On August 5, 1998, the National Council on Disability (NCD) held a public hearing in San Francisco on "Meeting the Unique Needs of People with Disabilities from Diverse Cultural Backgrounds." This hearing is part of a series of hearings and forums that NCD conducts to develop recommendations for improving the ability of federal policies and programs to serve diverse communities effectively. To encourage the participation of non-English speakers and specifically to ensure input from the Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino communities, the San Francisco hearing was conducted simultaneously in Spanish, English, and Cantonese. Although the hearing participants were from California and Hawaii, the issues raised have application at the national level. In six hours of testimony at the San Francisco hearing, more than 60 witnesses identified numerous barriers to full participation by individuals with disabilities from diverse cultures and their families. Three main barriers emerged from the testimony:
- Having a Seat at the Table: Barriers to Employment, Public Accommodations, Transportation, and Culturally Competent Service Delivery.
- Getting in the Door: Barriers to Citizenship.
- Being Recognized: Barriers to Accurate Demographic Data.
NCD has learned from grassroots witnesses that the best way to empower people from diverse cultures and their families to take full advantage of federal laws, programs, and services is to provide them with easy-to-understand, culturally appropriate information about what their rights are under various federal laws (e.g., ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, IDEA, the Fair Housing Act) and how best to exercise those rights when a violation occurs. NCD recommends that an interagency team composed of representatives from the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Small Business Administration, and Federal Communications Commission:
- develop and implement a large-scale outreach and training program targeted to people with disabilities from diverse cultural backgrounds and their families that will provide such information directly to the target audiences through a series of forums, workshops, and seminars across the country.
- recruit, train, and contract with a core group of people with disabilities from diverse cultural backgrounds and their family members to help develop the written materials and programs that will be used for the trainings, translate them into different languages with awareness of culturally appropriate terminology, and conduct the trainings once the materials are produced.
- include and accommodate often-overlooked groups among the people to be trained and include young adults with disabilities, people with disabilities living on Indian reservations and in other rural or isolated locations, people with mental health needs, and people with limited English proficiency.
- eliminate any potential financial barriers to participation so that the population trained will truly represent the population to be served.