The extended family can be an asset for a person with a disability who may need support in a number of areas. For example, some individuals with disabilities may be isolated and have limited participation in everyday activities outside the home. Within African American extended families, however, there may be less isolation because of ties to persons within and outside the immediate family. The presence of the extended family among African Americans with disabilities was seen in a study by Belgrave, Davis, & Vadja, 1994. In a study of providers of social support for African Americans with disabilities, they found that African Americans listed more kin than White Americans although there was no difference between the two groups in the number of immediate family members listed. The findings from this study suggest that the networks of African Americans with disabilities are more likely to include more significant others outside the immediate family. This extended family may provide emotional support and reassurance, as well as material support (i.e., help with transportation, baby-sitting, etc.). Extended family also provides an additional buffer for dealing with stress or problems within the household. The extended family is likely to live in the community and be in frequent contact with the family.
An understanding of who is in the extended family and what functions these individuals serve may help us understand why and how medical and rehabilitation services are accessed. For example, when working with a consumer, it may be helpful to know who will assist the individual in going to his or her appointment or who will provide transportation.
The importance of the extended family in employment outcomes of African Americans with disabilities was seen in a study by Walker et al. (1995). In this study, Walker et al. examined how support from various sources related to employment beliefs. These beliefs were expected to contribute to whether or not people found a job. Using a mostly African American sample, the authors found that support from family was related to one's beliefs that he or she would secure employment. Support from professionals was not related to employment beliefs. This finding provides support for the involvement of family in rehabilitation and medical activities for African Americans.
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