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Multiculturalism and disability.

The word multiculturalism has become a buzz word lately gaining wide recognition in most fields, yet how the term has been interpreted varies greatly. Multiculturalism is often understood as simply the study and understanding of a variety of ethnic groups with the belief that by studying their different characteristics and traits we (the dominant culture) will be better able to work together with these differences (Suzuki, 1984).

Many, however, believe that taking a multicultural perspective means going beyond this sole focus and looking at the other social forces that shape our lives (Banks & McGee Banks, 1989; Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Goodenough, 1987). In this view, multiculturalism includes the study of the effects of race, culture, class, gender and disability to name a few. A multicultural perspective then provides a way of understanding ourselves and encourages all of us to look at how our own values and perspectives affect our view of the world and influence how we interact with those that are different from ourselves. It also acknowledges the existence of a dominant culture, characterized by what can be called white, middle-class assumptions and behaviors.

Within our educational and ' human service system differences in race, culture, class and gender among other things, all affect how families and people with disabilities are served and the decisions that are made about their lives. As we are increasingly learning the importance of listening to parents and people with disabilities, multiculturalism is providing a framework to begin to listen to people who have been discriminatecd against not only for their disability, but a number of other factors that play an important part in their identities. A multicultural perspective also challenges us to acknowledge the power differential that keeps racism, sexism, handicapism and classism alive in this country.

Recognizing the strengths that people have because of a perceived difference and understanding the value judgements we all have because of who we are is integral to a multicultural perspective. What have often been perceived as deficiencies by the dominant culture are rather strengths and survival techniques for people who have been discriminated against because of their race, gender, disability, class or culture.

Multiculturalism is not a new concept but given the changing demographics in our country and the long histories of oppression that so many people have endured, issues being raised through multiculturalism offer us another chance to begin to understand and work together recognizing that we are all part of the problem and the solution.

For a list of References and Select Resources please contact: NPND 1600 Princt Street, #115 Alexandria, VA 22314.

by Susan O'Connor, Center on Human Policy, Syracuse University
COPYRIGHT 1993 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Networking: Information from the National Parent Network on Disabilities
Author:O'Connor, Susan
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Working toward a balance in our lives: a booklet for families of children with disabilities and special health care needs.
Next Article:School bus safety dispute.

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