Programs and Initiatives
Fourteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the magnitude of the challenges faced by disabled Americans is still immense: they are the poorest, least employed and least educated minority in the country. Now numbering over 54 million, they make up almost 20 percent of the national population.
People with disabilities reflect the diversity of America and are the only minority group that anyone is eligible to join, making disability issues vitally important to everyone. Nevertheless, the visibility of the disability community in funding circles remains minimal. Nationwide, only 3.2 percent of grant funds go to disability community groups. This under-investment is mirrored by a lack of representation within philanthropic institutions. In 1995, only 10 percent of all foundations and corporate giving programs in the United States had a staff member who self-identified as having a disability, and only 12 percent had a board member who did so.
The basic needs of people with disabilities are not very different from those of other groups: they include employment, health care, education, family services, housing, transportation and participation in the arts and community activities.
According to the Foundation Center, only 2.9 percent of grant dollars awarded in 2002 was directed to programs serving people with disabilities. People who identify as having disabilities are similarly underrepresented on boards or staffs of foundations. When disability funding is awarded, it is often in the health arena – reflecting a common perspective that sees people with disabilities as invalids who need to be “made well.”
If you are a funder, it is not necessary to have a designated disability program area to make a difference. You can have a positive impact on this underserved community by the simple act of including disability in your organization’s working definition of diversity and being inclusive in your thinking on social issues.