Round Table Summary: Outreach to Minorities with Disabilities and People with Disabilities in Rural Communities

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August 4, 1997

NCD convened a roundtable discussion on Outreach to Minorities with Disabilities and People with Disabilities in Rural Communities on August 4, 1997, in Atlanta, Georgia.  The participants represented a range of disabilities, ages, organizations, ethnicities, and geographic environments. Yet, there was consensus that the needs of "minorities"-people from diverse cultures and backgrounds-with disabilities and people with disabilities living in rural communities warrant ongoing attention in all aspects of the fabric of American public policy.  Effective outreach programs, which are an important vehicle for communicating public policy to underserved groups and involving underserved groups in the public policy process, cannot be initiated, implemented and/or sustained without respect, understanding, and sensitivity toward racial, ethnic and geographic diversity.  Accordingly, it is very important to utilize natural support systems to make outreach meaningful and productive. But the best outreach programs are doomed to failure if the agency or entity conducting the outreach is neither flexible enough to be inclusive nor to examine its existing policies, procedures, and services to ensure meaningful minority involvement.

The participants in the Round Table recommended the following:

  • Recommit to the requirements articulated in the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, especially Section 21, and other federal laws, by developing a national agenda regarding diversity and disability that accounts for local variations and is consistent, dynamic, and politically viable
  • Develop ongoing education and training which includes all components of federal disability policy and disability civil rights laws concerning awareness, knowledge, and ability to assert one's rights among people with disabilities from diverse and rural communities.
  • Ongoing education and training initiatives must acknowledge that many federal laws do not apply on Indian reservations and other tribal land. Nonetheless, such education and training programs should make extra efforts to communicate federal policy to people living on tribal lands and to involve them in the policy making process. Likewise, education and training strategies for American Indians and Alaska Natives living "off" tribal lands should recognize many strong connections to cultures and languages.
  • Leadership development is needed so that mainstream disability leadership reflects geographic, racial/ethnic, and disability diversity with a clear approach to systems change.
  • Lack of adequate attention to accessibility issues permeates all aspects of American society and government programs including public rehabilitation.
  • Technology must be used appropriately as a tool to advance the message and mission of diversity and disability methods that are focused on specific problem resolution.