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Disability Inclusive Grantmaking is the mission of DFN: inclusion of disability in grantmaking programs and inclusion of people with disabilities in grantmaking organizations.

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Recommendations for Grantmakers

By broadening their definition and understanding of disability, grantmakers can be more responsive to the full range of issues affecting the country’s largest minority group.

  • Make sure your organization’s working definition of “diversity” includes people with disabilities and that their widespread presence in society is factored into your thinking about major social issues.

    • Reconsider perceptions of such major national issues as poverty, education, unemployment and access to health care in light of the facts that people with disabilities are the largest, poorest, least educated and least employed minority group in the country and that millions of disabled individuals do not have health coverage.
      • If the needs and issues of people with disabilities are not factored into analyses of these issues and programs that address them, funding decisions may not be as comprehensive or effective as they could be.
    • Take note of the finding in the Joint Affinity Group report on diversity practices in foundations: “Diversity is increasingly viewed as part of foundations’ accountability mechanisms to populations and constituencies they fund … [but] … the foundation field does not perceive disability as a diversity issue.” Since California foundations are already ahead of the curve in disability funding, they could lead the way for the national foundation community by institutionalizing this more inclusive notion of diversity.
      • Publishing and disseminating diversity statements containing language specifically including people with disabilities would send a strong signal to grantmakers and grantseekers alike.
    • Adopt the broad ADA definition of disability, which includes people with mental as well as physical functional limitations and emphasizes the minority-group status of the disability community.
      • Viewed through the lens of the ADA definition, proposals from disability organizations are more readily seen as eligible for funding in traditional foundation program areas.
  • Work to institutionalize the inclusion of disability issues into grantmaking programs and priorities through formal or informal means, as appropriate to organizational mission and structure.

    • Encourage and assist staff in all program areas to recognize and incorporate disability issues. Refer them to free resources like the Screening Tool for Disability Inclusive Grantmaking, A Disability Policy Primer for Funders.
      • Funders with a commitment to disability funding can provide disability awareness training for their program officers, along with guidance in utilizing the most effective Web sites and listservs containing disability-specific information.
    • Utilize the expertise of local disability organizations and consultants to learn about concepts like disability rights, reasonable accommodation, and assistive technology that are associated with efforts to promote equality of opportunity and access for people with disabilities.
    • When reviewing disability proposals, especially those from small consumer-run organizations, consider both the potential of “non-traditional” operating procedures and the possibility of additional costs related to disability.
      • On one hand, organizations may be able to do more for less by providing on-the-job training to disabled volunteers on benefits.
      • On the other hand, there may be a need for additional costs for such accommodations as interpreters, accessible transportation and assistive technology.
    • Grantmaking organizations can begin to incorporate disability in an informal fashion by making sure that proposals from disability groups are not routinely rejected when they fit established program areas.
      • Program officers in those organizations can affect institutional activity through such informal practices as encouraging proposals from disability organizations.
    • Foundations with a history of funding disability organizations can formalize their commitment by specifically mentioning disability in guidelines, proposal evaluation criteria and screening mechanisms.
    • Consider providing grants that foster self-reliance, independence and self-determination and that incorporate consumer input.
      • Look at some of the less well-known disability-related issues like personal attendant care and transportation adaptations/alternatives.
      • Capacity-building grants and funding for advocacy projects are particularly important in the disability arena.
  • Learn about the variety of accessibility issues relating to people with disabilities and begin to implement means of removing barriers to access.

    • Ensure that the grantmaking process is fully accessible to people with disabilities by addressing the following:
      • Make sure that foundation offices are architecturally accessible, and hold public meetings in accessible spaces and locations;
      • Provide written material in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, computer disks and audiotape;
      • Introduce receptionists and program staff to the use of telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTYs) and telecommunication relay services, and provide sign language interpreters for public meetings and events, as needed;
      • Ensure that Web sites do not have graphical material that is not translated into text and are otherwise accessible to people with visual and other disabilities.
    • Encourage applicants to include people with disabilities and disability issues by incorporating questions in grant review processes. Consider addressing the following questions, either formally or informally:
      • Architectural and program access;
      • Communications access (e.g., alternate formats for written materials, Web sites, interpreters and TTYs);
      • Inclusion of people with disabilities in diversity and non-discrimination statements and requirements.
    • Consider creating an incentive fund to help grantees achieve accessible environments, programs and communications.
      • Offer a small amount of additional funding covering accommodation and access needs for proposals that contain a plan for incorporating people with disabilities.
  • Expand active outreach to the disability community when recruiting candidates for Board, staff and consultant positions and provide educational and experiential opportunities for current Board and staff to help them learn about disability issues.

    • Especially if you fund disability programs, consider the benefits of hiring staff with first-hand experience and knowledge. According to the Joint Affinity Group diversity research, foundations that have created programs addressing issues of concern to minority groups require the knowledge of these groups in order to ensure good grantmaking and to develop relationships with and trust among constituencies.
    • Seek out young people with disabilities to serve in intern positions and to participate in other youth-focused activities sponsored by the foundation.
  • Address the communications gap between foundations and disability organizations by expanding outreach to disability groups in the application process and clearly signaling their eligibility, providing feedback on rejected proposals, and making some time for site visits and in-person meetings.

    • Add language in published grant guidelines and other materials making it clear that disability groups can apply under all program areas when they have an eligible project.
    • Keep in touch with local disability organizations/consultants to maintain knowledge of local issues and how they interrelate to other issues of importance locally and nationally.
    • Take the time to explain and/or clarify your mission statement, guidelines and other written materials for grantseekers.
    • Include people with disabilities in convenings and other meetings addressing a variety of program areas, not just those that seem to be of particular interest to the disability community.
    • If time constraints prevent site visits, consider scheduling face-to-face meetings in foundation offices and expanding telephone time with disability applicants.

Pay attention to subliminal messages by using language that is sensitive to people with disabilities and by including pictures of disabled people in annual reports and other published materials.