Reframing Deficit Narratives to Honor the Community Cultural Wealth of Immigrant Families of Children with Disabilities

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Soyoung Park


Existing research suggests that immigrant families navigating the special education process are rarely positioned as powerful partners working alongside educators. This is a manifestation of the racism and ableism endemic to the United States schooling system that leads to educators viewing immigrant families from a deficit-based lens. Do these perceptions, however, match the ways that immigrant families view themselves? This qualitative participant-observation study addresses this question by exploring educators’ and families’ perceptions and positionings of immigrant families who are navigating special education. I unpack discrepant views among educators and families of 16 children labeled “English Learner” with or suspected of having disabilities. The findings indicate that the immigrant families see themselves as possessing tremendous community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), which counters the deficit-oriented view the educators have of them. I argue for a reframing of the common narratives surrounding immigrant families in special education away from deficit-based conceptions towards ones that honor the strengths, knowledge, and assets of the families.

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