RWJF and Ford Foundation are leading an effort to “mainstream” disability in philanthropy.
This year, the United States will celebrate 29 years of civil-rights progress under the Americans With Disabilities Act. And yet the more than 56 million Americans with physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, or intellectual disabilities — as well as those living with a chronic illness — continue to experience deep and persistent inequality.
According to the U.S. Census and the Labor Department, people with disabilities are half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree and twice as likely to be unemployed. They are also twice as likely not to receive medical care due to costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and four times as likely to have a cardiovascular disease.
How have most philanthropies taken on the inequities behind these shocking statistics? We haven’t. In fact, both of our foundations have recently faced criticism from disability-rights groups — and rightly so — for being a part of the problem: Too long, philanthropy has operated under the premise that “disability is a worthy cause, but it isn’t ours.” But relegating disability-related issues to a niche grant-making area or, worse, ignoring people with disabilities completely is no longer acceptable in philanthropy.