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Results of Focus Groups with Latinos and Health Care Clinicans

by Celestine Willis, Mansha Mirza, Marcia Finlayson, and Joy Hammel
Department of Occupational Therapy, University of Illinois at Chicago

February 2005

As part of the efforts to improve access to assistive technology for people with disabilities through Alternative Financing Programs (AFPs), members of the Technical Assistance team based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have conducted a series of focus groups with different stakeholder groups over the past year. This report summarizes the findings of two focus groups held at UIC in the fall of 2004, one for Latinos with disabilities and one for professionals who might refer individuals to an AFP.


A focus group is a guided discussion with a small group of people on a specific topic. They provide a safe avenue for people to discuss their shared experiences, and can be collaborative and empowering in that they can enhance communication between providers and consumers. For these reasons, conducting focus groups can be useful for AFPs because they provide insights on the opinions of stakeholders, and data for planning, program development, and outreach and marketing.

Over the years of the AFP, many state programs have had difficulty outreaching to minority populations, particularly Latinos. In addition, they have received relatively few referrals to their programs from the health care professionals who may be working with people with disabilities on assistive technology issues. For these reasons, these two groups of individuals were targeted for focus group discussions.


The Latino focus group: A total of 8 individuals (2 male, 6 female) participated in a focus group in November 2004 facilitated by Rene Luna and Mansha Mirza of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Participants represented individuals from two disability groups – physical disability and intellectual disability. One of the female participants attended the group to represent her mother, who has a disability.

Participants described using a wide range of AT, including mobility devices, hearing aids and computer technologies. They had used Medicare/Medicaid, private insurance, family funds and self-pay to obtain the AT they were currently using. Their frustrations with current funding included selective coverage, ineligibility for bank loans, and the complexity of the systems for funding. Overall, they found the factors that made is easier for them to obtain the AT they needed included: being an informed consumer, being aware of entitlements, making bold decisions, and fighting back.

Participants were not familiar with the AFP, and questioned whether it made sense to take on a loan with their fixed incomes. After an explanatory presentation about the program, they indicated that they might use the program to obtain home modifications, adapted transportation, and computer technologies. They felt that the features of the program (interest rates, repayment plans, breadth of funding) were positive features. Nevertheless, they felt that they needed more information about the program and how it works before they would be willing to actually make an application. In addition, they felt that they would like to have one-to-one financial counseling, advice and assistance to make the program more attractive.

Participants suggested that a number of cultural barriers were contributing to the lack of use of the AFP in the Latino community, including: Tendency within the community to see government programs as a ‘favor’ not a right; sense of responsibility among family members to do things for the person with the disability; tendency to view use of programs like the AFP as a potential threat to their immigration status; limited personal advocacy skills; language barriers; and fear of loosing one set of services by asking for another.

The group recommended the following strategies to reach out to Latinos with disabilities:

    • Educate families and communities
    • Make churches, colleges and employers more aware of this program
    • Advertise on Spanish T.V. channels
    • Advertise in Spanish print media
    • Advertise through the Internet
    • Involve community groups/leaders in outreach activities
    • Educate public officials to promote the program
    • Create partnerships between agencies such as CILs, Rehab. Hospitals, Churches.

The Professional focus group: Six individuals from the disciplines of occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, social work and speech language pathology participated in a focus group in September 2004 facilitated by Joy Hammel and Marcia Finlayson of the University of Illinois at Chicago. None of the participants had heard of the AFP, so after a brief introduction to the program and what it offers, the group discussed the types of AT needed by their clients, and issues/problems in terms of connecting their clients to the AFP.

A key issue that emerged during the discussion was that AT funding options are generally not well known among the professionals, and that it is often difficult for them to keep up with the on-going changes in funding options. Consequently, AT funding is often not discussed with clients. The group made the following recommendations for AFPs:

    • Outreach and education to the professionals about the AFP
    • In-services and newsletter articles to the different professional groups to get the word out about the AFP.

After reviewing samples of loan application packages, the participants commented on the complexity of the application forms and the instructions. They felt that the clients that they see in their practices would be unable to complete the form and loan process without assistance. The computer application forms were viewed as limiting, because of the poor internet access among the majority of their clients. They recommended that the AFP consider a more simplified, accessible application process to accommodate the people with disabilities that they see in their practices.


It is interesting to note the similarities across the recommendations made by the participants in the two focus groups. Both groups identified the need for better outreach to create awareness about the program and both recommended collaborating with and educating rehabilitation and other kinds of professionals. Both groups also recommended changes to the application process in order to make it more accessible and convenient for consumers.

The information obtained from the above discussions can be used by AFP to reflect on their outreach efforts, as well as the strategies that they use to align their services with the needs and preferences of their consumers.


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