How to Recognize Your Cultural Competence A group activity at the ASHA convention opened this SLP’s eyes to the fluidity of her own cultural identity. And to how much that matters. From My Perspective
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From My Perspective  |   March 01, 2015
How to Recognize Your Cultural Competence
Author Notes
  • Irene Gilbert Torres, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in New York City. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations; 16, School-Based Issues; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. irenetorres@optonline.com
    Irene Gilbert Torres, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in New York City. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations; 16, School-Based Issues; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. irenetorres@optonline.com×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / From My Perspective
From My Perspective   |   March 01, 2015
How to Recognize Your Cultural Competence
The ASHA Leader, March 2015, Vol. 20, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.20032015.6
The ASHA Leader, March 2015, Vol. 20, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.20032015.6
What constitutes cultural awareness?
As a five-year member of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board and as a practitioner who works with a predominantly Afro-Caribbean population that is culturally very different from my Irish-American background, I have thought about this question quite a bit—especially because many ASHA members report themselves as not culturally competent.
Most of the various definitions of cultural competence include two important components: the idea that people must be aware of cultural differences and that no one culture is superior to any other culture.
I would think most ASHA members easily grasp these ideas, so why do they view themselves as not culturally competent? Maybe it’s because many don’t feel they truly understand the norms and language use of other cultures.
An activity that can help bolster practitioners’ confidence in their cultural competence is “I’m Different, You Are Too! Cultural Awareness From the Inside Out,” presented by the Multicultural Issues Board at the 2014 ASHA Convention. Based on a Communication Disorders Quarterly article on developing cultural intelligence by Mona Griffer and Susan Perlis, and using the Multi-Perspective Identity Theory, the exercise requires participants to:
  • Choose adjectives that describe themselves in various areas—age, religion, ability/disability, social class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and any other area they consider pertinent.

  • Choose the three areas that influenced their identity or practice the most.

  • Recall moments or events related to those parameters that affect their treatment of clients.

As I took part in the activity, it became very clear to me that my culture was not just about my race and my ethnicity—it was about all aspects of my identity, and it took on very different meanings depending on the time and setting of my life.
I realized that culture is not static, neither for ourselves nor for our clients, and that we best serve our clients when we constantly view them from multiple perspectives.
Cultural competence is about knowing how we perceive ourselves and our clients. If I describe myself according to the convention presentation parameters, I am a middle-aged, white, Irish-Catholic, American, heterosexual, upper-middle-class, able-bodied female (and, to add more factors) who is married, a mother of only sons, a mother-in-law and a grandmother. Some of those parameters will never change, some will. Some will be more important than others at various points in my life.
In today’s society, almost all of those parameters can change and have varying significance according to circumstance.
My Irish American-ness will not change, but the day I married into a Cuban family, the significance and meaning of that factor changed. My being raised a Catholic will not change, but when I left my all-Catholic school environment, and then later when I began working at an Orthodox Jewish organization, it took on a very different significance.
My femaleness would have a very different meaning if I worked in a less female-dominated profession. Obviously, age changes all the time, but at what points does the change matter? My social class and physical well-being are factors that could change due to circumstances beyond my control.
Culture is dynamic and cultural awareness is just that: awareness. Our skills as certified ASHA members enable us to be culturally aware. We have the skills to analyze the factors that contribute to our own cultural perspective and the skills to ask the questions to find out what factors influence our clients. Knowing a list of language characteristics of someone from Vietnam or knowing the features of African American English is not as important as knowing ourselves and knowing how to get to know our clients.
You have the skills; use them to identify yourself and your clients’ perspectives and the factors that influence your practice. Identify your own multi-perspective inventory and realize that because you are clinically competent, you can be culturally competent.
Download the MIB convention presentation at on.asha.org/MIB-presentation. Contributors to the presentation include Mona Griffer, Lisa Abbott-Moore, Rosa Abreu, Alejandro Brice, Nathan Cornish, Matthew Gillispie, Li Hsieh, Lisa Moreasun, Pryia Sudarsanam and Yumi Sumida.
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March 2015
Volume 20, Issue 3