Disability in the Latino Community

The views within the Latino community on disability are very similar across Latino groups. However, these views cannot be bundled together for the whole community. The views, perceptions, and approach to disability by the Latino community and by Latino individuals or families vary depending on many factors which include socio-economic status, country of origin, and living situation (urban vs. rural living). Just like in many other cultures, Latinos may hide a family member with a disability, will not ask for help, and will rearrange their lives so that the family member with a disability is taken care of. It can be a matter of pride for many Latino families that the family can manage its own affairs; however, there it can also be a matter of shame that the disability exists. There are also very strong family bonds within the Latino community which can become a two-sided coin for people with disabilities: being taken care of vs. becoming independent.

With all this in mind, what happens to Latinos with disabilities within the US is dependent on many variables including acculturation, English proficiency, where they live, stereotypes, and low expectations – along with the aforementioned cultural views on disability. “As a Latina who is blind, I have first-person experience with the low expectations and assumptions of the majority culture,” states Proyecto Visión project director Kathy Martinez. “I have seen many disabled Latinos live down to these diminished expectations. They become overwhelmed by isolation, are disconnected from the service delivery system and don’t have disabled Latino professionals to look up to or network with. Unfortunately, even those who do access resources often are not receiving appropriate service.”

Within the US, the Latino disability community faces many barriers in finding services or programs that help. These barriers include language, networking, collaboration, advocacy, and communication. For example, differences in language may be a source of embarrassment for some Latinos with disabilities and this can act as a disincentive to participate. Others may me afraid that they will compromise their legal status if they apply for government services. Immigrants may not be accostumed to advocating for their rights. They also may not be comfortable with the aggressive navigation that is needed to gain access to opportunities.

To help the Latino disability community within the US, outreach and education programs are imperative that can provide information to families in reference to programs and opportunities available to them. Agencies need to include bilingual/bicultural professionals and it is important that these agencies and programs are in touch with the norms and cultural values of the population being served. Improving vocational rehabilitation services for Latinos may include encouraging multiple interpretation of independent living and definitions of success; reducing processes that may be disincentives; and making the system easier for Latino jobseekers with disabilities by hiring bilingual/bicultural job developers who can serve as peer role models.

A report from the World Institute on Disabilities on Latinos with disabilites in the US provides more information on this topic. The following resources are just a few of those out there that provides services, information, or resources to Latinos with disabilities.

  • The National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH) works to close the gap betweenresearch, services, and policy; scientific discovery and benefit to the individual; and community services and medical practice. They do this by focusing on such things as descision-making that takes into account science, culture and community; health care providers being able to tailor care to the individual; and individuals having the tools and resources to manage their health.
  • ABLEDATA provides information that is objective on assistive technology and rehabilitation equipment that is available from domestic and international sources. They provide the information on how to contact the manufacturers and distributors of these projects.
  • Remember that NARIC’s information specialists also provide information and assistance: NARIC provides information, resources, and referrals in English and Spanish via phone, chat, and email. This includes a list of Spanish language resources.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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