CDS Projects

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Cultural Influences on Self-determination

There is a growing focus in services for persons with disabilities on increasing their capacity and opportunities for self-determination. Virtually all self-determination initiatives and curricula are rooted in the American individualistic ethic, with its stress on such values as autonomy, independence, self-efficacy, self-responsibility, and so on. However, due to demographic trends, an expanding proportion of the population is of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) heritage and not oriented to the individualistic ethic, but rather to cultural values that prioritize group or family interdependence and achievement. This research project was designed to explore cultural influences on self-determination, providing a sound basis for improving the cultural competence of self-determination initiatives and curricula.

The primary research methodology was centered on focus groups, conducted with:

  1. youth with serious emotional disturbances,
  2. family members, and
  3. educators.

The youth and family focus groups consisted of members of the same CLD group (African American, Caucasian American, Japanese American, or Native Hawaiian), allowing in-depth exploration of cultural issues, while the educator focus groups will be mixed, serving to tap educator experiences with different CLD groups. Questionnaires were developed and completed by youth, family members, and educators. Although the primary goal of the research was to identify and describe self-determination from various CLD perspectives, for comparative purposes it was important to conduct the same research with Caucasian Americans (who are presumed to hold the “default” view of self- determination on which current initiatives and curricula are based). The data collected will be analyzed to identify common “cultural models” of self-determination for each of the CLD groups studied.

The research was conducted at two sites, in Hawai‘i and Washington, DC, in partnership with Hawaii Families As Allies (HFAA), a nonprofit family-run support and advocacy organization for youth with serious emotional disturbances and their families (who are primarily of CLD heritage). HFAA helped to recruit research participants and schedule focus group sessions, and the Executive Committee of its Youth Council served as advisory body providing guidance for the implementation of project activities. During the project’s third year, data analysis was completed and the results written up in a monograph and a number of articles, and also disseminated through conference presentations.

Team Members
  • David Leake, Ph.D., M.P.H., Project Director
  • Sally Nhomi, Ph.D., Project Coordinator/Researcher
  • Melody Yeganeh, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Rosalie Boone, Ph.D., Researcher at School of Education, Howard University, Washington, DC
  • Rhonda Black, Ph.D., Researcher at School of Education, University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Vicky Followell and Sharon Nobriga, Co-executive Directors of Hawai‘i Families As Allies
Primary Contact
David Leake, Ph.D.
Project Director
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