Southeast Asian American families are underrepresented among recipients of special education and social services for people with developmental disabilities. Our aims were to use a community-based participatory research approach to examine Hmong and Mien families' perceptions of developmental disabilities and understand barriers to and facilitators of service provision among families experiencing developmental disabilities. We describe here a case study of a successful attempt to engage marginalized and underserved communities to understand their needs to improve access and services for persons with developmental disabilities.


We conducted 2 focus groups with 11 key informants and 1 focus group with 10 family members of persons with developmental disabilities, as well as in-depth interviews with 3 shamans. Using a thematic analysis approach, we coded notes and transcripts to assess community members' understanding of developmental disabilities, experiences negotiating educational and health care systems, and barriers to high-quality care.


A predominant theme was the perception that reliance on governmental support services is not appropriate. Common barriers identified included lack of accurate information, language difficulties, lack of trust, and limited outreach. These perceptions and barriers, combined with limited access to services, interfere with community acceptance and use of available support services. Despite these barriers, participants indicated that with education, outreach, and culturally responsive support, families would likely accept services.


Community-based participatory methods are effective for eliciting root causes of health inequities in marginalized communities. Outreach to community-based organizations and an inclusive research practice identified social and cultural reasons for low service uptake and provided a pathway for the community to improve services for persons with developmental disabilities.

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