Defining Diversity, Intersectionality, and Cultural Competence


Differences in culture, ethnic or racial classification, self-identification, tribal or clan affiliation, nationality, language, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, education, religion, spirituality, physical and intellectual abilities, personal appearance, and other factors that distinguish one group or individual from another. (Adapted from Goode & Jackson, 2009.)


The multiple social group memberships and identities that expose an individual to different types of discrimination and disadvantage (Sue, Rasheed and Rasheed, 2016).

Cultural competence

Requires that organizations have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally. (Adapted by the National Center for Cultural Competence from Cross, Bazron, Dennis, Issacs, 1989.)

Linguistic competency

Requires organizational capacity to respond effectively to the health and mental health literacy needs of populations served. The organization must have policy, structures, practices, procedures, and dedicated resources to support this capacity (Goode & Jones, modified 2009.)

Health Disparities and Inequalities Faced by Members of Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups Who Have a Disability Include:

  • Health Access: People of color with disabilities experience an enormous health disparity amplifying phenomenon as they experience racial and ethnic health disparities compounded exponentially by the effects of disability health disparities (Blick, et al., 2015).
  • Education: Completing secondary education can be more challenging for people of color with a disability (Blick, et al., 2015). African American children are disproportionately placed in special education classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). An estimated 14.8 percent of the general school-aged population is African-American and yet they comprise 20 percent of the special education population (Losen and Orfield, 2002, as cited in Blick, Franklin, Ellsworth, Havercamp & Kornblau, 2015).
  • Income: Poverty is one of the most significant and most commonly cited social determinants of health. Race, ethnicity, and disability are all associated with poverty. In 2012, 27.2 percent of African Americans lived in poverty, compared with 25.6 percent of Hispanics, 11.7 percent of Asians, and 9.7 percent of whites (Blick, et al., 2015).
  • Environment: Both children of color and children with disabilities experience adversities from the environments in which they live. Of the approximately 2 million people with disabilities who do not leave their homes, about 560,000 do not leave because of transportation problems. African Americans with disabilities tend to rely on public transit more often than non-African-Americans with disabilities. Inadequate transportation is a major barrier to obtain and maintain employment, engage in community life, and participate in medical appointments and other healthy lifestyle activities (e.g., physical fitness activities, access to nutritious food, etc.) (Blick R.N., Franklin, M.D., Ellsworth, D.W., Havercamp, S.M., Kornblau, B.L., 2015).
  • Employment: The unemployment rate of people with disabilities was 12.5 percent in 2014, while the rate for those without disabilities was 5.9 percent. However, within the disability community, employment rates were lowest for African Americans. (Blick, R.N., Franklin, M.D., Ellsworth, D.W., Havercamp, S.M., Kornblau, B.L., 2015).
  • Housing: The presence or absence of adequate housing is a significant health indicator for individuals with disabilities and for people of color. Both marginalized populations experience discrimination in housing, substandard housing, and high rates of homelessness (Blick, R.N., Franklin, M.D., Ellsworth, D.W., Havercamp, S.M., Kornblau, B.L., 2015).