The Need for Culturally Appropriate Strategies in Promoting Self-Determination Among Individuals with Disabilities

Main Article Content

Patricia Welch Saleeby


culture, empowerment, diversity


While strategies promoting self-determination have been effective in the United States and other Westernized countries, these identical approaches and “best practices” are not necessarily effective in cultures that do not embrace the same individualistic values.  In these settings and situations, culturally appropriate approaches are necessary to engage these individuals with disabilities and their families while promoting similar principles underlying self-determination, empowerment, social justice, and rights. This article provides an overview of some traditional strategies promoting self-determination and/or empowerment and then discusses how these are not always useful in practicing with culturally diverse population groups even in the United States. Alternative approaches are described such as the access to culturally diverse resources and community-based rehabilitation that adhere to specific cultural beliefs, values, and practices but still promote some level of empowerment among individuals with disabilities. Evidence drawn from the literature as well as professional experience will be used to discuss the relevance and implementation of these respective strategies in terms of their strengths – namely, empowering individuals with disabilities as well as supporting/embracing family, religion, spirituality, and overall cultural diversity.
Abstract 246 | PDF Downloads 29 Word Downloads 14 Text Downloads 31


Artiles, A. J., Rueda, R., Salazar, J. J., & Higareda, I. (2005). Within-group diversity in minority disproportionate representation: English language learners in urban school districts. Exceptional Children, 71, 283-300.

Asch, A. (1986). Will populism empower the disabled? Social Policy, 16(3), 12-18.

Bremer, C. D., Kachgal, M., & Schoeller, K. (2003). Self-determination: Supporting successful transition. National Center on Secondary Education and Transition Research to Practice Brief, 2(1). Retrieved from

Brightman, J. D. (2005). Asian culture brief: Japan. National Technical Assistance Center, AAPI Information Brief Series, 2(6). Retrieved from

Bwana, O., & Kyohere, O. (2001). Parents role in CBR. In S. Harley (Ed.) CBR: A participatory strategy in Africa (pp. 117-126). London, UK: University College London, Centre for International Child Health.

Center on Self-Determination (2011). Self-determination – Your rights. Retrieved from

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide to promoting self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Hall, E. (1981). Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday.

Helander, E. (1993). Prejudice and dignity: An introduction to community-based rehabilitation. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

Hampton, N. (2000). Meeting the unique needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with disabilities: A challenge to rehabilitation counselors in the 21st century. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 31(1), 40-46.

Kim, K., & Morningstar, M. E. (2005.) Transition planning involving culturally and linguistically diverse families. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 28, 92-103.

Leake, D. W., Black, R. S., & Roberts, K. (2004). Assumptions in transition planning: Are they culturally sensitive? Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3), pp. 1, 28-29. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

Leong, F. (1986). Counseling and psychotherapy with Asian Americana: Review of the literature. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 33, 196-206.

Leong, T. L., Wagner, N. S., & Tata, S. P. (1995). Racial and ethnic variations in help-seeking attitudes. In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 415-438). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lord, J., & Hutchison, P. (1993). The process of empowerment: Implications for theory and practice. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 12(1), 5-22.

McFarlane, F.R., Farley, T.H., Guerrero, J.L., & Galea’i, K.E. (1996). Embracing diversity in rehabilitation in Pacific cultures. American Rehabilitation, 22(2), 20-28.

Mitchell, R. (1999). The research base of community based rehabilitation. Disability and Rehabilitation, 21(10–11), 459–468.

National Research Council (2001). Minority students in special education and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Richter, S. (2007). Impact of cultural and linguistic diversity on self-determination skills and perceptions. Multicultural Learning and Teaching, 2(1), Article 6.

Scheer & Groce (1988). Impairment as a Human Constant: Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Variation. Journal of Social Issues, 44, 23-37.

Smith, P., & Routel, C. (2010). Transition failure: The cultural bias of self-determination and the journey to adulthood for people with disabilities. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(1), 175-182.

Sue, D. W. (1990). Counseling the Culturally Different (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Trainor, A. (2002). Self-determination for students with learning disabilities: Is it a universal value? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15, 711-725.

Trainor, A. (2005). Self-determination perceptions and behaviors of diverse students with LD during the transition planning process. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38, 233-249.

Trainor, A., Lindstrom, L., Simon-Burroughs, M., Martin, J. E., & Sorrells, A. M. (2008). From marginalized to maximized opportunities for diverse youths with disabilities: A position paper of the Division on Career Development and Transition. Career Development for Exceptional Children, 31, 56-64.

Turnbull, A., & Turnbull, H. (2001). Self determination for individuals with significant cognitive disabilities and their families. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 26(1), 56-62.

U.S. Bureau of the Census (2011). The Hispanic population: 2010. Retrieved from

Wallerstein, N. (1992). Powerlessness, empowerment, and health: Implications for health promotion programs. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6, 197-205.

Wehmeyer, M. (1998). Self-determination and individuals with significant disabilities: Examining meanings and misinterpretations. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 23(1), 5-16.

Wehmeyer, M. L., Abery, B., Mithaug, D. E., & Stancliffe, R. (2003). Theory in self-determination: Foundations for educational practice. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Wehmeyer, M., & Schwartz, M. (1997). Self-determination and positive adult outcomes: A follow-up study of youth with mental retardation or learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 63, 245-255.

Wiley-Exley, E. (2007). Evaluations of community mental health care in low- and middle-income countries: a 10-year review of the literature. Social Science and Medicine, 64, 1231–1241.

Wong-Hernandez, L., & Wong, D.W. (2002). The effects of language and culture variables to the rehabilitation of bilingual and bicultural consumers: A review of literature study focusing on Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans. Disability Studies Quarterly, 22(2), 101-119.

World Health Organization (2010). Community Based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Youngtae, C. (2001). Disability status differentials across fifteen Asian and Pacific Islander groups and the effects of nativity and duration or residence in U.S. Social Biology, 48(3/4), 171-195.

Zhang, D. (2005). Parent practices in facilitating self-determination skills: The influences of context, socioeconomic status, and children’s special education status. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 30(3), 154-162.

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.