We Need More Disability Inclusive Philanthropy - Exponent Philanthropy
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We Need More Disability Inclusive Philanthropy

Photo by Kevin Malik

As foundations strive to create a more equitable world, they must not overlook the importance of disability inclusive philanthropy. Individuals with disabilities make up about 27% of the U.S. population. Yet, they’re consistently underrepresented on foundation boards and staff. Our 2024 Foundation Operations and Management Report found that just 11% of participating foundations had at least one board member who identified as having a disability and 4% had a full-time CEO/top administrator who identified as having a disability.

Disability Inclusion Strategies

In addition to this underrepresentation, a very small portion of foundations (i.e., fewer than 5%) implemented any strategy to promote disability inclusion.

Foundations said their most common disability-inclusion strategies were surveying grantees to learn what disability-inclusive work they were already engaged in (4%), and inviting disability activists who are focused on issues their foundation support to share their work, challenges, and opportunities with foundation leadership and program staff (4%).

Disability Inclusive Philanthropy

As you work toward making your philanthropy more inclusive, keep these points in mind:

  • As philanthropists, we envision societies and communities that value and support people of all abilities and provide equal opportunities and equitable outcomes.
  • We should include people with disabilities in all aspects of society—including the programs we support with our grantmaking.
  • Disability inclusive grantmaking respects the diversity that disability brings and appreciates that it is an everyday part of the human experience.

Adding a disability lens to your grantmaking can enhance the good work you already do. 

6 Steps To Build a More Inclusive Workplace

So, what can foundations do to build a more inclusive workplace?

Keri Gray, a disability inclusion advocate, consultant, and speaker at past Exponent workshops, highlights 6 steps employers can take to build a more inclusive workplace:

  1. Include disability in your diversity statements.
  2. Have a basic plan for employee accommodation requests.
  3. Add a note on your career site that explains how potential employees can request accommodations for an interview or the application process.
  4. Stories are powerful. Encourage colleagues to share their experiences with disability and ableism.
  5. Set a goal for growing your company’s disability engagement.
  6. Build partnerships with disability-led organizations.

Gray also emphasizes the importance of taking an intersectional approach with disability inclusion:

“We must expand beyond working with disabled folks that are the easiest to assimilate into our already existing culture. This means we should not predominantly recruit or work with (or have on our staffs and boards) disabled folks that are of the most privileged race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Disability prevalence is highest in communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, and those with low/no income.”

Keri Gray, a cancer survivor, entrepreneur, speaker, and facilitator

The Disability Inclusion Pledge

You can also join Exponent Philanthropy, and many other organizations, in signing the Disability Inclusion Pledge. The Disability and Philanthropy Forum designed the pledge to help grantmakers and philanthropy-serving-organizations start or continue their journey to disability inclusion. 

Disability inclusion means so much more than complying with legal requirements. It’s about actively valuing and amplifying the voices, needs, and experiences of people with disabilities.

Foundations have a unique opportunity to be leaders in promoting disability inclusion in their governance, grantmaking, and investment strategies. By prioritizing disability inclusion, foundations can advance their mission, foster more inclusive and equitable communities, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Learn About the Disability Inclusion Pledge »

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About the Authors

Afia Amobeaa-Sakyi is the director of equity and inclusion at Exponent Philanthropy. She works with the CEO and COO to advance DEI within the organization, among our community of lean funders, and with external stakeholders.

Brendan McCormick is the associate director of research and publications at Exponent Philanthropy. He works with members, partners, and staff to develop resources and research on our funder community.

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