Cultural Influences on Disability and Outcomes

The influence of culture on disability is pervasive. Culture impacts disability prevalence, how one thinks about and experiences a disabling condition, and how one functions as a result of a disabling condition. Culture may be considered the sum total of a society's customs, habits, beliefs, and values (Kroeber & Cluckholm, 1963). Beals (1967) defined culture as ideas, feelings, and practices that individuals adopt as members of a system. This system may include people, material objects, and customs. Leininger (1978) defined culture as a way of life that directs the actions and thoughts of a group of people. These thoughts and actions are pervasive and impact all aspects of life, including one's morbidity, mortality, and functioning. The assumption made in this chapter and throughout the book is that culture impacts how people react to and cope with chronic illness and disability. For African Americans, African, along with American, culture shape core values, beliefs, and behaviors.

The first section of this chapter provides an overview of the ways in which culture shapes one's beliefs and behaviors regarding health, illness, and disability. Attitudes about persons with disabilities including self attitudes is an important contributor to coping and adjustment. Attitudes and beliefs about disability as a function of culture and ethnicity are discussed in the next section. Also included in this section is a discussion of factors that influence positive attitudes toward disability and acceptance of disability among African Americans. For African Ameri cans, Africentric beliefs provide the cultural context in which to understand the culture and behavior of African Americans. Africentric values and worldview are discussed in the third part of the chapter. The final section of the chapter is a discussion of how Africentric beliefs impact outcomes and functioning among African Americans with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

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