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A qualitative study of the career development of Hispanics with disabilities.

The purpose of this research is to qualitatively examine the career development of a sample of Midwest Hispanics with disabilities. In order to contextualize the research presented in this article, we will discuss the following background topics: (a) Hispanics, disability, and employment; and (b) career development.

Hispanics, Disability, and Employment

"The term, Hispanic, is widely used by social scientists to refer to a very diverse group of people who share a history of Spanish colonialism in the American continent" (Arbona, 1995, p. 37). Although we will use the term, Hispanic, in this study, it is important to note that the broader term, Latino, is preferred by some (Arbona, 1995). The diversity of this group is reflected by the following self reported identification of 22,354,100 Hispanic respondents to the Current Population Survey (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991): 64% Mexican, 10.5% Puerto Rican, 4.9% Cuban, 13.7% Central or South American, and 6.9% other Hispanic. Most of these individuals reside in the South or Southwest United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991).

Although this group is quite diverse, they share some common risks. Specifically, they report low levels of education, which lead to low paying jobs and high rates of poverty (Morales & Bonilla, 1993). In addition, barriers to health care, which include language, lack of transportation, geographic inacessibility, and financial constraints, (Estrada, Trevino, & Ray, 1990), increase the risk of disability (Gilbert, 1980). Similarly, substance abuse (Leal, 1990), other health risk behaviors (e.g., smoking, dietary practices) (Marks, Garcia, & Solis, 1990), and the occupational hazards of migrant work (Cordes, 1988; Wilk, 1986; Rust, 1990) add to the risk of disability and chronic illness in Hispanics.

Migrant work is particularly common among Hispanics. In fact, most migrant workers in the U.S. are Hispanic (Slesinger & Pfeffer, 1992). This type of work, in and of itself, often adds to the risk of disability and seriously impedes career development. Migrants have higher incidences of hospitalization and chronic illness than the general population (Slesinger, Cristenson, & Cautley, 1986). In addition, the migrant nature of their work limits access to educational and career opportunities (Morales & Bonilla, 1993).

Career Development

For the purpose of this article, we will provide only a brief discussion of career development with special focus on the issues relevant to Hispanics. Readers are referred to Szymanski, Hershenson, Enright, and Ettinger (in press) for a more extensive discussion.

Career development is a complex topic (Brown, 1990), especially when considering people with disabilities (Szymanski et al., in press) and racial and ethnic minorities (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Osipow & Littlejohn, 1995). The definition of career development provides evidence of its complexity in relation to both Hispanics and people with disabilities. On the one hand, Brown and Brooks have suggested that "career development is, for most people, a lifelong process of getting ready to choose, choosing, and typically continuing to make choices from among the many occupations available in our society" (Brown & Brooks, 1984, p. ix). On the other hand, Osipow and Littlejohn (1995) have questioned the underlying assumption implicit in the definition of career development and in major career theories. "If work is not seen as a central life variable, if options and choices are not seen to be available so that individuals see themselves as having some control over their lives, or if social discrimination operates to distort the effects of individual's characteristics, then theoretically predictable behaviors cannot apply" (Osipow & Littlejohn, 1995, p. 255).

Although there has been considerable discussion about the relative applicability of theories to people with disabilities (see e.g., Conte, 1983; Curnow, 1989; Hershenson & Szymanski, 1992) and to minorities (see e.g., Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Leong, 1995; Okocha, 1994; Vondracek & Fouad, 1994), the issue is not a simple one, especially in application to heterogeneous groups, such as Hispanics (Arbona, 1995; Fouad, 1995). Recently, Szymanski et al. (in press) have suggested that theories, by their very nature, can be neither fully applicable or non-applicable to heterogeneous populations, such as people with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities. They have postulated that the constructs of the major theories fall into five groups (i.e., individual, context, mediating, environment, outcome), which should guide career planning.

The impacts of contextual and mediating factors are often overlooked in considering the career development of minorities (see e.g., Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Vondracek & Fouad, 1994) and people with disabilities (Szymanski et al., in press). A number of contextual factors are thought to mediate the relationship of Hispanics with the labor market. These include socioeconomic status, country of origin, immigration history, and generation level (Arbona, 1995). In addition, belief structures (e.g., acculturation, racial identity, self-efficacy), which are interrelated with the structural factors, influence educational and occupational aspirations and attainment (Fouad, 1995).

The mediating impact of culture is particularly salient in considering the career development of minorities with disabilities. Culture is a set of concepts, beliefs, and principles that influence how individuals view themselves and the world around them (Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron, 1993). "Impairment or disability is culturally constructed through ways of talking and treating and writing - through disability payments or begging as well as through professional treatises and the manipulation of stigma" (Whyte, 1995, pp. 267-268). So, too, meanings of work can vary across cultures (Quintanilla, 1991). Thus, career development of minorities with disabilities is complicated by the cultural construction of both work and disability.

Without doubt, the career development of minorities with disabilities is a complex phenomena, which is at a relatively early phase of study (see e.g., Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994). Qualitative research is a recommended technique when the phenomena of interest in not clearly defined (Biklen & Mosely, 1988; Marshall & Rossman, 1989; Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). In fact, Arbona (1995) has recommended the use of qualitative research in studying the career development of Hispanics in order to "allow for the observation and discovery of complex relationships between people and their surroundings" (p. 61). The purpose of this study, therefore, is to further the understanding of career development of Hispanics with disabilities through qualitative inquiry.

Research Design

The specific qualitative methodology chosen for this study was grounded theory (Glasser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The problem of interest was career development of Hispanics with physical disabilities. Given the developmental and lifelong nature of career development (Szymanski et al., in press), we believed that the problem was best understood through the experiences and perspectives of the individual participants. To that end, the following questions guided the inquiry.

1. What does work mean in your life?

2. What personal qualities do you have that have helped you in your career development?

3. What impact has your disability had on your career development and advancement?

In qualitative research, research questions are integrally linked to the problem of interest and are used to guide the early phases of inquiry (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). They are not tested like quantitative hypotheses (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The specific application of qualitative methodology to this study is described through discussion of (a) sampling and participants, (b) data collection, (c) data analysis, and (d) accuracy (i.e., validity and reliability).

Sampling and Participants

Participants in this study were ten adult Hispanics with disabilities receiving services from at least one of four identifying regional or state agencies at a medium-sized midwestern city. Selection criteria included being at least 18 years old, Hispanic, and having a physical or learning disability. Additionally, efforts were made to include both employed and unemployed individuals. Agencies that serve Hispanics with various social, educational, employment, religious, or grievance services were contacted to help identify the participants. To maintain participant confidentiality, agency workers made first contact with potential participants and with their consent forwarded their names and phone numbers or addresses to our research center. All participants were contacted by the researcher/interviewer and provided information about their participation. Fifteen participants were identified: one did not qualify because the primary disability was Chronic Mental Illness, one did not show up after scheduling two interviews at his home, and three were not interested in participating. All participants were provided a $50.00 stipend for completing two indepth interviews and a questionnaire.

Participants were seven women and three men. One participant was 24; two were in their thirties; four were in their forties, two were in their fifties; and one was 62. Six participants reported multiple disabilities. Specifically, three reported both arthritis and diabetes; one reported arthritis and hip surgery; one reported back injury, heart disease, and stroke; and one reported cancer and diabetes. Four participants reported single disabilities, which were back injury, hand injury, seizures, and dyslexia. Self-reported ethnic identity included five Mexican, two Mexican American, one Columbian, one Cuban, and one Honduran. Five participants were foreign born, but were legal residents and had lived and worked in the United States for more than 5 years. All the participants spoke Spanish, five were bilingual (English-Spanish) and five were monolingual Spanish.

At the time of the first interview, two of the participants had regular jobs, two held limited term employment (LTE) positions, and six were unemployed. Of the two participants with regular jobs one had an entry level position, and one was a paraprofessional. Prior to the onset of their disability (nine acquired), all participants had consistent work histories, indicating paid employment in a variety of jobs. Six participants had migrant agricultural work histories; five were still doing agricultural work at the time of the disability onset, and one had left agricultural work as a child and was now a paraprofessional. Three participants worked in entry level jobs (i.e., cleaning businesses, restaurant dishwasher, restaurant server). Of those, two were employed, one full-time and one LTE, at the time of the interview. One participant had worked in an industrial factory, but was unable to return to the same job and had LTE employment at the time of the interview.

Data Collection

Indepth interviews and questionnaires were used to collect all data. An informal, semi-structured, open-ended protocol, based on the research questions, was used to guide the interview questions. The protocol was used to obtain indepth descriptions and interpretations of experiences that participants perceived to have significantly influenced their career development, both before and after the onset of the disability. Validity of the protocol was addressed through the use of an expert panel of career development and rehabilitation researchers to refine the protocol to assure its consistency with the research questions.

The first author, who is Mexican American and bilingual, conducted all interviews. Two interviews were held with each participant. Time and place of the interview was determined by the participant. Nine interviews were conducted in the participant's home, and one was in the interviewer's office. Interviews ranged from two to six hours. Six interviews were conducted in Spanish, the other four were bilingual. The language used for the interview was established by the participants' preference. All interviews were audio tape recorded, with the consent of the participant.

The questionnaire was left with the participant after the first interview to fill out before or at the time of the second interview. Four participants asked for assistance with the questionnaire, the interviewer assisted with two and family members assisted with the other two. The questionnaire contained similar questions to those entertained during the interview. Questionnaires were available in both Spanish and English. Accuracy of the translation was addressed through translation by one individual and back translation by another individual.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

Twenty audio taped interviews were transcribed and analyzed - two (one "life history" and one "day in the life") for each of the ten participants. Pseudonyms were assigned and used throughout data analysis and interpretation. The interview data underwent a three phase analysis procedure (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) performed by two coders, the first author and a bilingual colleague. First, each coder read the transcripts to name and categorize phenomena through close examination of data. Responses that identified attributes of a phenomena within a sentence or paragraph were coded by categories, their properties, and dimensional locations. Categories were discussed and consensus was used to identify 15 categories which were believed to enhance or hinder the participants' career development. Summary response statements were used to check clarity and appropriateness of each category. The second phase of coding went a step further by connecting its categories with its sub-categories. This coding served to expand its focus beyond a categorical name to include the context, interactional strategies, and consequences. The participants experiences' with work and disability throughout various contexts, the strategies used to remain an active participant in each setting, and the consequences of those interactions allowed for a more interpretive understanding of the phenomenon (career development and advancement in the lives of Hispanics with disabilities). Summary response statements were provided for each sub-category as well.

The third phase of coding provided a broader, higher level analysis showing the experiential interaction of the phenomenon by means of a paradigm. That is, various sociocultural, health, and vocational characteristics influenced the career development and advancement of Hispanics with disabilities. It was the interaction of these influences that shaped their perception of how career development and advancement fits into their lives. Coded transcripts were then analyzed using a qualitative software program, MARTIN (Diekelmann, Lam, & Schuster, 1991).

Accuracy (i.e., Validity and Reliability)

Naturalistic inquiries are based on the assumption of multiple constructed realities over a single "true" reality (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Given the differences in perspectives, alternative measures are used to ensure reliability and validity of the research. Multiple interviews (i.e., 20 interviews with 10 individuals), which allowed participants to draw from their experiences, provided confidence in the discovery of attribute categories and characteristics. Triangulation (i.e., the iterative combination of data sources and elements around a topic) was used to increase the researcher's confidence by critically examining the material, identifying its weaknesses, and identifying where to explore further (Fielding & Fielding, 1986). "What is involved in triangulation is not the combination of different kinds of data per se, but rather an attempt to relate different sorts of data in such a way as to counteract various possible threats to the validity of our analysis" (Hammersly & Atkinson, 1983, p. 199). Member checks or "respondent validation" (Fielding & Fielding, 1986, p. 43) provided 20% of the respondents (i.e., two participants) an opportunity to give feedback on interpretations. Both participants concurred with the descriptions and interpretations presented. Peer debriefing was also used to test the researcher's insights against an uninvolved peer, to get advice about the methodology, to leave an audit trail, and to get rid of personal feelings, anxieties and stresses that might adversely affect the study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).


Grounded theory research results in categories and themes that tell the story in the voice of the participants (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). When asked to describe the influences that shaped their career development and advancement, participants related their experiences along the following themes and categories: career motivation (i.e., developmental work motivation, meaning of work, hierarchy of work needs) and vocational behavior (i.e., personal attributes, disability and work, barriers and supports).

Career Motivation

All participants indicated having a strong motivation to work. Their motivation was influenced mostly by family. All of the ten participants indicated having a family member that significantly influenced how they perceived work in their lives. Developmental work motivation, the meaning of work, and hierarchy of work needs were three salient phenomena that surfaced from the interviews and questionnaire responses.

Developmental Work Motivation. Participants indicated the importance of their home environments in learning work ethics, understanding the importance of work values, and developing career aspirations. For example, Sonia, who was the second of five children and raised in a very poor family, stated "He [father] did instill in us, you know, you have to work; and, he instilled in us pride in our work. I mean, I can dig a ditch and still be proud and make sure I do good work." Guadalupe, who along with her four siblings, had been adopted by her grandmother indicated "My grandmother is a very proud woman as far as work is concerned. She used to say - if we can't earn it with our own hands than we don't deserve it."

The most salient feature of all participants was their interest and desire to work. Some indicated that they worked ten to twelve hours a day with very low pay and that was accepted because they were a poor and humble family, hardworking, but poor. All participants expressed a deep interest in being self-sufficient. Martha who had paralysis on her right side after an auto accident stated: "Me da verguenza, yo no quiero vivir de asistencia medica or asistencia publica, yo quiero trabajar!" [I am embarrassed, I do not want to live on medical or public assistance, I want to work!].

Andres who had injured his back at work indicated "Yo vine a trabajar, a ganar mi propio dinero, no a que me lo esten estoy acostumbrado a esto. [I came to work, to earn my own money, not to have it given to me...I'm not accustomed to that.] A common thread that knitted the theme of developmental motivation was the strong work values that each expressed. Sonia gets right to the point by stating: "I have no qualms about working anywhere, you know, that's like my father's favorite saying: You'll never starve. My kids will work anywhere."

All participants indicated having a strong desire to work. Although their participation in the labor market concentrated in low-wage, seasonal work, with limited benefits, they all valued working. The participants' backgrounds and developmental experiences varied, but most shared a similar meaning of work.

Meaning of Work. When asked about the meaning of work in their lives, three distinct responses echoed. However, all participants expressed that working allowed them to feel good about themselves. For eight of the participants, the primary reason for working was to earn money to provide subsistence for themselves and their families. A typical response, both in English and Spanish, was "A means of making a living - to be able to live a somewhat enriched life. To be able to have a car, home, enough to eat. I guess to live comfortably" (Sonia). Guadalupe's response was based on more intrinsic needs stating: "It means challenging my abilities and feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment." Dalia was the only participant who indicated that both money and self-satisfaction were equally important. She stated: "It's a way of keeping my time busy, the day goes by a lot fastr. And a way to pay my bills. Be able to do the things I want, without the help from nobody. When I will be working in a hospital as a nurse, I am doing something that I enjoy and love and something I do because I want. It's not only for the money but for my own satisfaction."

Hierarchy of Work Needs. In the informational questionnaire that each participant filled out they were presented with a list of 10 items that described things that workers may want from their jobs. Participants ranked them in order of importance. As depicted in Table 1, results of that list, in descending order of participant self-rankings, indicate that participants desired most good working conditions, good wages, job security, promotion and growth in organization, personal loyalty to workers, work that keeps you interested, full appreciation of work done, tactful disciplining, sympathetic help on personal problems, and feeling "in" on things.

Vocational Behavior

Personal attributes, disability and work, and barriers to work were three salient phenomena that surfaced in describing the participants' vocational behavior. The interaction of their personal attributes, with an acquired disability (nine of the ten participants had acquired their disability after many years of working), and the barriers and supports to maintaining employment are discussed in this section.

Personal Attributes. When asked what personal qualities they had that helped them in their career development all ten participants indicated having very positive attributes. Lourdes' attributes included being "friendly, hard working, honest, and punctual." Dalia and Guadalupe indicated having good communication skills which helped them be more personable and efficient on their jobs (waitress and religious educator). Hector indicated that he learned very quickly, and developed his ideas quicker than the other workers was what helped his career development. ["La cualidad de que yo aprendi todo muy rapido y desarrolle mi nocion muy bien, y mejor que todos los demas trabajadores."]. Martha shared some of the same positive attributes as the other participants: "Muy puntual, eficaz, buen trabajadora, tenaz, rapido y orgullo de hacer un buen trabajo." [Very punctual, efficacious, good worker, tenacious, and proud to do good work.] None of the participants fell short of identifying very positive attributes that helped their career development. However, in discussing their attributes and how they interacted with the onset of their disability and work situation all except one indicated that the disability had a very negative impact on their perceptions of self and work.
Table 1

Hierarchy of Work Needs


Work Need 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Good working 4 4 2 1 7 1 7 1 2

Good wages 2 1 9 4 1 8 3 2 1

Job security 1 3 5 5 3 7 5 3 5

Promotion and 3 2 8 10 4 3 2 5 4
growth in

Personal loyalty 5 5 3 9 5 6 4 3 5
to workers

Work that keeps 9 7 4 3 2 2 9 6 8
you interested

Full appreciation 6 6 1 8 6 4 7 8 7
of work done

Tactful 8 9 6 2 8 5 10 8 7

Sympathetic help 7 8 10 6 9 9 4 10 10
on personal

Feeling "in" 10 10 7 7 10 10 6 6 9 10
on things

Note. Rankings range from 1 (most important) to 10 (least

Disability and Work. When asked about their disability status and present work situation the discussion turned bleak. Participants ranged in perceptions from emotional to medical to vocational concerns, given the condition of their disability. Sonia was the only participant who expressed that she had benefitted from acquiring a disability. She stated "For me the first thing was - Oh my gosh! no one's going to look at me, or Gee, now what can I do? But it just opened a whole - I mean - I don't even think about it, you know, having a disability anymore."

Other participants expressed continued distress over the physical pain and challenges their disability posed. Martha, for example, stated that she has had too many problems since her car accident. "Desde el accidente, no me olvidan muchas cosas...hasta se me torcio la lengua y no podia hablar por un tiem-po...tengo muchas problemas, es duro." [Since the accident, I can't sleep...I forget many tongue twisted and I couldn't even talk for some time...I have a lot of problems, it's hard.]

For Martha, as was with several others, acquiring a disability meant total loss of life, particularly because they were unable to work and be as productive as before the onset of the disability. Martha went on to talk about her plans stating

Yo tenia planes de quedanne a trabajar full-time para set activa, no me gusta estar inactiva...Yo no queria estar desabilitada, yo quiero trabajar pero con una mano no puedo hacer nada...estas acabado cuando estas desabilitado. Orita yo ya acabe...el accidente acabo conmigo. [I had plans to stay working full-time so that I could stay active, I don't like being inactive...I don't want to be disabled, I want to work, but with one hand I can't do anything...You're finished when you have a disability. Right now I'm finished...The accident finished with me.]

Other participants expressed similar concerns about their inability to work and be productive. After acquiring a back injury at work, Andres talked about his feelings as "Perjudica a uno moralmente tambien de que, pues, quedo uno incapacitado, o sea no estoy totalmente desabilitado, pero no puedo agarrar otro trabajo." [You hurt yourself morally, because like one is left incapacitated; that is, I'm not totally disabled, but I can't find other work.] Lourdes also talks about how having a disability has changed her life. "Yo tenia dos y tres trabajos alas vez, ahora no puedo ni trabajar...estoy incapacitada, necesito ayuda pa me puedo poner mis tenis." [I used to have two and three jobs at one time, but now I can't even work...I'm incapacitated. I need help for everything; I can't even put on my own tennis shoes.]

Ruben's perception of having seizures indicated shame "Cuando me pega un ataque, me siento como la genre me tiene siento horrible, como que a hecho algo mal y es mi culpa." [when I get an attack (seizure) I feel like people pity me; I feel awful, like I've done something wrong and it's my fault.] On the opposite extreme, Guadalupe, who has cancer, stated: "I do my own rehabilitation in some ways. I try not to give in to my illness at all...I have to fight it as much as I can."

The work status of the participants included six unemployed, and of that group five could not return to work because of the severity of their disability. These individuals expressed frustration and anger, and viewed themselves as worthless because of their inability to return to work. Three of the participants had restrictions on the work they could do; consequently, they were frustrated in limiting their work capacity or at not finding employment. Two participants were advancing their education to pursue a career. Most participants' experience with work was limited to performing a job that they were familiar with. Seven participants indicated that the only work they knew how to do required physical labor and their disability restricted them from doing it.

Barriers and Supports. When asked what barriers posed the most difficulty for their career development and advancement, the lack of formal supports and resources (either through lack of knowledge or access) was a commonality among the participants. Knowledge of agency supports and community resources was usually limited to medical care. Sonia was the only individual who had accessed vocational rehabilitation services and found them to be beneficial indicating that they had provided vocational evaluations and assistance with college.

Informal supports and resources from family and community were the most significant contributors to the issues the participants encountered, particularly after the onset of the disability. However, most of the support came in the form of psychosocial adjustment and not vocational rehabilitation. Martha grew up in a predominantly Mexican community and recalls

Yo conoci y creci bajo una comunidad...una comunidad amable, con amigos, eso es una hay mucho abundancia, no hay mucho dinero, pero hay mucho respeto y mucho carino entre nosotros (la comunidad mejicana)." [I know what it's like to grow up in a community...a caring community with friends, that's a community...there wasn't much abundance or money, but there was a lot of respect and love between us (the Mexican community).]

Guadalupe indicated a culture shock upon leaving the predominantly Mexican American communities she had lived in stating: "I never knew what it was to be a minority [ethnic minority] until I learned it here" [referring to the midwestern city she lives in]. Guadalupe further stated that "It's been very hard for my family...that I live so far and alone...especially when you grew up in a family where you take care of each other."

In talking about the emotional support at the onset of their disability many participants indicated that family was very supportive. Dalia, who has dyslexia, indicated about her parents "They're pretty proud of what I've done up to now. They have always been very supportive. I don't remember any other supports except that I went to . . . [the vocational rehabilitation agency] once because a friend told me about it, but I did an application and that was it." Sonia acquired a hand injury at work and experienced both informal and formal supports. "I couldn't get used to my hand, I was sort of hiding it, you know, but now I'm just so used to it...I feel that my doctors, my counselors, you know everyone just contributed so much...My family, you know, helped me a lot."

Several participants expressed having financial constraints at the onset of the disability. Family and community were the most tapped resources. Lourdes had multiple disabilities, the primary disability was a back injury she acquired at work, and was forced to seek legal advice to get financial support from her insurance. She describes how they managed in her family.

"My family puts all the money we earn into one pot - that's how we pay for all the medical bills. We get no other support. We really didn't know about any agencies that could provide services to people with disabilities, until a family member started to work for one (a few months ago) that referred to . . . [the state vocational rehabilitation agency]." Guadalupe also describes what it was like growing up in a community with few economic resources, which was a reality for most participants.

A lot of healing went on, with a lot of little herbs and stuff like that...We very rarely were able to see a doctor...Insurance was - forget it, I mean that was meant for people that were rich... Once my brother and I landed in the hospital for three weeks because crop planes sprayed right over us and we had a bad rash and fever...people got together and did fund raisers to help us. That's how we all [the community] paid for medical bills... I think that was a source of insurance for a lot of people. The church used to help a lot in those times - they would have like breakfasts, a raffle or something like that to help a family...And the families used to stick together a lot.

In discussing why formal disability service resources are not considered a source of support for Hispanics, Martha stated "Los latinos le tenemos miedo al sistema; el sistema no nos tiene miedo a nosotros. Nosotros hemos tenido muy feos problemas tambien con el sistema del disability." [We Latinos are afraid of the system; the system is not afraid of us. We have had many ugly problems with the disability system.] Of those participants who had received formal assistance, most was in the form of medical services in the medical system and not the social service delivery system. Guadalupe, after a relapse of cancer, tried to access financial support, but did not qualify and consequently gave up, stating: "There's foundations that deal with cancer patients, but because I can work, because I'm not totally disabled, I don't qualify for a lot of them."

Participants indicated that family and community provided the most emotional and financial support. Use of formal resources, if accessible, were limited to medical needs. Lack of knowledge or access to social and rehabilitative services was the primary reason other formal supports were not accessed. Other reasons were not understanding the jargon, excessive paperwork, different eligibility criteria for each agency, and repetitive questions.

Two of the ten participants indicated a good adjustment to the disability. Most participants viewed the onset of their disability as a great loss for themselves and their families. The biggest problem with the disability onset was not being able to work. Several participants indicated that having a disability meant loss of work, and loss of work meant loss of the meaning of life. Their lack of work activity caused them much distress.


The results of this study appeared to illustrate a variety of concerns in recent literature. These concerns included: the importance of contextual factors in career development; the interactive relationship of SES, work personality, and self-efficacy; and cultural components in the perception of supports and disability services.

The contextual influence of the family (see e.g., Arbona, 1995; Szymanski et al., in press) was powerfully illustrated in the category of developmental work motivation. All participants reported that their work motivation was impacted by a significant figure in their family.

Similarly, in the categories of disability and work and personal attributes, the interactive relationship of SES, self-efficacy, and work personality (see e.g., Arbona, 1995; Lent & Hackett, 1994) was vividly portrayed. Individuals who had well developed senses of themselves as workers (i.e., personal attributes) but had little education and income were devastated by the injury. They perceived their self worth to be dependent on their economic contribution to the family. Because they could not contribute and they lacked other financial resources, they reported feeling like burdens to their families. Education, however, appeared to mediate the impact for those participants who had achieved beyond a high school education or were currently involved in educational programs.

Cultural components in perception of supports and disability services (see e.g., Whyte, 1995) were illustrated in the supports and barriers category. Most participants reported receiving strong support from families and ethnic communities. Essentially, family and community were the disability services for most of these individuals. Formal disability services were actually received by only two participants. However, other participants reported negative experiences accessing "the system".

The current research was not designed to quantify or reduce variables related to career development of Hispanics with disabilities. Rather it was intended to give voice to the experiences of the participants in this study. In this way, it is hoped that rehabilitation professionals could better understand how disability and work were experienced for these individuals. The categories that emerged in this research will help to guide future qualitative and quantitative research.

As with all research, the current study is not without its limitations. This study is based on indepth interviews with ten Hispanics with disabilities in a medium-sized midwestern city. Given that the majority of the Hispanic population resides in the South and Southwest, the study is based on a relatively small sample. Hispanics' experiences with rehabilitation services are possibly different in other areas of the country. Participants in this study were also identified through an agency and provided a completion stipend. Future research might include a more representative sample of consumers. Another limitation is that all interviews were conducted by the same interviewer. Having multiple interviewers would have provided more opportunity for discussion based on interviewer experiences.

Finally, this study discussed only the experiences of Hispanics with disabilities, no interviews were conducted with other stakeholders (e.g., rehabilitation professionals, employers, family members, etc.). Future research should focus on including interviews with professionals who have experience in working with Hispanics with disabilities.

Summary Implications

We learned that career development of Hispanics with disabilities is a complex phenomenon, which is heavily influenced by the context in which they live and their belief structures. The lessons of the study have implications for rehabilitation service providers.

Upon embarking in this research project it was recognized that education and training was needed in community agencies that provided social services to Hispanics. The researchers were informed by agency staff that most Hispanics utilize social service agencies on an emergency basis. That is, according to the staff, they seek support when needing immediate translation services, advocacy, and/or restoration information. The researchers observed that agency staff would benefit from receiving training in various disability related topics, such as, disability and functional limitations, visible and nonvisible disabilities, and services provided by rehabilitation service agencies. Given that social service agencies appear to make first contact with Hispanics with disabilities, educating staff to make appropriate referrals would be most beneficial.

The few encounters that participants with disabilities had with rehabilitation professionals were less than rewarding. That is, most participants, who received or inquired about such services, indicated that the services they received were intimidating, embarrassing, frustrating, and demeaning. If rehabilitation professionals are to provide appropriate services to Hispanics with disabilities, treating them with respect and dignity is crucial to successful outcomes.

Also apparent was the need to educate Hispanics with disabilities on their rights and responsibilities. While family and community can help, rehabilitation services can also be beneficial. Comprehensive rehabilitation can best be achieved by having the family and community work in conjunction with the individual. Educational programs that are community based would likely work best given the issues of language, transportation, and economic barriers that may prevent them from seeking services outside their community.

Understanding the cultural diversity among the Hispanic groups (i.e., Mexican American, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans) alone is a challenge for the rehabilitation professional. Although Hispanics share various cultural characteristics, their career development and advancement needs may differ. Therefore, generalizations about the population should, if at all, be made with extreme caution. Hispanics' level of acculturation is not stagnant, rather it ranges on a continuum from low to high acculturation with regard to understanding the services provided in the majority culture. Allowing Hispanics with disabilities to educate rehabilitation professionals about their needs may be the most feasible route for assessing service provisions.


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Beatriz Trevino, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Career Development and Advancement, 432 N Murrary Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706.
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Author:Szymanski, Edna Mora
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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