DFN’s Response to September 11
By Sandra Cawley, Disability Funders Network
It has now been a few years since the events of September 11 — events that assaulted the lives of thousands of people and forever changed life for us all. It was also a year of unprecedented compassion and generosity by individuals, families and the philanthropic community.
People with disabilities were profoundly affected by September 11 in ways that were not visible to the rest of the world. In addition to the feelings of grief and loss shared by all Americans, people with disabilities faced many additional challenges.
A first reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center was a kind of stunned horror. So stunned were we that it was hard to imagine hours — let alone days, weeks and months — beyond those first images of assault and devastation. It was, however, only a matter of minutes before emergency rescue teams began to arrive, and the process of rescue and relief moved beyond that first stunning moment.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania activated an entire system of rescue and recovery. However, largely because of the compelling need to focus rescue efforts on people at Ground Zero, there was no immediate activation of crisis response and rescue for people with disabilities in nearby areas who were hit by the aftermath of the devastation.
In Manhattan, the entire service delivery system for people with disabilities was essentially immobilized, and those for whom these services were critical found themselves without services of any kind. For example:
- Many people with disabilities living near the World Trade Center had to leave their homes. Whether they were relocated to hotels, shelters or with families and friends, most of these accommodations were not accessible to people in wheelchairs. In addition, accessible transportation was diverted to the rescue effort, and many people were left stranded-unable to get to jobs or medical appointments.
- TTY and Internet service was interrupted, and the deaf community was left with no means of communication. Due to transportation limitations, interpreters were unavailable.
- Local Centers for Independent Living were short-staffed because of limitations on accessible transportation and the impact of events on families of staff members. They were unable to provide adequate services to all those who required assistance.
- Because of street and subway closings, blind people could not traverse known routes, so they and their guide dogs had to be retrained to new ways of getting around the city.
Once the immediate shock eased, news quickly spread; and just as quickly, the national disability community entered into a dialogue to determine how best to proceed with immediate assistance and guarantee that people with disabilities would be included in all levels of future community disaster planning.
DFN’s response was to alert grantmakers and the disability community via its listserv, by telephone and e-mail that people with disabilities in New York needed immediate disaster relief assistance. DFN’s executive director, Jeanne Argoff, and board member Rayna Aylward joined with others to mobilize funders and to request that the September 11 Fund establish donation channels targeted for people with disabilities.
Aylward, executive director of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF), reports that Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and its U.S. and Japanese employees generously contributed in many different ways. A total of nearly $1.2 million was raised from corporate and individual donations — proceeds from such activities as craft sales, pizza lunches, matching gifts for blood donations and individual contributions. Of the donations from Mitsubishi employees in Japan, more than $100,000 was designated for assistance to people with disabilities in lower Manhattan. In the MEAF publication, Connections Spring 2002, Aylward stated, “We can be proud that Mitsubishi Electric was the first corporate donor to target people with disabilities. A special account in The September 11th Fund was set up to receive funds for this purpose. Contributions have gone to the Manhattan Independent Living Center, Blind Vision and a number of other disability-related organizations.”
To commemorate the one-year anniversary, MEAF is matching individual donations to the Center for the Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY) or to any other organization working on September 11 disaster relief. MEAF will match individual donations (minimum $25, maximum of $500), and it will match blood donations to the Red Cross at $10 per donation.
DFN member Marcie Roth, who on September 11 was director of public policy for the National Center on Independent Living (NCIL) and is now the Executive Director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, coordinated relief efforts with other DFN members. She worked closely with CIDNY to bring information from Ground Zero to the rest of the nation and to Jennifer Sheehy at the White House Domestic Policy Council. These conversations helped to heighten awareness at the Domestic Policy Council of the need to include people with disabilities in disaster preparedness and homeland security. Joining the conversations was the National Council on Disability, another DFN member, which shortly afterward developed a document advising governmental and non-governmental agencies on how to include people with disabilities in Homeland Security plans.
Roth took a strong leadership role in raising the awareness of traditional charities to the needs and issues pertaining to people with disabilities at Ground Zero and, with Tari Susan Hartman of EinSof Communications, helped disability organizations in New York write and edit grant proposals which were submitted to The September 11 Fund. DFN staff helped to keep channels open to the Fund and other grantmakers.
The September 11th Fund was established the day of the terrorist attacks by The New York Community Trust and United Way of New York City to meet the immediate and long-term needs of affected victims, families and communities. The Fund works by making grants to nonprofit organizations and agencies with the expertise to meet a wide range of needs quickly. Irfan Hasan, a program officer at The New York Community Trust and a member of DFN’s board, reviewed grants from disability organizations and others and became the Fund’s conduit for information about the needs of New Yorkers with disabilities affected by the attacks. JPMorgan Chase, another DFN member, donated its services in processing and mailing the checks. The Trust took no administrative costs from the grants.
The Fund — which began making grants eleven days after the disaster — has disbursed more than $336 million through 273 grants. Some disability organizations in Manhattan that have received grants from The September 11 Fund are:
- The Center for the Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY) was awarded a grant to support people with disabilities who were particularly affected by the events of September 11. CIDNY has been the primary agency providing people with disabilities-as well as those newly disabled as a result of the attacks-with assistance, including transportation, access to emergency services, financial aid and home-based visits.
- Helen Keller Worldwide received a grant to reimburse costs of electronic data recovery. The organization sustained nearly 42 million in damages to its offices in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
- Visions received a grant to help more than 700 blind people who live or work in lower Manhattan. With the closure of roads, subway stations and sidewalks in the vicinity of Ground Zero, many visually impaired people had difficulty navigating the area. Visions, a nonprofit organization that assists visually impaired New Yorkers, provided for crisis counseling and “mobility training” to assist clients in learning new travel routes in lower Manhattan.
- Village Care received a grant to reimburse costs of crisis counseling and extended operations. A nonprofit, founded in 1977, Village Care provides residential daycare for the elderly and seriously ill, including people with HIV/AIDS. After the attacks, Village Care staff extended the hours of its four centers below 14th Street to ensure its clients had sufficient support.
- Quality Services for the Autism Community received a grant to reimburse the agency for emergency services related to helping autistic children in the days following the attacks. Founded in 1978 by parents of autistic children, Quality Services’ staff helped autistic children in their care reach their parents the day of the attacks and provided housing for others who could not get home. In addition, the organization provided services to several autistic children who lost a parent in the attacks.
- The Mental Health Association of New York City, Inc. was awarded a grant to enhance a citywide crisis resource database and to establish a clinician certification clearinghouse. The grant is also being used to expand the emergency mental health LifeNet hotline, a citywide toll-free hotline that refers individuals to mental health treatment services. Since September 11th, the association has worked closely with the City Department of Mental Health to manage the increased demand for mental health services.
- Incarnation Children’s Center received a grant to reimburse the organization for costs of assisting children with HIV/AIDS in the days following the attacks. The center ensured that children, who received medical and other care at their facilities, were able to get home to their parents. The center’s staff also made certain that the children received proper medical care in the weeks following the attacks despite the disruption of services in the city.
To receive a complete accounting of donations to The September 11 Fund, including a list of all grants and their purpose, go to www.september11fund.org.
In August, The September 11 Fund announced a joint program with the American Red Cross to underwrite the expense of extended mental health treatment for people directly affected by the attacks — to begin immediately and extend up to five years. Joshua Gotbaum, chief executive of the Fund stated, “We know that many people affected by September 11 will need some form of counseling and that many of them will not realize it for months or even for years. We felt we had to design a program which would pay for therapy wherever the victims were and whenever they realized they needed it.”
DFN’s fiscal sponsor, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, created The Survivors’ Fund to support the needs of individuals and families affected by the attack on the Pentagon. The Fund received approximately $20 million in donations from individuals, corporations and other organizations from the greater Washington, D.C., area, the nation and around the world.
The Fund has provided case management assistance to 315 families and individuals residing in 27 states and the District of Columbia. The case management approach provides each person with a single point of contact who offers comfort, serves as an advocate, monitors progress and assures long-term assistance. The Fund provides assistance for long-term medical expenses, mental health counseling, educational support for children of parents affected by the attack, general support for eligible families, and employment training for those who are unable to continue their previous occupations due to medical injury or mental health concerns. As of July 31, 2002, the Fund had disbursed more than $4 million to help families in their recovery from the attack on the Pentagon.
Outgoing DFN board member Hope Gleicher, executive director of the Trellis Fund, chaired another fund supporting D.C. relief efforts: the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Community Capacity Fund Steering Committee (CCF). CCF was established to administer funds donated to Washington grantmakers by the Ford Foundation to strengthen the ability of organizations in the greater Washington area to respond to the aftermath of September 11.
The response of DFN members to the tragic events of September 11 was and continues to be an important part of the process of recovery. DFN members and staff spread the word that people with disabilities in New York needed immediate disaster relief assistance; they were instrumental in creating a funding channel within The September 11 Fund to receive donations specifically targeted for the needs of people with disabilities; they brought the issue of disaster relief for people with disabilities into the discussion of Homeland Security; and they donated funds from their own organizations and helped to raise awareness within traditional charities of the needs and issues important to people with disabilities.
We thank all of you — those who were mentioned in this article and those who were not — for responding in a time of need to those whose needs were unknown to many. With your help, we will continue to work to bring those needs, and those providing solutions and support, to light.