Cultural Issues in the Rehabilitation of Hispanics

Article excerpt

This article identifies five issues that are important for rehabilitation counselors to keep in mind as they provide services to persons of Hispanic origin: (a) developing greater sensitivity and respect for individual differences among Hispanic clients, (b) separating the effects of culture from the effects of socio-economic status, (c) exercising caution in interpreting and generalizing research findings, (d) exercising caution in the use of standardized tests, and (e) obtaining the best written and spoken language translation. These recommendations are based upon a review of some 60 references. Implications for rehabilitation practice are drawn.

The Hispanic population of the United States is one of the fastest growing segments of the nation (Cuban American Policy Center, 1989). Immigration, together with high fertility rates (Schreiber & Homiak, 1981), has led to an increase of 90% (Bean, Stephen, & Optiz, 1985) in the past decade. Furthermore, by the year 2000, Hispanics will be the largest minority population in the nation (Ponterotto, 1987). In addition, Hispanics are a youthful population and according to Cordova (1991): "By 1992 over 50% of all people under age 30 in the Southwest will be Hispanic" (p. C1). Brown (1990), in describing rehabilitation needs for the year 2000, noted the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and in particular, the increased population of Hispanics.

Not only does the growth of the Hispanic population increase the demand for services, but so also does the fact that Hispanics experience a proportionally higher rate of physical, mental, and emotional disabilities (Angel, 1985; Bowe, 1981, 1984; DeJong & Lifchez, 1983; National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, 1989). Also, it is apparent that Hispanics experience a cluster of problems including low income, discrimination, lack of education, employment in physically demanding and dangerous jobs, unemployment, poor health, poor health care utilization, and lack of insurance coverage (Angel, 1985; Angel & Cleary, 1984; Bean, Stephen, & Optiz, 1985; Betances, 1981; Castillo, 1983; Dicker & Dicker, 1982; Dixon & Bridges, 1979; Fierro & Leal, 1988; Garcia, 1984; McLemore & Romo, 1985; Schreiber & Homiak, 1981; Suazo, 1986).

While the number of Hispanics in the higher income levels increased in the 1980s, economic indicators pointed to an overall decline in Hispanic affluence. A dual Hispanic reality began to emerge -- one in which a few Hispanics were becoming well-off while most were dropping below the national average income level (Cuba American Policy Center, 1989, p. 12). O'Brien (1990) noted that the median family income of Hispanics fell 5.7% from 1979 to 1988 compared to increases of 2.5% and 1.8% for black and white families, respectively. In addition, Hispanics were 23% more likely to be poor in 1988 than in 1979, and more than 1 in 4 (26.9%) Hispanic Americans lived in poverty in 1988. Fierro and Leal (1988) report that Hispanics have the lowest educational achievement

of any ethnic group in the United States.

Rehabilitationists have long known that the presence of a disability predisposes an individual to lower levels of income (Bowe, 1981, 1984). It is also known that membership in an ethnic minority compounds the effect of disability upon economic status. If the minority individual with the disability is a woman, she belongs to three categories which predispose her to poverty: disability, ethnic group, and sex.

Further adding to the need for high quality and accessible rehabilitation services for Hispanics is the serious shortage of qualified bilingual, bicultural rehabilitation counselors (Linskey, Arnold, & Hancock, 1983). Further, there is an even greater need for women bilingual, bicultural rehabilitation counselors. Public and private rehabilitation compete for the few Hispanic rehabilitation professionals. …

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