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Using Cultural Brokers to Build Bridges and Increase Access to Services

Related Objective(s)

Virginia’s Partnership for People with Disabilities is a leader in using cultural brokerage within parent-to-parent support. Their UCEDD’s cultural brokerage program began in 2009 with a health department project focused on the experience of Black and Latino families being treated by white doctors. VCU hired parent liaisons for the project and after the project ended, the liaisons began to focus on becoming the bridge builders between the disability community and their cultural communities.

They outreached to agencies and organizations that people from their community would most likely encounter, for example for immigrant communities they outreached to Catholic Charities, social service agencies, schools, and migration and refugee services. They asked questions about the supports these organizations were offering parents of children with disabilities. To fill a gap, their cultural brokers help present trainings focused on disability and co-facilitate support groups for families. With this cultural brokerage program, organizations can also refer those families to the UCEDD and connect them with a broker who is also a parent of a person with a disability, speaks the same language, and is from the same culture as them.

The Partnership for People with Disabilities is committed to researching cultural brokerage using parent-to-parent support and spent two years investigating how to accurately define their cultural brokerage intervention. Research says that parent-to-parent support works best when people have perceived “sameness." Culture is one of those layers of like experience and cultural brokerage served as a mechanism to reach more families in their parent-to-parent work.

They maintain at least six cultural brokers who perform the roles of parent-to-parent support as well as educating their communities about disability.  Along the way they’ve learned the following through research and experience that may be helpful for UCEDDs who want to start their own cultural brokerage initiative:

  • Each of their cultural brokers works a little differently and it’s important that the model is flexible to the needs of individual communities and cultures
  • Role clarity for cultural brokers is important for expectation setting and trust building— For example, there may be disagreement on whether cultural brokers are advocates or educators, while parents may misunderstand and see cultural brokers as simply translators. Instead, a cultural broker might take the role to teach a family member how to advocate for themselves to have an interpreter present.
  • Importance of Language and Culture— experts believe culture is paramount, cultural brokers believe language is most important, but the families receiving support value having both similar language and culture represented in their cultural broker.
  • Competency and cultural agility are incredibly important in the role of cultural broker, but there are limitations when someone does not share cultural identity.
  • Hire more than one cultural broker to get started, even if it means hiring people part-time.
  • In recruiting cultural brokers, ask about their experience supporting people with disabilities in their community to make sure they would be respected as cultural brokers within their community
  • Come prepared to engage with the community, otherwise you can destroy trust.

If you want to learn more about the Partnership for People with Disabilities’ cultural broker program, please contact Dana Yarbrough at

Logo for Virginia Commonweath University.

Logo for Partnership for People with Disabilities. Text reads: Leading people. Changing lives.Logo for Virginia Commonweath University.

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