By Erica Maranowski
The Oregon IDA Initiative seeks to understand who we are reaching and who we are not, in terms of program participation and success, with a focus on communities that face barriers to wealth building and economic stability. Because of barriers that public and private institutions have put into place, we often see racial and other disparities in access to financial stability, financial well-being, and what we all need to thrive.
Historically, demographic data has often erased many facets of identity by lumping folks into broad, homogenous categories that hide and overlook diversity. For example, the category “Asian” is extremely broad – it includes folks with origins from the Philippines to Cambodia to Vietnam to Japan. Other lived experiences have often not been talked about at all. Disability is often entirely ignored. Gender is often limited to “female” and “male”, erasing non-binary, two-spirit, and trans folks.
To better understand who we are serving, and to request information in a more inclusive way, the Oregon IDA Initiative has updated the demographic questions that we ask participants during their intake process. These include new and better questions about race, ethnicity, language, disability, and gender – as well as existing questions about other lived experiences (e.g. veterans, former foster youth, first-generation college students, and those who’ve experienced greater housing instability). Better demographics will help us do better work on equity.
These questions mostly come from a community-developed tool used by the Oregon Health Authority called the REALD (Race, Ethnicity, Language and Disability). A central shift in this intake survey, beyond expanding options, is that it asks IDA participants to self-identify, with the understanding that they are the experts on their heritage, communities, and lived experience. We hope that by inviting IDA participants to self-identify in more detailed and nuanced ways, participants will feel valued rather than made invisible.
As part of Neighborhood Partnership’s process of using an equity lens when developing and implementing systems changes, we conducted a series of focus groups with IDA participants, which informed our materials and staff training. We’ve engaged with IDA provider staff to consider impacts of the changes, and to workshop supportive and respectful strategies for working with clients to complete the survey.
Grouping diverse experiences into large, oversimplified boxes is extremely erasing, as is excluding entire identities. Clear demographic data is an important tool as the Initiative seeks to ensure that IDA resources are shared equitably. Allowing IDA participants to self-identify in a way that more accurately represents them provides us with a better understanding of who we are serving, where gaps exist, and what resources we need to develop to better serve the full range of Oregonians who could benefit from IDAs. We are pleased to incorporate much of this important work into what we do, and to be part of the push towards more equitable data for Oregon communities.