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Developing Community Partnerships to Reach Underserved Diverse Populations

MassWorks 2

Originally published: 4/2005

Suggested audiences:

Focusing on the integration of disability, workforce development, & employment services

From the Editor

This issue of MassWorks highlights an innovative approach to enhancing services for individuals from diverse communities. The high unemployment rate and barriers to employment experienced by people with disabilities are well documented. For people from diverse communities, these barriers are compounded by factors such as language, cultural norms regarding work and disability, and difficulty accessing services. Community partnerships can provide a unique opportunity to improve services for individuals from diverse racial, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds.

- Cindy Thomas
Director of Employment Services, Institute for Community Inclusion

Developing Community Partnerships to Reach Underserved Diverse Populations

The Issue

Like much of the U.S., Massachusetts is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Studies show that the state's future population growth will come through immigration. Meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds has historically been a challenge for our service systems. With changing demographics, it is more important than ever. Workforce and disability staff may feel uncertain about how to reach these potential consumers. One effort agencies have made is to increase the diversity of their own staff. While this is important, there is an additional strategy you can try: building connections to local community-based or faith-based organizations.

The Strategy

Often the first place people from culturally diverse backgrounds go to get help, outside family and friends, is a local community-based or faith-based organization (FBCO). Regardless of their size, these organizations understand the needs of their community and have gained the trust of community members who may be reluctant to access mainstream services. When FBCOs and mainstream disability organizations develop partnerships, both groups have a unique opportunity to serve individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds.

For disability and workforce organizations, the first step is to identify the FBCOs in your community. This step is often the most challenging. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and introduce yourself and your agency. After you make contact, taking time to get to know one other is essential to developing credibility.

As organizations get to know each other, initiatives can develop. In Massachusetts:

By working together, FBCOs and disability and workforce organizations can better serve the growing population of individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts from diverse backgrounds.

Faith-Based Organizations, Social Services, and Religious Activity

With the federal government's recent faith and community initiatives , many people are concerned that taxpayer dollars will be used to fund religious activities. However, FBCOs cannot use a direct federal grant to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytizing.

Case Study

A disability agency and a faith-based organization serving African newcomers began to identify services to assist members of the FBCO's immigrant and refugee community. The FBCO had a very limited understanding of disability issues and knew nothing of the services available, so the disability agency introduced the FBCO's director to several state agencies. The director learned about the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and immediately thought of a young woman with significant physical disabilities whom he had never considered employable. He contacted MRC and went with the woman to her first appointment to help her begin to develop vocational goals.



U.S. Dept of Labor Center for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives

Disability and Cultural Diversity

National Council on Disability Diversity Outreach Toolkit
http://ncd.test.janmedia.com (see "FBCOs")


Mass. Office for Refugees and Immigrants

State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance

Multi-Cultural Independent Living Center of Boston, Inc.

Job Networking in Diverse Communities
(ICI Research to Practice brief #RP37 www.communityinclusion.org/publications)


May 16: Employment Law and People with Disabilities: The ADA and Beyond. Training from ICI. Contact andrew.glazier@umb.edu or 617/287-4337.

May 18-20: Effective Supervisory Skills. Training from the University of Hartford RCEP. Contact RCEP@hartford.edu or 860/768-5148.

June 16-17: Self-Employment and Customized Employment. Training from the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. Contact http://iod.unh.edu or 603/862-4117.

June 20: Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace. Online webcast from Virginia Commonwealth University. Contact tcblanke@vcu.edu or 804/828-2197.

For more information, contact:

Cindy Thomas
Project Coordinator

Institute for Community Inclusion
UMass Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
(617) 287-4312 (v)
(617) 287-4350 (TTY)

This issue of MassWorks is funded by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Massachusetts Medicaid and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities Infrastructure grant, CFDA No. 93.768 and the U.S. Department of Labor, Working Connections Project. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the Institute for Community Inclusion and do not necessarily reflect those of the funders.

This newsletter will be made available in alternate formats upon request.

Visit www.communityinclusion.org to find other publications on this topic or sign up for ICI's email announcement list.

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