Systems That Are Equitable To Us

Systems That Are Equitable To Us

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

It is well documented that Latino, African-American, and Asian students and regional center clients suffer from great disparities in education and services. Overall, there is often a profound lack of trust by these communities toward their school districts and regional centers.

In education, there are often distinct differences in the type of education that individuals with developmental disabilities receive based on race and ethnicity. Studies have found that African-American and Latino students are more likely to be placed in disability-segregated classrooms than non-Latino whites. African-American students are more likely to be labeled “emotionally disturbed” than students of other races, often a misdiagnosis for a developmental disability. Moreover, cultural differences make it more unlikely that Latino and Asian parents will challenge school districts.

Regional centers are now required to publicly post data on the level of services that their clients receive, and that information has made clear what families have known for decades.

  • Compared to non-Latino whites, Latinos receive less than half the services, Asians receive about 40% less, and African-Americans receive about one-third fewer services.
  • Hispanics have the second lowest expenditures per person even though they are the largest ethnic group served by regional centers.
  • Regardless of where the consumer lives – either at home with their family, in a group home or residential facility, or on their own with support – white consumers receive more services than Latinos or African-Americans.
  • Many families of color express common themes of being underserved: they do not know all of the available services; the regional center excessively delays providing an answer for requested services; and they feel intimidated if their child is turned down for services, and are discouraged from going through due process.

While the state legislature has recently provided additional funding to regional centers to reduce ethnic disparities, it is unclear whether this money will be well-spent and whether the underserved community will benefit in any way.

Geographic Disparities

Ethnicity and race are just one part of the disparity picture – where you live and what regional center or school district you are part of often dictates the quality of education and services you receive. The side of the street you live on should not determine your ability to meet your goals and make progress in your life.

Variances in the ability of school districts to respond to the needs of its special education students are well-known. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s special education system, the largest in California, remains under a court-ordered consent decree for over two decades because of serious deficiencies in its program. Certain school districts are much more likely to segregate students with developmental disabilities in special classes and campuses. Commitment to special education and accountability for their programs also vary widely depending upon the district.

Regional centers are just as variable in the level and quality of services and supports they provide. There are examples of regional centers, whose clients are separated by just a block, that provide widely different levels of services. As parents compare the services their child receives based on their regional center, it becomes apparent that the system is unfair to many individuals. Moreover, there are significant differences in the ways that service coordinators or other regional center staff treat clients and families. For example, families from certain regional centers report that their phone calls to service coordinators are not returned in a timely manner, while clients of other regional centers do not report this issue. These differences are not just anecdotal, but they are referenced in publicly available data and surveys by the National Core Indicators.

These racial and geographic disparities are confounding because, even though regional centers are locally controlled, they are part of a statewide system and are supposed to follow the same law – the Lanterman Act. This law provides for a set of services to which individuals with developmental disabilities are entitled. A regional center should not be able to strip an entire community of their right to a service.

Goals and Actions:

Reducing racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities is one of the major priorities for Disability Voices United. We plan to engage in the following activities to achieve that goal:

  • Engage communities where they are, including acknowledging an individual’s culture, family background, formal education, language, socio-economic background, birthplace, and location.
  • Empower these communities to advocate for systemic changes in their regional centers and school systems, including assisting them in gathering information, identifying trends, advocating for changes, providing public comment, and testifying before boards.
  • Insist that underserved communities have a seat at the decision-making table, including diverse representation on boards and committees.
  • Hold regional centers accountable if they provide fewer services and poorer customer service through contract approval and state agency and legislative oversight.
  • Issue a report card on how regional centers have done with the funds they received to reduce disparities, including whether underserved families had a role in the development and implementation of the efforts.
  • Ensure that regional centers’ boards and staff reflect the ethnic makeup of their communities.
  • Advocate for a person-centered approach to reducing disparities by focusing on the individual person and family and their needs and moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to service delivery and toward a culture of respect at every regional center and school district.
  • Ensure that regional center staff, teachers, and administrators are respectful of all students, clients, and families, regardless of their cultural background.

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