2004 Conference Proceedings

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Myisha Reed, B.A.
California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
660 J Street, Suite 270
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 325-1690
Email: myisha@cfilc.org

Michael Newton
California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
660 J Street, Suite 270
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 325-1690
Email: jedimike03ILR@yahoo.com

Disability data has consistently shown that members of ethnic minority groups have higher rates of disability than their Caucasian counterparts (Fujiura, Yamaki & Czechowicz, 1998). This disparity has been attributed to many factors, including language barriers, limited education and low literacy rates (Smart & Smart, 1997; Miller, 2002; Santana & Santana, 2001). California is currently one of the most diverse states in the United States. Nearly 20% of people speak English less than "very well" and 11% are linguistically isolated (U.S. Census Bureau 2000, Language Spoken at Home). In examining the barriers and usage of assistive technology (AT), it would seem ethnic culture and non-English language access would be very important in the acquisition process. This has been identified as an important research issue for the Community Research for AT Project.

The Community Research for Assistive Technology Project (CR4AT), a project of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers in collaboration with the California State University, Northridge - Center on Disabilities, is conducting research on the use of AT by Californians with disabilities. Part of this project is dedicated to examining and understanding how and why AT is or is not effective for ethnic minorities. Research priorities include the following:

To address these priorities, CR4AT has held a total of 43 focus groups, including sessions organized by African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Latino and Native American population types. The Survey on Language and Assistive Technology Vendors and Service Providers was also developed as a self-assessment for AT vendors and service providers who provide services in California. The purpose of this survey is to determine what levels of service are available to people with little or no English skills from AT vendors and service providers. This presentation will be an opportunity to discuss the current findings and develop ways to remove remaining barriers.


Participants were identified through the AT Network Service Directory, the 2003 CSUN International Technology for Persons with Disabilities Conference, the Employers Access Conference and the 2003 National Council on Independent Living Conference. A cover letter and pre-paid self-addressed return envelope were included in the mailing. Thus far, 800 surveys have been mailed out and 84 completed surveys have been returned, approximately 10%.

Survey Construction
The languages options used for the survey were identified from the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (California Most Commonly Spoken Languages) as the language data from the 2000 Census was not available during survey development. According to this document, the top six spoken languages included Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, Tagalog and Mandarin (respectively). An "Other" option with an opportunity to include any other languages not listed was also available.

The survey was piloted with 8 people for ease of use. Initially the survey was available in print, but is now also available on the Internet http://atnet.org/CR4AT/surveys/language.html. The survey began in March 2003 and will continue through September 2004.

Of the current 84 respondents, 52 held management positions (62%), 17 held supervisor positions (20%), 11 were line staff (13%) and 4 worked in human resources (5%). The majority of respondents had a staff size of 5-15 people (38%) and were located in urban areas (58%). 36% were affiliated with service organizations, 23% with educational, 15% with manufacturers, 14% with sales/retail, 6% health, 5% government and 1% management/consultant. The majority of these organizations covered national (33%) and multi-county (31%) service areas.

Spoken Language
Of the 84 respondents, 58% indicated Spanish was spoken in their organizations. Only 32% indicated English was the only spoken language available.

AT Products
Thirty-seven, or 44% of the surveyed organizations responded that they carry products in a language other than English. Of these responses, Spanish, Vietnamese and Hmong were the highest responses (24 responses, 3 responses and 3 responses, respectively). Seven, or 15%, carried these products in more than one language. Of the 22 respondents who included a reason why they did not provide products in non-English languages, the two most common responses for the lack of availability included low demand (8 responses) and high cost (5 responses).

Printed Instructions for AT Products
While English was the only language in which instructions for AT devices were available for half of the respondents (42), 42% also printed in Spanish and 8% printed in multiple non-English languages.

Trainings for AT Products
The majority of respondents (65%) reported their organizations did provide trainings on AT products in languages other than English. The top languages included Spanish (44%) and Tagalog (5%). 12% of respondents provided trainings in multiple non-English languages.

Printed Materials
The majority of respondents reported they only printed materials in English (56%). Of the remaining 44%, just over half (56%) reported having materials available was Spanish.

Multi-lingual AT
65% of the 84 respondents indicated they were not able to accommodate a consumer interested in obtaining AT with multi-lingual capabilities (i.e. English and Spanish). The majority of respondents indicated they had not experienced any demand for this feature (35%). Even when multi-lingual AT was available, almost half reported that it was not utilized (45%).

The purpose of this survey is to examine potential issues affecting minorities with disabilities in California. Current data suggests many of the current respondents may not be aware of the seriousness of this subject. When asked what action they would take if presented with a consumer who spoke little or no English and needed AT, most indicated not applicable (36%), 11% would refer the consumer to another agency and 6% indicated they would not be able to help the consumer at all. Only 29% indicated they would locate and use a language translation service. In this scenario, a consumer might not receive proper assistance half of the time. The results suggest non-English consumers indeed may be un-served or underserved by AT vendors and service providers in California.

Although the recruited participants for this survey are AT stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds, the responses and overall attitudes appear to be very similar. When these researchers further examined the demand for multi-lingual AT based on community type (urban, suburban, rural), the data overall did not change. The highest responses remained in the no demand category, with 58% reporting no demand for urban areas, 62% for rural and 53% for suburban.

At first glance this may suggest there is no need for multi-lingual services (and other similar services) because there is no demand. But if this is paired with previous data, this could be because people do not know these products and services are available. Although businesses reported obtaining consumers through agency referrals (70%), trade shows (52%), community events (48%) and more, if all available products and services are not available in the appropriate formats, how can this be accurate? If businesses and organizations cannot ensure communication with potential consumers, the level of demand cannot be relied upon.


Fujiura, G.T., Yamaki, K. & Czechowicz, S. (1998). Disability among ethnic and racial minorities in the United States: A summary of economic status and family structure. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 9(2), 111-130.

Miller, D. (2002). An introduction to Jamaican culture for rehabilitation service providers. CIRRIE Monograph Series, Jamaica. Retrieved September, 2002 from http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/mseries.html

Santana, S. & Santana, F.O. (2001). Mexican culture and disability: Information for U.S. service providers. CIRRIE Monograph Series, Mexico. Retrieved September, 2002 from http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/mseries.html

Smart, J.F. & Smart, D.W. (1997). The racial/ethnic demography of disability. The Journal of Rehabilitation, 63(4), 9-15.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2003). Table 4. Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over by State: 2000. Census 2000.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002). California Most Commonly Spoken Languages. Survey of the States' Limited English Proficient Students and Available Education Programs and Services, 2000-2001. Retrieved January, 2003 from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/states/reports/statedata/2001/pdffiles/California-Comp.pdf

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