Developmental disabilities are conditions that affect an individual’s physical, intellectual, and behavioral abilities throughout a person’s life. Families raising a child with a developmental disability face many challenges when accessing services. Ethnic minorities face more difficulties when trying to access disability services. This is because ethnic minorities do not always have enough knowledge about community resources and service providers do not always speak their language or understand their culture.

The author’s family relied on the school system and government funded resources, but they did not know who to talk to or where to go for help. This is common for families of those with a disability, but it happens more with ethnic minorities. Since minorities face more challenges accessing services, they may go long periods of times before finding out their child has a developmental disability. Ethnic minorities are also under diagnosed for developmental disabilities.

Addressing the problem:
  1. Service providers can find resources in Spanish and English here to give to parents (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). This helps families better understand diagnoses. 
  2. Service providers can explain diagnoses in plain language. This can help families understand the effects of the diagnosis on their family.
  3. Service providers can have a list of local support groups for families. These groups help families to process and learn about available resources together.

English is a second language for many ethnic minorities who have come to the United States from all over the world. This can make it difficult to access disability resources. Some Hispanic/Latina mothers feel they do not understand the necessary information because of communication barriers. They felt topics were not explained to them as much as for other people. It is difficult to access services if no one speaks the person’s first language. Language barriers cost people services that could have improved their quality of life. Even when ethnic minorities do access services, these barriers may make it too difficult to use services correctly.

Addressing the problem:
  1. Resources should be provided in various languages to help ethnic minority families better understand diagnoses. Websites like can help families make sense of what diagnosis will mean for their lives.
  2. Providers can use translation services to help families. This can help them understand the terms and processes of what changes may occur in their lives.

A major barrier for ethnic minorities accessing and using resources is ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is an attitude that a person’s own culture is more important than someone else’s. Ethnocentrism happens when people do not understand and accept other cultures. This suggests that providers may not understand the cultural experiences of those they are serving. The United States has standards (National CLAS Standards) to urge healthcare professionals to be aware of other cultural practices and beliefs than their own. One vital standard healthcare professionals need to follow it to be responsive to other cultures in order to provide quality care.

Discrimination is another barrier for ethnic minorities accessing services. Discrimination is when people are treated unfairly, because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, age, disability, or another minority status. This contributes to ethnic minorities being referred less to disability services by professionals.

Addressing the problem:
  1. Service providers can find helpful tools for increase their understanding of other cultures here. (University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities)
  2. Providers should become familiar with how developmental disabilities are understood in other cultures. Wenqi Du, of LEND Illinois outlines important considerations here.

Read the full Accessing Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity fact sheet

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