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The Untold Importance of Cultural Sensitivity in Vocational Rehabilitation

The world is a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and viewpoints. However, this diversity can be a double-edged sword—especially in the sphere of rehabilitation services. Cultural competency is not just a buzzword; it’s an essential skill set that vocational rehabilitation counselors, those working with minorities, and professionals in the blindness and low vision sectors must cultivate. But what is cultural competency, and why is it so significant?

Defining Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is defined as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable effective work in cross-cultural situations” (Cross et al., 1989). In simpler terms, it is the ability to provide effective services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of diverse clients (Grote, Zuckerman, & Cederbaum, 2020).

The Necessity in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling

Imagine a vocational rehab counselor attempting to place an individual from a marginalized community in a job without understanding their cultural background. The chances of effective rehabilitation are slim because the counselor’s advice may not be culturally sensitive, relevant, or even understandable. According to the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC), cultural competency is vital for vocational rehabilitation counselors. Not only does it enhance the client-counselor relationship, but it also impacts the success rates of vocational goals (Crudden et al., 2018).

Addressing the Needs of Minorities

In the United States, minorities often face a unique set of challenges that go beyond the vocational sphere. Systemic discrimination can manifest itself in many forms, affecting the availability of quality healthcare, education, and job opportunities. A culturally competent rehabilitation counselor understands these challenges and can provide services that are both sensitive and effective. As per NRTC, there is a significant gap in the delivery of culturally competent services to minority clients, leading to decreased levels of employment and education among these communities (Cavenaugh, Giesen, & Pierce, 2000).

Blindness and Low Vision

Being visually impaired introduces another layer of complexity to rehabilitation. The NRTC highlights that professionals working in this sphere often lack awareness of the cultural aspects that influence a client’s approach to vision loss and rehabilitation (Capella-McDonnall, 2005). A culturally competent counselor will understand, for example, that some cultures may view blindness as a stigma, affecting the client’s willingness to participate in rehabilitation programs or to use assistive technologies.

Case Examples

The Latino Community: Research indicates that Hispanic individuals with disabilities have lower rates of employment compared to their white counterparts. A culturally competent counselor would recognize the importance of family in Hispanic culture and involve them in the rehabilitation process (Crudden, McDonnall, & Sui, 2019).
African Americans with Vision Loss: According to NRTC, African Americans are at higher risk for conditions that result in vision loss, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. A culturally competent service would include targeted educational programs and resources to address these issues early on (Giesen & Cavenaugh, 2012).
Native Americans: They face additional layers of systemic challenges, including living in remote areas with limited access to services. NRTC stresses the importance of adapting rehabilitation strategies that respect their unique cultural perspectives and logistical challenges (O’Mally & Steverson, 2009).


Cultural competency is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It requires ongoing education, self-awareness, and a genuine commitment to understanding the unique needs of diverse client populations. In the context of rehabilitation services, the absence of cultural competency is not just an oversight—it’s a severe gap in the quality and effectiveness of care. By embedding cultural competency into their practices, professionals can create a more inclusive, sensitive, and successful rehabilitation environment.


Cross, T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaacs, M. (1989). Towards A Culturally Competent System of Care.

Grote, N., Zuckerman, S., & Cederbaum, J. (2020). Cultural Competence in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Crudden, A., McDonnall, M., & Sui, Z. (2019). Barriers to Employment for Transition-Age Youth with Visual Impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Cavenaugh, B., Giesen, J. M., & Pierce, S. J. (2000). Rehabilitation of visually impaired persons in separate and general agencies. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Capella-McDonnall, M. (2005). Predictors of Competitive Employment for Blind and Visually Impaired Consumers of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Giesen, J. M., & Cavenaugh, B. S. (2012). Transition-Age Youths with Visual Impairments in Vocational Rehabilitation: A New Look at Competitive Outcomes and Services. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

O’Mally, J., & Steverson, R. A. (2009). Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation: Cultural Considerations for Service Delivery. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling.


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