I recently had the opportunity to attend an update of the D5 Coalition work. Northern California Grantmakers hosted a variety of local grantmakers to learn more about the progress of the coalition with a particular emphasis on looking beyond typical definitions of diversity in order to include individuals from the LGBT community and those with disabilities. I was impressed with this concerted effort to promote a more inclusive mindset among funders, many who would gladly align themselves with this mission but have a harder time practically adopting these principles into their grantmaking efforts. In fact, while society as a whole has an increased level of sensitivity when it comes to gender and racial prejudice, there is less awareness of the prevalence of discrimination toward other groups. As the director of an organization that supports the causes of individuals with disabilities, I find this to be true more often than not.
In 2002 when my family decided to start a foundation, we agreed that we wanted to focus on an issue area that was under-funded. Disability met this criterion. Over 50 million Americans have at least one disability and yet grantmakers as a whole designate less than 5% of their funding to disability related programs/organizations. As I began to meet with nonprofit executives, I frequently heard, “I am so glad that we found you. Most foundations won’t fund disability.” Foundations are not only failing to respond to the need of this community, but they are excluding them from their funding programs. As agencies formed for the purpose of benefiting the public good, this is unconscionable. Individuals with disabilities are more likely to live below the poverty line, have more complex medical issues, and be under-educated and under-employed. I don’t believe that foundation directors don’t care; I believe that they don’t understand the need. Whenever I tell someone what I do, they inevitably tell me about a family member, close friend, or neighbor who has a disability. Disability-based issues are pervasive in our society but we just don’t talk about them. Given the opportunity to discuss these issues, I believe that foundation would find ways to purposefully and inclusively fund programs that target those with disabilities under their current grantmaking programs. Inclusion does not have to mean adding to our missions but fulfilling our missions by making sure that every group is reflected in our giving.