of recognition of the needs of MEDP, (c) inappropriate service delivery and a lack of information on available services, (d) insufficient cultural sensitivity on the part of service providers, (e) issues of user involvement, and (f) a lack of specific programs for MEDP.

Evidence suggests that ethnic minority groups (including deaf people) constitute the fastest-growing segment of youth population in multiethnic countries such as Canada and the United States, yet relatively little literature is available to enlighten clinicians, educators, professionals, and social workers about the problems and needs of these people (Anderson & Bowe, 2001; Gibbs & Huang, 1998). Evidence suggests that ethnic minority children and adolescents both with and without disabilities often face unique problems in their development and adjustment to mainstream society and its services (Vargas & Koss-Chioino, 1992). Indeed, Gibbs and Huang describe ethnic minority groups as a population at risk for behavioral and psychological problems because of their minority status, their low socioeconomic status, and their limited access to education, health, and mental health services. These authors observe that despite a rapid increase in population, ethnic minorities remain literally and figuratively misunderstood, mislabeled, and mistreated.

Brondino et al. (1997) note that the development of services that are responsive to the needs of racial and ethnic minorities remains a major challenge to all social service systems in many multiethnic countries. In the area of mental health, for instance, Brondino et al. report that services in the United States, for example, have not been sufficiently responsive to the needs of ethnic minority clients. According to these authors, when compared with the White majority, ethnic minority populations are less likely to use mental health services, more likely do drop out of treatment prematurely, and less likely to openly discuss their problems with therapists. Nonetheless, according to Brondino and colleagues, ethnic minority groups experience a higher rate of exposure to stressors arising from cultural and integrational conflicts and prejudicial and discriminatory practices than the cultural majority. Among the reasons advanced by Brondino et al. for this situation is the failure of traditional mental health services to adequately address cultural factors that are important to ethnic minority clients and the difficulties these clients often encounter in seeking access to these services.

Mason, Benjamin, and Lewis (1996) observe that in addition to the problems of differential value and belief systems, obstacles to service access by ethnic minorities include greater poverty, differential treatment, linguistic barriers, and the failure of service professionals to distinguish between culturally adaptive and maladaptive behavior. Gibbs and Huang (1998) note that most of the human services and mental health professionals who provide services to ethnic minorities lack adequate information, applicable training, or appropriate resources to address the problems and needs of these groups. Indeed, Brondino et al. (1997) argue:

Given the expanding roles of ethnic minorities in society and the problems that minority groups experience in relation to traditional therapies, alternative therapies capable of addressing the needs of cultural minorities need to be developed, validated, and disseminated across systems of care. …