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RAISE The Standard, November 2022, v.9 n.1

RAISE (The National Resources for Access, Independence, Self-determination and Employment (RAISE) Technical Assistance Center) logo

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Diverse group of older students posing at school

Culturally Competent Transition Planning

There is a lot of buzz these days about cultural competency, but “getting it,” both personally and organizationally, takes time. Cultural competency is not a checklist; it is not a matter of translating content into Spanish, or making sure the website shows a diverse student body. It is a way of thinking, understanding, and approaching the work.

Cultural competence is widely seen as having five major elements:

  • Understand and be aware of your own culture and values
  • Acknowledge cultural differences with an open attitude
  • Engage in self-assessment
  • Acquire knowledge and skills around diverse cultural practices and worldviews
  • View behavior within a cultural context

Research indicates that students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds don’t always fare as well as other students when it comes to transition outcomes. Their obstacles may be more than just disability-related: cultural and linguistic issues may increase the complexities and challenges of the transition process.

There is a growing acknowledgement – and body of research – showing that culturally responsive practices play a significant role in improving post-school outcomes for youth with disabilities. It is important that students and their families have equal access to culturally and linguistically diverse information, resources, services, and knowledgeable personnel when transition planning is taking place.

In this issue of RAISE The Standard, we explore what it means to bring a culturally competent approach to transition planning and why it is vital to do so.


Gracia Bareti speaking during her TedX conference

Inviting Cultural Competency Into Our Lives

We turn to Gracia Bareti’s 2019 TEDxDirigo Talk about her experiences of feeling “other.” Of Congolese and Rwandan descent, Gracia is a first-generation US citizen who grew up in Maine and attended a predominantly white school.


From sleepovers to favorite foods, Gracia shares what it was like to grow up navigating multiple cultures, and how she now shapes experience into action that confronts an educational system that is not representative of the people who use it, or the world it exists within.


Watch Gracia Bareti’s TEDxDirigo Talk.

Culturally Responsive Teaching 101

“All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is: ‘To whose culture is it responding?’”

-  Zaretta Hammond


Hear Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, talk about culturally responsive teaching.

video screen grab of Anthony Abraham Jack

Access Ain't Inclusion

Check out this TEDx Talk by Anthony Abraham Jack, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He grew up in a “forgotten” Florida community where “high school graduation was the finish line.”


He describes how getting into college is only part of the battle, and suggests that students need "culture capital" in order to be successful in college and manage the "unwritten curriculum."

Watch Anthony Abraham Jack’s talk.


Kevin Parks, student leader, Coalition to revitalize Asian American Studies

Q: What IS Cultural Competency

A: There is not a single definition of “cultural competence.” Even within the federal government, different departments have adopted different definitions. The Administration on Developmental Disabilities (within the Department of Human Services) defines cultural competency as:


“Services, supports, or other assistance that are conducted or provided in a manner that is responsive to the beliefs, interpersonal styles, attitudes, language, and behaviors of individuals who are receiving services, and in a manner that has the greatest likelihood of ensuring their maximum participation in the program.” (2000)


The National Center for Cultural Competence sees cultural competence within organizations as:


  • Having a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrating behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
  • Having the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of communities they serve.
  • Incorporating the above in all aspects of policy-making, administration, practice and service delivery, and systematically involving consumers, families and communities.”


Culturally responsive practices can create a supportive environment in which all students feel a sense of belonging. These practices foster a climate and culture that acknowledges and embraces students’ cultural knowledge, holds high expectations for all students, and uses an asset-based mindset when engaging with students. In schools and agencies that embrace these approaches, students have agency and voice, and are encouraged to engage in critical thinking and self-reflection. Students see their cultural identities reflected in the curriculum, books, and materials.


View a video of youth involved with the Arkansas Open Education Resources talk about cultural competence.


View a short video of parents, students, teachers, and academicians talking about culturally responsive education, produced by the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice.


Q: Why is cultural competency important in transition planning?

A: Research shows that students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds do not always do well when it comes to major transition outcomes like jobs, college, and independent living. National data show African American and Hispanic students with disabilities were less likely to be employed up to eight years after graduating from high school, compared to their white peers with disabilities. They also reported making a lower hourly wage and receiving fewer benefits (e.g., health insurance) through their jobs than their white peers with disabilities.


Q: How can cultural and linguistic differences affect transition planning?

A: Differences in culture and language can affect family/student engagement in, and expectations for, transition planning in many ways. Here are a few:


  • Some families may have goals for their children that are different from those emphasized by the school culture.
  • Some cultures may view learning or behavioral differences as part of a typical range of behaviors. Families/students may not agree with a school system’s view that there is a disability in need of intervention at all.
  • Some cultures view disability negatively and may believe that disability is caused by sin, an ancestral curse, or demonic possession. Families/students may not be comfortable discussing disability-related issues in the level of detail that schools prefer, and may understandably avoid seeking help.
  • Sharing information with government systems, including schools and agencies, may feel unsafe for some families.
  • Some cultures place greater importance on rituals and traditions. Families/students may view technology or the newest approach to teaching with disinterest or suspicion, and may see them as unnatural or stigmatizing.
  • Some cultures place a greater value on the role of the family and extended family. Families may want their child to live at home where they can be cared for, or to work with a neighbor or family friend in a part‐time job. In some cultures, youth are expected to live at home to care for parents and grandparents.
  • Some cultures do not use economic productivity as an indicator of a person's worth. Families may not expect or encourage their children to go on to higher education, or to be employed, especially if they have a severe disability.


A study in the Journal of Educational Research and Innovation explores the topic of transition planning for diverse students. 

Read the full study here.


Want more?

View this short video produced by the National Education Association (NEA) featuring academic experts from across the United States who describe the importance of cultural competence for educators


Q: What can your school do to improve cultural competency in transition planning?


A: The Maryland State Department of Education website offers tips on how schools can improve cultural responsiveness in transition planning. Schools can:


  • provide professional learning for all stakeholders to increase knowledge, sensitivity, and skills about cultural and linguistic diversity;
  • involve families as respected and valued members of an IEP team that incorporates cultural practices or beliefs in planning and decision-making;
  • support the values of the family when identifying transition goals including prevocational training, job placement, independent living, and community work experiences; and
  • provide access to translated resources about secondary transition planning and adult services.


Read the full paper here.


a group of diverse coworkers placing their hands atop one anothers in a show of teamwork

Toward Culturally Competent Organizations

Typically, this section of RAISE The Standard focuses on helping students and parents communicate more effectively. In this issue, the resource is for YOU, the organizations providing them services.


Here are 12 steps to help your organization lay the foundation to build a more culturally competent organization.


  1. Form a cultural competence committee within your organization with representation from policy-making, administration, service delivery, and community levels. The committee can guide the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the organization’s cultural competence.
  2. Write a mission statement that underscores the importance of cultural competence in all of your organization’s activities.
  3. Develop partnerships with other organizations that are similar. Rather than re-create the wheel, try to adapt some of their processes and information to align with the needs of your organization.
  4. Carry out a comprehensive cultural competence assessment of your organization to help inform your plan. Use the assessment to shape your mission statement, policies, procedures, administration, staffing patterns, service delivery practices, outreach, telecommunications and information dissemination systems, and professional development activities.
  5. Learn about the cultural, linguistic, racial, and ethnic groups in your community. Find out if they are accessing your services and if they are benefiting from them.
  6. Host conversations about cultural competency. Ask stakeholders to think about their attitudes, beliefs, and values related to cultural diversity and cultural competence. Invite a guest speaker.
  7. Allocate resources (time and budget) to staff development programming in cultural competence. Ask your staff about their professional development needs. Find out what your staff perceive as their staff development needs with regard to interacting with cultural groups in your area. Look for conferences, workshops, and seminars on cultural competence.
  8. Get help: Consider an outside facilitator when asking stakeholders to come together to discuss their attitudes, beliefs, and values related to cultural diversity and competence.
  9. Include a cultural competency requirement in job descriptions. Cultural competency requirements should be apparent from the beginning of the hiring process. Discuss the importance of cultural awareness and competency with potential employees.
  10. Be sure your facility is accessible and respectful of difference. Are you certain that the facility’s location, hours, and staffing are accessible to all people, and that the physical appearance of the facility is respectful of different cultural groups? Consider seating arrangements and décor.
  11. Consider communication differences between cultures. For example, in many racial and ethnic groups, elders are highly respected, so it is important to know how to show respect.
  12. Build a network of natural helpers, community connectors, and other experts with knowledge of the cultural, linguistic, racial, and ethnic groups served by your organization. Engage in strategic outreach and membership development with their help and guidance. And be sure there are leadership opportunities for everyone.


Want more guidance?

This 20-page self-assessment tool produced by Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competency, entitled “Cultural and Linguistic Competence Assessment for Disability Organizations,” helps agencies and organizations look at core functions, policies, and practices related to cultural and linguistic competence.

View the Georgetown Guide now.

View resources from the University of Kansas.


View a webinar entitled “Toward a Conception of Culturally Responsive Practices in Transition Planning (CRPTP)” posted by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition.


three diverse teen females working together in a commercial kitchen

Culturally Responsive Transition Planning

To understand how to develop culturally responsive transition practices, it is important for educators to first acknowledge their own cultural values and then recognize how students’ diversity impacts future planning. The following are recommendations educators should follow to support transition-age culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) youth and their families during transition planning.


  • Develop increased knowledge and sensitivity of the students’ and families’ cultures, experiences, and values.
  • Attend pre-service and in-service training and/or courses on topics related to issues that impact youth and families from CLD backgrounds (e.g., history, perspectives involving placement in special education, cross-cultural communication).
  • Learn how certain activities and concepts (e.g., eye contact, gender roles, work ethic, disability) affect the culture.
  • Request internships and practicums in diverse racial and socioeconomic settings. Develop relationships to build trust and rapport with students and families in addressing their concerns, needs, and safety.
  • Attend community events where interaction with diverse groups may occur.
  • Be sensitive to basic survival needs of families. Take the time to build trust, rapport, and credibility with immigrant families to ease fears of deportation or interaction with presumed government authorities, and decide what strategies will best suit their families.
  • Acknowledge that English may not be the dominant language in the home rather than assuming that English is understood.
  • Speak slowly, and listen more.
  • Support the values of the family when identifying transition goals, work-based learning experiences, independent living, and community participation.
  • Ask questions of families and students that reflect respect for their culture, religion, and values as they pertain to planning for life after high school.
  • Identify the views of the youth and family on education, employment, and independent living, including vocational training and community work experiences.
  • Use methods, models, and questions for transition assessment that involve input from students, family, friends, and other key stakeholders to ensure culturally responsive data collection.
  • Work in partnership with families to better understand their unique perspective.
  • Offer guidance and support in understanding the transition planning process.
  • Provide families information on special education laws related to transition, in a form that is easy for them to understand.
  • Create a checklist for parents targeting required transition milestones.
  • Use interpreters familiar with the culture of the family and trained in the basics of special education and transition law.
  • Access parent resource centers to support the needs of youth from CLD backgrounds in the transition process.




Read about How to Develop Culturally Responsive Transition Planning Services.


Read PACER Center’s guide to Transition Planning for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Youth with Disabilities.


Karli Jayne Miller

In this issue of RAISE, we look back into our blog archives to a piece on Intersectionality by Karli Jayne Miller (they/them). Coined by Black scholar and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, “intersectionality” refers to the multiple dimensions of discrimination faced by those with multiple marginalized identities.

“…Intersectionality is how the aspects of an individual’s identity come together to form a unique experience with life and the system of oppressions operating within it, i.e. racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, transphobia, religious discrimination, and socioeconomic oppression, to name a few.

They invite readers to consider their OWN intersectionality:

“Think of your race, gender, religion, sexuality, physical appearance, and ability. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do my identities intersect?’

I am white. I am nonbinary. I am Jewish. I am queer. I am fat. I am disabled and hard of hearing. Some of my identities lend themselves to privilege, and some to oppression or discrimination.”

- Karli Jayne Miller, RAISE Blogger

Read Jayne’s full blog post.


There are eight (8) Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Parent Centers throughout the US that provide training and programming to youth/young adults with disabilities and their families, professionals, and other PTIs and CPRCs on the issues surrounding youth transition.


RSA Parent Centers are funded by the Rehabilitation Service Administration (RSA) under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), which is part of the US Department of Education.

Project Power logo

In this issue of RAISE The Standard, we introduce readers to PEAK Parent Center’s Project POWER serving Region D2. 

Project POWER assists young people with disabilities and their families in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah to meet their transition needs by collaborating with and providing technical assistance to the OSEP-funded PTIs and CPRCs located within the area served. The project links youth and families to current, cutting-edge resources, tools, and support through a range of activities and products, including an interactive, fully accessible project webpage, online and print tools, youth guides, topical webinars, virtual and in-person training curricula, and technical assistance to parent centers designed to assist them in providing successful transition outreach, training, and support to the youth and families in their state or area.


icon with several books on a bluish green circular background

Life after High School: A Guide for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families of Youth with Disabilities is offered in nine languages.


Open Doors for Multicultural Families provides culturally and linguistically appropriate information about transition to adult services, post-secondary resources, and services for culturally & linguistically diverse (CLD) youth with developmental & intellectual disabilities (DD/ID) and their families:


The National Education Association offers a professional learning opportunity on cultural competence:


Project READY offers free, online professional development modules for school and others interested in improving their knowledge about race and racism, racial equity, and culturally sustaining pedagogy. The primary focus of the Project READY curriculum is on improving relationships with, services to, and resources for youth of color and Native youth:


National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families:


National Technical Assistance Center on Transition – Webinar on Culturally Responsive Practices in Transition Planning


National Center on Cultural Competence at Georgetown University:


Access Culturally Responsive Practices (note: you will be asked to set up a free account to access this resource):

RAISE The Standard

Collaboration • Empowerment • Capacity-building

RAISE The Standard enewsletter identifies and shares resources that the Rehabilitation Services Administration Parent Training and Information Centers (RSA-PTI) can use and share with families.

Executive Editor:

Josie Badger

Visit our Website:

The RAISE Technical Assistance Center is working to advance the accessibility of its digital resources, including its websites, enewsletters and various digital documents.

* For more on SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and all of the complementary programs supported, visit


RAISE, the National Resources for Access, Independence, Self-Advocacy and Employment is a user-centered technical assistance center that understands the needs and assets of the RSA-PTIs, coordinates efforts with the Technical Assistance provided by PTI centers and involves RSA-PTIs as key advisors and partners in all product and service development and delivery.

US Dept of Education logo seal

The RAISE Center is a project of the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and is funded by the US Department of Education's Rehabilitation Service Administration. The contents of this resource were developed under a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Education (H235G200007)). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education and should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

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