At the Federation for Children with Special Needs, we believe that every child and every family deserve equitable access to all aspects of enriching and meaningful life. We strive to identify and challenge inequities and eliminate barriers and disparities that disadvantage children, families, and communities. We also seek to equip professionals and families alike with asset-based mindsets that honor the diverse funds of knowledge, perspectives, and experiences of each individual. We understand inclusion as the practice of assuring everyone can access resources and learning in the ways that best fit their needs, and that diversity, equity and inclusion are at the heart of meaningful and relevant learning, particularly for culturally and linguistically diverse learners and families. Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is woven throughout our work from our mission, our staffing, and our processes and products.
Mission: Diversity, inclusion, and equity are fundamental to the Federation’s mission. “We are committed to listening to and learning from families and encouraging full participation in community life by all people, especially those with disabilities. The Federation believes that individual differences in people are a natural part of life, and that disabilities provide children and adults with unique perspectives, insights and abilities which contribute to the overall well-being of society.”
Staffing: At the Federation, we value hiring and supporting staff who reflect the communities we serve. We urge individuals with disabilities and their family members to apply for positions with the Federation. We are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees and candidates for employment without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, genetic information, veteran status, or any other legally protected status or designation.
In Massachusetts, the most spoken languages by individuals 5 years old and older, other than English, are Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian and Vietnamese. Providing access to information and advocacy in the languages that families speak is integral to successful involvement and one of our priorities. To this end we employ Outreach Specialists for communities speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian Creole. We also work with cultural brokers for the Vietnamese and Somali communities and aim to expand our network of cultural brokers. We also recognize the geographic diversity of Massachusetts and provide a full range of services to underserved families living in rural Massachusetts. An Outreach Team member, who lives in western Massachusetts and has credibility with the local community, provides local training, parent leadership training, technical assistance, and support there.
In addition to hiring diverse staff, we aim to create an environment where all staff can flourish. A newly formed Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee has begun making a plan for ensuring that the work environment is safe and supportive for all staff.
Processes and Products: Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion extends to our internal processes and the products we create as well. We have a Language Assistance Plan (LAP). The LAP is a tool that helps us understand the unique needs of and provide equitable access and participation in our programs to traditionally underserved families and individuals, including members of racial, ethnic or linguistic minority groups and persons who are or are at risk for being disenfranchised due to their immigrant status, national origin, low socio-economic status, disability, age, or gender.
Another internal process, using the cultural broker model, supports our commitment to diversity. We embrace the cultural broker model to reach culturally and linguistically diverse families and their children and family members. Our Outreach Team includes bilingual and bicultural staff representing Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Haitian, Portuguese, Spanish speaking, and Black communities and families. Their ability to understand the language and traditions of the target community builds trust. Families and youth receive support through linguistic support groups supported or run by the Outreach Team, translated training, universal, targeted and intensive technical assistance, and a culturally appropriate full-day program at our VOC Conference. This collaborative approach ensures that the Outreach Team: (1) understands both the assets and the needs and challenges of the community; (2) learns the best way to address the needs of the community; and (3) empowers parents to become their children’s best advocates.
Our products are also informed by commitment to diversity. Brochures for families are translated into Spanish, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Chinese, and Haitian Creole. One parent leadership training is held in a language other than English, and training and workshops are available in Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Haitian. In addition, we maintain webpages for resources in multiple languages and support a Vietnamese parent and youth group for young adults with developmental disabilities to learn social skills and experience community inclusion. We also audited our website for accessibility and improvements are ongoing.