The needs of culturally diverse clients

Community and disability services organisations need to consider the diversity of their clients’ values, beliefs and cultural expectations. To work effectively with culturally diverse clients, you will need knowledge and skills.

You will need to:

  1. Be aware of your own cultural background/experiences, attitudes, values, and biases that might influence your ability to assist clients from diverse cultural populations. It is essential that you correct any prejudices and biases you may have regarding different cultural groups.
  2. Educate yourself wherever possible to enhance your understanding and to address the needs of culturally diverse clients. This may involve learning about cultural, social, psychological, political, economic, and historical material specific to the particular ethnic group being served.
  3. Recognise that ethnicity and culture may have an impact on a client’s behaviour.
  4. Assist clients to become aware of their own cultural values and norms, and facilitate discovery of ways clients can apply this awareness to their own lives and to society at large, as well as within the organisation.
  5. Respect the client’s religious and/or spiritual beliefs and values.
  6. Work to eliminate biases, prejudices, and discriminatory practices.
  7. Provide information in a language that the client can understand.
  8. Provide information in writing, along with oral explanations.

(Adapted from Pine et al 1990)

Specific needs that may need to be addressed include:

Religious practice

Community and disability services workers need to be alert to the possible differences in religious ritual and the impact of a person’s religious practice on their beliefs and value system.  Dominant religion may regard other religions as cults rather than official religions however people of any religion have a right to respect.

The following points may assist you to become sensitive to different religious practices:

  • Clarify the client’s or co-worker’s religious practice.
  • Consult others who know or follow the same religious practice to gain further understanding.


You need to consider, for example, cultural views on the social significance of youth or age, and the specific needs of young people and elderly people.


You also need to consider different cultural views of disability and care of family members with a disability, putting the person before the disability, and facilities for people with a disability. Focus on the person, not the disability.

Gender preferences

You need to be aware that some cultural groups have quite definite views on the opposite sex providing services to individuals. Work practices may need to be adapted to allow for different cultural views and protocols governing interaction and physical contact with the opposite gender. For example, a single woman may refuse to be alone in an office with a male, or a male may be uncomfortable with being interviewed by a pregnant women.

Sexual preferences

It is important to consider cultural views of homosexuality, transgender and non-traditional partnerships.

Culturally inclusive practice

It is unrealistic to expect community and disability services workers to know the cultural practices of every ethnic and cultural group in Queensland. Acknowledgement of possible differences in practice, and seeking clarification before taking action, are keys to overcoming this problem.

Potential areas of difference

Suggested questions for ensuring culturally inclusive practice

Physical contact

When is touching appropriate?

Which part of the body should not be touched? For example, touching a person’s head could be a cultural taboo for some cultural groups.

Is it appropriate to touch or be touched by the opposite sex?

Eye contact

Is it appropriate to make direct eye contact? For example, in some cultures, not having direct eye contact shows respect to others.

Emotional expression

Would it be appropriate to express emotions (such as grief and loss) overtly or covertly?

When should a person smile? For example, in some Asian cultures, people sometimes use smiles to cover sadness, anger, and worry, to save face or to be polite.

Personal appearance

What is considered appropriate clothing?

What are definitions of ‘clean and tidy’?

Personal belongings or possessions

What is the perception of ownership?

How should a person’s personal belongings be handled?

Forms of address (e.g. greetings)

What is the appropriate way to address the co-worker or client?

What is the correct way to pronounce their name?

Is there any difference in addressing people who are older or younger than you?


What is the reason for a client’s behaviour?

Don’t make assumptions of the person’s behaviour based on what would make sense in your own culture.

Last modified: Thursday, 3 November 2016, 11:18 AM