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Six Questions You Can Ask To Support Disability Inclusion

Thursday, April 23, 2020
by Ryan Easterly, Executive Director, WITH Foundation


Funders have an opportunity to protect and preserve disability civil and human rights for the 1 in 4 Americans that have a disability. How can we alter our practices to be intentional about disability-inclusive giving? How can applying a disability lens create more effective grantmaking, especially now?  

Crises like this pandemic can overshadow the needs and experiences of the disability, chronically ill, and aging communities. Below are six questions funders can ask potential and current grantees in support of disability inclusion, now and in your overall grantmaking strategies. 

1. How does your work impact disability communities?

It is essential to ask how an organization is being intentional in serving and impacting disability communities. The experience of disability occurs within all communities, whether based on gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, family status, religious affiliation, class, or veteran status. As funders, we can create a space for grantees to be transparent about their outreach to the disability community - how they plan to do outreach, what the messaging looks like, and how they plan to implement any future changes. Set the expectation that an organization should provide insight into its outreach within disability communities and local/national disability organizations.

2. Do you allocate funds in your  budgets for accessibility or access needs?

Whether in our professional or personal lives, we know that most of the time, we pay for the things we value. The same is true for project or organization budgets, which should reflect accommodation, accessibility, and access needs. Sign language interpreting, accessible seating, captioning, CART (communication access real-time translation), and other services require additional resources and should be discussed in budget allocations. It can also be helpful to include accessibility items as a required component of a budget template.

3. Do you have disability representation within your  staff and Board of Directors?

Representation matters. Having people with lived experience of disability within the decision-making positions of an organization is an important aspect to consider when evaluating an organization.

4. Are your materials 508-compliant and available in plain language formats?

In addition to asking if their materials are available in multiple languages, it is helpful to ask if their materials are 508-compliant. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal law that states all electronic information developed, procured, maintained, and used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities. Although Section 508 is directed at the federal government, it also applies to any organizations that receive federal funding. Inquiring about 508 compliance can help gauge how formalized an organization’s approach to ensuring electronic accessibility is. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by the World Wide Web Consortium are available to non-government organizations. It is also important for materials to be linguistically and cognitively accessible to people with disabilities. Inquiring if an organization’s materials are written in plain-language (written at a fourth-grade reading level) can help gauge if they are being intentional in developing materials that can be understood by all.  

5. Do you incorporate a Disability Justice framework in your work?

Disability Justice is a framework that examines disability and its relation to other forms of identity and oppression. Disability Justice is centered on the experiences and needs of people of color with disabilities. It is important to ask an organization how they are intentional in working with and serving people of color with disabilities. 

6. Ask each of the questions above to ourselves.

As funders, we know that the questions we raise can influence what an organization does and what they prioritize. By raising these questions, we can help advance disability inclusion within the nonprofit sector and society as a whole. It is important that we ask these questions not only of our potential and current grantees, but that we also ask ourselves. Depending on which survey you consult, only between 1% and 3% of people working in philanthropy identify as having a disability(ities). We need to continue to advance and support disability inclusion in philanthropy itself.

If you would like more information and tools on supporting disability inclusion in philanthropy, please visit the Disability & Philanthropy Forum at The Forum is a resource made available through the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy, which is co-chaired by Ford Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For lean funders, please also consider joining Exponent Philanthropy’s Disability Funders Peer Circle. To learn more about the Peer Circle, please email Ryan Easterly at The Peer Circle is co-chaired by WITH Foundation and Ability Central Philanthropy.

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