There is no disputing the increasing diversity of our nation.
Figures from the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that racial/ethnic minority groups make up approximately 28% of the current U.S. population. In some areas—particularly gateway cities such as Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston, where many immigrants enter this country—the percentage is much larger.
We lack incidence and prevalence data on communication disorders in many of these populations, but there are no reasons to assume that there would be fewer speech, language, and hearing disorders in these groups than within the general population. In fact, there are numerous contributing factors that would indicate a higher incidence of communication disorders in culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
Best practice in our professions indicates that we should use all tools at our disposal to identify problems and treat disorders in all of our clients, but limited experience and resources have reinforced a traditional model of service delivery for an increasingly non-traditional caseload.
Although ASHA's membership has increased steadily over recent years, the percentage of racial/ethnic minority members has remained fairly steady. At the same time, our nation's changing demographics have resulted in greater numbers of adults and children whose dominant language is not English. Projections for the future indicate that these trends will continue. Currently, of ASHA's more than 99,000 members, only about 1,500 have identified themselves as having bilingual skills (including American Sign Language). Unless these numbers change, the representation of minority and bilingual audiologists and speech-language pathologists will continue to be inadequate.
Increasing opportunities for students from traditionally underrepresented groups are much needed. Not only will such an increase assist in reversing the current under-representation, but it also will improve the quality of services being provided to racial/ethnic minorities with communication disorders.
Adding more minority professionals as role models and mentors to the current professional pool can also serve as a foundation for future recruitment efforts. These professional relationships typically result in the proliferation of sorely needed research, assessment, therapeutic techniques, and philosophies relative to communication disorders within minority populations.
ASHA's three-year Focused Initiative devoted to Culturally/Linguistically Diverse Populations is designed to address two outcomes: increase the racial/ethnic ethnic minority membership of ASHA, and develop additional resources for improving service delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
There are a number of short- and long-term strategies for increasing the diversity of our membership. Short-term strategies include enhancing faculty members' ability to address multicultural issues, implementing the Pathways to Success Mentoring Program, and targeting advertising campaigns toward recruitment of culturally and linguistically diverse populations into the professions. Strategies for improving service delivery focus on educational programs and products for members currently providing services, as well as the development of tools for increasing the amount of multicultural information that is provided at a pre-service level.
The complete work plan for this Focused Initiative is available on ASHA's Web site.