February 25, 2024

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How Cultural Sensitivity and Labeling Affect Individuals With Intellectual Disabilities

Cultural sensitivity is defined as knowing of the differences that exist between cultures. Also, being aware these differences have an effect on learning and behaviors. Examples of Cultural Sensitivity are attending cultural events or religious centers; changing an individual’s environment or discussing life experiences relating to a person’s culture. Labeling is defined as describing someone in a short word or phrase whether positive or negative. Examples of Labeling are calling a person a name which can damage self-image; categorizing a person in a group without their consent or indirect labeling (using an incorrect term to describe an individual).

The elements of cultural sensitivity and labeling are very important for staff, clinicians, health professionals and family members to be aware of. Recognizing the importance of your person’s culture is important. Culture shapes their personality and a part of their environment; culture may even influence challenging behaviors. Recognizing that diversity affects communication and participation is also important. For example, maybe the individual is not used to being around different races or experiencing different cultures. This is especially true given America’s increasingly diverse patient population and the disparities in the health status of people from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. To value diversity a person must respect the differences seen in other people, including customs, thoughts, behaviors, communication styles, values, traditions, and institutions. The language barrier is one of the main components that can cause cultural insensitivity and labeling. For example, an individual may communicate in English but prefer to speak in Spanish or vice versa.

Active treatment which is also active participation occurs when individuals are engaged in positive activities. Participation increases when both the staff and individual are accepting of cultural norms. Conversely, the assumption that a common culture is shared by all members of a racial, linguistic, or religious group is incorrect. The larger group may share common historic and geographic experiences, but individuals within the group may share nothing beyond that. The way a staff handles an individual’s behavior in a new environment is critical in building cultural sensitivity. For example, the person maybe from another borough, state or even country. Adapting to their environment will only help them feel more comfortable. Education is the key and most important element. Not everyone was born or raised in the same place so it’s important that staff have willingness to learn about traditions or characteristics of cultures to relate better to their individuals. Simple things like learning a few words in Spanish to communicate better with your Hispanic individual can go a long way.

One of the biggest obstacles in implementing person-centered planning occurs when staffs do not understand their individual. Whether from a different race, religion or background, individuals with disabilities deserve the same rights and opportunities we possess. Labeling can also be insensitive and damage relationships with individuals. Furthermore, it is imperative that we as staff educate other on accepting cultures. Person-centered planning occurs is specific to every individual’s goals or objectives. Engaging in more cultural activities builds awareness among staff and relationship with your individual.

There are many ways a staff, clinician, and health professional or family member can interact with a person in culturally sensitive ways. A culturally sensitive manager, staff or clinician should view all patients as unique individuals and realizes that their experiences, beliefs, values, and language affect their perceptions of clinical service delivery, acceptance of a diagnosis, and compliance. If your individual is from the West Indies, coordinating community inclusion trips to local West Indian restaurants will not be sufficient. Maintaining and building a relationship with the family is very important. Talk with the family about what the individual likes, what does he/she do for fun? How does he/she participate in family functions? Members of the support circle must also recognize their own cultural values and draw parallels where possible; Listen to your individuals about past experiences, how was it growing up in another country? What they miss about it? In addition, be sensitive to the fact that people may communicate differently in language, voice or body language. Avoid labeling and refrain from saying “I don’t understand” They should also identify any prejudices and stereotypes that prevent them from communicating effectively with patients from different cultures. One of the most critical mistakes a staff can make is comparing an individual’s culture to their own or to another person. For example, your individual would like to go to the Spanish restaurant for lunch but the staff says they don’t like Spanish food because its too greasy, fried chicken and black eyed peas are better!” Think of the repercussions of this statement and how the individual will feel because you are judging his/her preference. Moreover, always empathizes with your individual. What if you were in their position, how would you react? How would you continue to maintain your lifestyle? Be open to everything! Life is full of experiences and social awareness builds character for the staff and individuals. Developing a cultural competent attitude is a process but not a difficult process. Be sensitive to cultural differences when using nonverbal communication. For example, a touch has many cultural meanings. Support staff must be aware that personal space has different boundaries in different cultures

Labeling with dignity is also very important and it builds self-esteem. The only ways to advance from stereotypes or social stigmas are to promote abilities and not limit the people you work with. For example, the last thing most individuals in our group homes want to be labeled is “disabled” or “retarded”. Why not give them that opportunity and emphasize dignity. Allowing individuals to speak up for themselves will also decrease labeling. Choices and independence are very important. Never use words or terms to evoke pity. Most individuals with disabilities do not want you to feel sorry for them, they would rather you help them live a normal life. That is most important to them.

Many beliefs, values and attitudes affect the actions of a person therefore people must improve awareness in order to increase positive behavior. Cultural, societal and family factors influence our beliefs values and attitudes. These same factors have contributed to our beliefs and attitudes about persons with developmental disabilities, especially those who exhibit challenging behavior. Beliefs and attitudes can change therefore belief systems are likely to influence our own actions in dealing with persons with developmental disabilities. Each person is unique in his/her needs and learning style therefore encouraging positive expectations have a positive effect on the behavior of others. Regardless of one’s handicap, all persons can learn and grow and we must learn each person is of equal human value and deserving of respect. Each person deserves quality services and is deserving of our best efforts.