Cultural Competence of a Social Worker

Imagine being a social worker assigned to an agency in an urban city. This agency primarily serves people with disabilities, a population that is relatively new to you. In order to serve this population, part of your job is to become culturally competent about their experiences in society. What does "culturally competent" mean? As a practitioner, it means recognizing and respecting an individual's differences and then building upon that to create an awareness of how those differences have impacted that individual's life experiences. Further, it means recognizing that these individuals are the experts of their own lives and, in turn, it means that you must ask a lot of questions to learn about their specific needs while you work together. How does this translate into specific skills you can use? For example, if you are working with Susan, who is deemed legally blind, you might ask her how close she would like to sit to you so that she could make out your shape and shadow during the conversation. For Fred, who is in a wheelchair, that might mean learning how difficult it is for him to manage getting around the city, due to a lack of curb cuts. Or for Maria, it might mean learning about epilepsy and how to properly react should she have a seizure during a session. How might you exhibit cultural competence when working with your selected population?

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