The following is a guest contribution from Ralph Edwards, Director of the Office of Citizen Leadership at the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services. Ralph is also the chair of TASH’s National Agenda Committee on Diversity and Cultural Competency.
Most of us in the disability community acknowledge our indebtedness to the Civil Rights Movement for its template on social change and its direct contributions to disability rights. In recent months, several national disability advocacy organizations – TASH, National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability (AAIDD), National Down Syndrome Congress, and Autism Society of America (ASA) – signed a Disability Community Resolution committing themselves to promoting and maintaining cultural and linguistic competency as a means to achieving diversity within their organizations and the disability community.
The actions of these organizations include self-reflection through periodic cultural competency assessment, participation in multi-level cultural competency training and dedication of resources. The recognition of the intersection of disability and diversity and its disparate impact on health, employment, deployment of services and supports, education and other quality of life factors presents a formidable challenge. The organizations are to be commended for their commitment and leadership.
Black History Month is a propitious time to acknowledge these organizations and cite the continued urgency to propel the disability community forward regarding diversity. Education, health, and employment data present a devastating picture of the disparities experienced by people of color. The historical “color blind” approach of the disability community needs to transform to an aggressive, focused movement to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community. If we can concurrently become more effective advocates and increase the participation of individuals of color as members, officers, staff, conference participants, journal contributors, etc., we not only address the disparities; we strengthen and enrich our organizations, the disability community and our society.
TASH is holding a webinar series entitled Cultural Competency – Engaging Underserved Populations. Find more information here.
In October 2010 TASH held a Symposium for Change to address disparities in health, education and employment for people of diverse backgrounds. A special issue of Connections that covers the results of the symposium will be available soon. Find more information in the Diversity and Cultural Competency section of this site.