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Report on U.S. Latinos with Disabilities Reveals High Obstacles to Employment

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This report is a wake-up call to the disability and the Latino communities to recognize this population. It illustrates there is great untapped potential on all sides - for employers to become more inclusive, agencies to provide culturally competent services, and jobseekers to be effective self-advocates. If we can bring these people together in support of employment opportunities for Latinos with disabilities, we can make real improvements society as a whole."
--Berthy de la Rosa-Aponte,
chair of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel

"This paper represents an important addition to the emerging discussion of disability and culture. Despite the fact that Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States today, surprisingly little has been written on those hundreds of thousands of people who are both Latino and disabled. This report helps fill this gap. It provides both a solid overview of the population as a whole and thoughtful insights of what the intersection of ethnicity and disability means for individuals on a personal level. Whether you work on disability issues in the community or at the state or national levels, this paper is a 'must read'."
--Nora Ellen Groce, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor,
Yale School of Public Health

The report is now available for free download in PDF format.

Proyecto Visión, the National Technical Assistance Center on Employment for Latinos with Disabilities, released a report that examines the low employment status of disabled Latinos and recommends ways to improve their job and other opportunities. Latinos with Disabilities in the United States: Understanding & Addressing Barriers to Employment presents a snapshot of this growing population. It outlines factors affecting the extent of participation, and degree of success, of disabled Latinos in the service delivery system; highlights innovative research and employment projects that are working to reduce barriers; and presents profiles of individuals and families who have attained success and others who have fallen between the cracks.

“In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 24 percent of working-age Latinos in the United States had a disability compared to 18.6 percent for all groups,” said Arturo Lopez, administrator for the largely rural San Joaquin Valley district of the California Department of Rehabilitation. Lopez, a Proyecto Visión advisory board member, continued, “Working-age Latinos are becoming disabled from injuries in dangerous work environments and heavy manual labor including farm work; lack of access to medical care and insurance; complex health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes and obesity; and violence, including the effects of firearms.”

“What happens to Latinos in the United States after they become disabled depends on many variables such as level of acculturation, English proficiency and where they live,” said Proyecto Visión project director Kathy Martinez. “As a Latina who is blind, I have first-person experience with the low expectations and assumptions of the majority culture. I have seen many disabled Latinos live down to these diminished expectations. They become overwhelmed by isolation, are disconnected from the service delivery system and don’t have disabled Latino professionals to look up to or network with. Unfortunately, even those who do access resources often are not receiving appropriate service.”

The report combines information gathered from reviewing scores of studies and research papers with the first-hand knowledge that Proyecto Visión and its regional partners gleaned from five years of providing localized technical assistance to disabled Latinos across the U.S. in diverse communities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Salinas, California.

It summarizes innovative job preparation and placement programs providing culturally responsive services that address the multiple dimensions of jobseekers’ identities, including disability, race/ethnicity, language and gender. In addition to featuring successful project models, the paper outlines four priorities for improving the success of vocational programs at including and serving disabled Latinos:

  • Improve Vocational Rehabilitation Services for Latinos
  • Re-envision the Disability Community’s Approach to Latinos
  • Build the Latino Community’s Capacity for Including People with Disabilities
  • Increase Overall Visibility of Disabled Latino Leaders

About the World Institute on Disability
Proyecto Visión is operated by the World Institute on Disability (WID) based in Oakland, CA. The mission of WID is to advance the human and civil rights of people with disabilities through research, training, advocacy and public education. WID emphasizes social and economic equity for people with disabilities by creating increased opportunities to live independently as productive and contributing members of society.

Development of this report was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration.

To purchase the report or for more information contact our publications department at or

(510) 763-4100. You can also purchase it using our order form.

The report is now available for free download in PDF format.



This report characterizes the population of Latinos with disabilities in the United States, examines the challenges they face in securing employment, highlights exemplary research and vocational projects, and makes recommendations on how to improve employment outcomes for Latinos with disabilities.

Describing A Population
Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Demographic information shows that compared to other groups, Latinos have lower levels of educational attainment and higher dropout rates. They are more likely to live near or below poverty level and are over-represented in dangerous manual and service occupations. Disproportionately affected by health concerns including HIV/AIDS, obesity and diabetes, Latinos’ health issues often go unchecked because they have less access to medical insurance and health care. Unabated health concerns, vocational injury and disability caused by violence all contribute to Latinos acquiring disabilities at elevated rates.

The Effects of Difference
In the United States, Latinos with disabilities are not participating in vocational rehabilitation programs at levels proportionate to their representation in the population overall. Scholars have attributed this to a number of factors including differing attitudes and beliefs about concepts such as “disability,” “independence” and “success.” Researchers also have explained disabled Latinos’ lower levels of successful vocational outcomes by pointing to a rehabilitation system that does not fit the realities of many people from marginalized racial and ethnic backgrounds. Language differences are a source of embarrassment for some people, acting as a disincentive to participate, while others are afraid they will compromise their legal status if they apply for government services. Immigrants are often unaccustomed to advocating for their rights and may not be comfortable with the aggressive navigation required to gain access to opportunities for education and employment.

Models of Success
Innovative research and employment projects have emerged in response to the growing need for services for disabled people from a variety of cultural/ethnic groups. Several of these initiatives are outlined in this paper, including the Center for Capacity Building on Minorities with Disabilities Research, part of a participatory action study at the University of Illinois at Chicago to develop recommendations to improve vocational rehabilitation outcomes for people with disabilities from diverse backgrounds. In Los Angeles, the Westside Center for Independent Living operates two successful job placement programs that specialize in outreach to the Latino community, especially to disabled people who are monolingual Spanish speakers or have limited English skills. These projects are models for job developers across the country.

Focus on Solutions
As staff members of Proyecto Visión—the only national technical assistance center on employment issues for Latinos with disabilities—the authors of this report have five years of experience working with jobseekers, employers, service providers and emerging disabled Latino leaders to bridge communities in support of opportunities for disabled Latinos. Four straightforward recommendations are presented for improving employment outcomes for Latinos with disabilities:

1) Improve Vocational Rehabilitation Services for Latinos
This includes encouraging multiple interpretations of independent living and definitions of success; making the service system more accessible to disabled Latino jobseekers by hiring bilingual/bicultural job developers who serve as peer role models; providing training in cultural responsiveness to all service providers; and reducing processes that might act as disincentives.
2) Re-envision the Disability Community’s Approach to Latinos
This calls for disability agencies to emulate outreach methods successful among Latinos to increase impact in the community; augment public education materials to make them more culturally and linguistically palatable; and bring more Latinos with disabilities into leadership positions within the disability movement.
3) Build the Latino Community’s Capacity for Including People with Disabilities
By introducing disability themes into the Latino community, they become more familiar and help to reduce the stigma and shame associated with disability. This means educating Latino community leaders on disability issues and continuing to build networks and understanding between vocational rehabilitation job developers and Latino employers.
4) Increase Disabled Latino Representation in Leadership Positions Overall
Disabled Latino leaders who are visible in the private sector, government, etc., serve as role models and mentors, encouraging young disabled Latinos to succeed. Disabled Latino leaders are needed outside the disability movement, especially as legislators, public policy advocates and in other positions where they can influence employment policy.

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