Developing a Hispanic Outreach Program
That Works

By Ana Torres-Davis

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 1 (1994)

Efficient provision of services to underserved populations requires the same skills and planning as any well thought-out marketing campaign. Multiple strategies, persistence, sensitivity to audience response, and a willingness to learn are successful strategies for reaching a target audience regardless of whether the goal is to sell automobiles or publicize available services.

Having a Plan

Any effective outreach begins with a plan, and marketing plans begin with a thorough look at the target audienceždemographics, values, concentration, habits, income, and general level of education. If, through surveys or other research, it is discovered that compared to other ethnic groups disproportionate numbers of Hispanics are not using state assistive technology project services, a review of the project's marketing plan is in order. The question of how to target this population must begin with a thorough understanding of who they are and why they are not using project services. Is there a language barrier, a breakdown in communications, a cultural antipathy to your approach? None of these questions can be answered until more is known about the target audience.

General knowledge about the Hispanic culture as well as specific facts about Hispanic individuals in the local community can be easily found and used to develop a cogent outreach program--one that delivers useful services in a manner compatible with the target audience. For instance, the very term "Hispanic culture" is at best a general phrase for the many different subcultures that comprise the Hispanic influence in America. Differences across the nationalities exist although similarities across these subcultures contribute to the development of values and cultural norms characteristically called Hispanic. The similarities include:

However, like any other culture, the Hispanic population is comprised of individuals. As such they may hold positions which vary from the commonly understood cultural similarities of the group. This is an important consideration as marketing plans are developed. While recognition and consideration of cultural similarities is essential, it is equally important to guard against perpetuation of sterotypes. Marketing plans, to be successful, must always consider the individual consumer. A suggested reading list on various ethnic groups in America follows this article and a more extensive list is available from the Project Reaching Out Office.

Gathering Data

Following a thorough lesson in Hispanic culture, it is necessary to gather particular facts about the Hispanic Americans in the state or community:

The answers to these questions range from simple statistical data to more subjective responses. The purpose in gathering this information is to ascertain gaps and the reasons for them. Statistical data are available from several sources:

Major libraries may carry these federally funded statistical profiles. Also, other state or local service providers may have information on the local area, perhaps even on Hispanics with disabilities.

A general look at statistical data may uncover which ethnic groups or specific populations are not using project services. If a group emerges as underserved from this review, then an outreach program tailored to the group's specific profile is in order.

Reaching Out Into the Community

Once a knowledge base about Hispanic culture and local demographics is established, outreach efforts can be planned. Project Reaching Out's own experience this past year to identify and test strategies to reach the Hispanic community confirm what experienced marketers know and practice: There is no single approach that will be successful in reaching all individuals in the community. Even if local data indicate that all the Hispanics in the community reside within a five-block radius, differences in age, gender, nationality, education, literacy levels, and family status would still preclude the success of a single outreach effort within those five blocks. Various approaches and the flexibility to adjust those approaches will be needed no matter which underserved population is targeted.

However, once the targeted population is researched the message to them can be formulated, both in content and approach. Content should be clear and concise. Avoid using terms unfamiliar to the general public. For example, "assistive technology" means little to the average citizen and should be used only with careful explanation in outreach materials. In pilot training programs, Project Reaching Out staff discovered that the terms most readily recognized by the public were "adapted equipment," "adapted devices," or "products/devices/equipment that make life easier for persons with disabilities."

The approach can vary with the nationality but certain aspects are obvious, such as the use of the Spanish language to reach Hispanics. Also, a Hispanic person with strong cultural ties to the community will be a more effective spokesperson. Bilingual and Hispanic staff help to decrease language barriers, validate the program to those Hispanics who may not be comfortable outside their own cultural milieu, and they increase the programžs capabilities to serve all of the community.

The specific message and approach points the way to avenues of communication. Is there a local television or radio station that broadcasts in Spanish; is there a Spanish-language newspaper? If so, then public service announcements may be a good outreach effort. Flyers and posters in predominantly Hispanic areas and in popular Hispanic gathering places may also be effective. Perhaps there is a local Hispanic-run graphics business that would (for a reduced or waived fee) assist you in creating colorful and eye-catching brochures or PSAs (public service announcements). Even cartoons may be used effectively as attention-getters.

Also, one should not overlook the personal touch. Because of the value placed on personal relationships and personal respect in Hispanic culture, this is an especially important area for Hispanic outreach efforts, and one that should not be overlooked for any targeted group. Staff visits to Hispanic community organizations and leaders can spread the word of the program's existence and its capabilities to help. A social service agency active in the targeted area may also be tapped to help with referrals. This agency needs to be thoroughly familiar with the program's services. A presence at Hispanic festivals and other community events and strong contacts with community-based Hispanic organizations must be ongoing and personal.

Be Ready for Success

Successful outreach is just the first step. It is also necessary to deliver the goods! Once Hispanic individuals begin contacting the program, you must be ready to respond to phone calls and visits by Spanish-speaking clients. Bilingual and, if at all possible, Hispanic staff should be on hand. Regardless of the targeted population, a willingness to be guided by that particular culture's ways of communicating and a sensitivity to the individual's right to equality and fair treatment "cultural sensitivity" need to guide the program's fulfillment efforts just as they guided the outreach efforts. Quality services delivered efficiently and effectively to everyone making up the American community is a goal which needs no clarification.

Recommended Books On Cultural Diversity:

1. Locke, D.C. Increasing Multicultural Understanding: A Comprehensive Model. Sage Publications Inc., Newbury Park, California, 1992. A practical book to increase multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skill. Includes chapters on African-Americans, Amish, Japanese Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Native Americans, and more.

2. Mcadoo, H.P. Editor. Family Ethnicity: Strength in Diversity. Sage Publications, Inc., Newbury Park, California, 1993. A volume of writings from distinguished authors on the meaning of family ethnicity in relation to five major cultural groups: African- Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Muslim Americans. While each group faces a separate set of issues, all deal with relating to the majority culture, assimilation versus accommodation, poverty, inequality, isolation, and discrimination.

3. Brislin, R.W., Cushner, K., Cherrie, C., & Yong, M. Intercultural Interactions: A Practical Guide. Sage Publications Inc., Newbury Park, California, 1986. An excellent training device, this book uses the "critical incident" technique whereby actors role play an incident containing a multicultural theme and some common characteristics of interpersonal interactions. It is a useful tool in helping individuals adjust to another or new culture.

4. Pederson, P. A Handbook for Developing Cultural Awareness. American Association for Counseling and Development, Alexandria, Virginia, 1988. Role-playing techniques are also used in this book to help counselors and others identify and overcome culturally learned stereotypes.


The A.T. Quarterly was a newsletter developed by the RESNA TA Project under a contract with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED). The content, however, does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED and no official endorsement of the material should be inferred.


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