17 posts categorized "Disabilities"

The power of diverse boards: an argument for change

June 04, 2020

Diversity_board_PhilanTopic_GettyImagesWe have a lot of work to do. Most of us have known this for some time, but the events of the last few weeks highlight just how much work remains to be done. The fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion never ends, and a clear and ongoing commitment to all three is needed if we are to create positive change. That commitment must start at the top.

Boards of directors operate at the highest level of organizational leadership, with each director expected to play a role in the development of the organization's strategic vision, operations, and overall culture. Numerous studies have shown that diversity positively impacts a company's financial performance. Indeed, a McKinsey & Company study found that firms in the top quartile for ethnic diversity in management and board composition are 35 percent more likely to earn financial returns above their respective national industry median.

Is the same true for the social sector? Is it important for nonprofit boards to embrace and model diversity, equity, and inclusion? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, and here's why:

Diversity drives organizational performance

Diversity inspires innovation. A board that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and skill sets is more likely to generate innovation and push all its members to be more creative and open-minded. Today more than ever, social sector organizations need to develop multiple revenue streams, and leading-edge expertise in areas ranging from strategy to financial planning to operations is critical to a board's ability to conduct effective oversight.

Diversity catalyzes creativity. Diverse boards tend to be better at creative problem solving. Those who have had to adapt to physical disabilities encounter challenges on a daily, if not hourly, basis, while those subjected to systematic racism have had to adapt their entire lives. The ability to overcome challenges often translates to adaptive leadership, opening a world of possibilities in terms of program execution and organizational management.

Diversity fosters network breadth. Current or past clients who serve as board members add an element of authenticity and credibility to board deliberations and can serve as a "voice of experience" that informs and improves program planning. A greater awareness of who is actually being served gives boards information they need to develop strategies grounded in real-world facts. Such an understanding also provides context for proper resource allocation and effective strategic action, while helping to deepen an organization's relevance and impact.

Inclusion drives action

Let's try a thought experiment: take away all the benefits created by more diverse boards and imagine what the sector would look like :

  • too many nonprofits relying on a single, precarious revenue stream;
  • approaches to problem solving that are never improved on because "it has always been done that way";
  • clients who are viewed as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners in collective change efforts;
  • recruitment of staff and donors from among those who look and think like us; and
  • logic models and outcomes metrics informed by a single point of view.

Something magical and important happens when differences not only are not dismissed but are valued. But the benefits that diversity brings to a board are unlikely to be realized without an equal focus on inclusion. The perspective of all board members must be continuously sought and heard, and differences of opinion should always be welcomed.

Equity is the result

Equity and systems change are the outcomes of leaders fully embracing diversity and inclusion. In the absence of inclusion, it is too easy to become comfortable in our silence. Without diversity of thought and perspective, our value systems are compromised and systemic injustice goes unchallenged.

It is clear that board diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for all organizations, and especially so for nonprofits. To truly maximize a nonprofit's effectiveness, as well as its financial success, nonprofit boards must work diligently to ensure that different viewpoints are heard and incorporated. Change doesn't happen automatically or overnight. Boards must actively seek out those who can bring new perspectives to the table and challenge the status quo.

For those who currently serve on a nonprofit board, now is the time to act. Speak to your colleagues about steps the board can take to develop internal policies aimed at strengthening its diversity and begin to build a foundation for organizational leadership that supports change.

Similarly, if you've ever considered lending your time and talent to a nonprofit, now is the time to connect with one that is aligned with your passion and expertise. In these challenging, uncertain times, nonprofits are looking for all the expertise they can get their hands on.

The success of any organization starts at the top. Boards that want to maximize their effectiveness and performance must include socially and professionally diverse individuals who are committed to doing the work and are prepared to speak up and act for change. Good luck!

Pam Cannell_for_PhilanTopicPam Cannell is CEO of BoardBuild and has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance.

Reimagining Power Dynamics From Within: How Foundations Can Support Child and Youth Participation

January 16, 2020

Youth_climate_activists_350orgInvolving children and young people in our work — as grantees, consultants, researchers, and/or key informants — helps support their right to shape how the issues that affect their lives are addressed and makes our work as funders more impactful. Philanthropies should consider the right to participation — a key right in democracies — an important aspect of their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

The climate movement, for instance, has been very successful in drawing critical attention to the power of children and young people to organize and pressure governments to take action on an issue of urgent concern to them. Other examples include mobilizing support for the Sustainable Development Goals, gun violence prevention, and the rights of working children.

If, as funders, we are committed to supporting young climate activists at the local, national, and international levels, we also need to create spaces within our organizations for them to influence our thinking and ways of working. At the Open Society Foundations, the Youth Exchange team strategy refers to this as "modeling behavior," a form of "prefigurative politics": creating, here and now, in our organizational practices, the change we want to see more generally in society. While many in the philanthropic space already support young activists and guidelines already exist as to how to provide financial and non-financial support to child and youth organizers and child- and youth-led organizations, there are many others who wonder how they can do that.

The Open Society Youth Exchange team thought the start of a new year would be a good time to share some best practices — drawn from our own experiences as well as literature in the field — with respect to engaging children and young people in donor spaces and conversations and giving them the space to tell us how best to support their movements generally and the climate movement more specifically.

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ADA and Web Accessibility Guidelines for Nonprofit Websites in 2019

September 10, 2019

Ninth_circuit_court

Signed into law in 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and is aimed at making all public spaces inclusive and accessible to everyone. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 later clarified the "definition of 'disability' to ensure that [it] would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis."

Let's take a look at how the ADA has affected websites in recent years, as well as what compliance entails for nonprofit organizations.

Until recently, organizations with websites were encouraged to comply with established Web accessibility standards, although compliance is not mandatory. The details of compliance were a hot topic of discussion as recently as June 5, 2018, within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private organization that recently released updated guidelines for its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The primary goal of WAI is to make the Internet a place where anyone can get involved "regardless of cognitive, neurological, visual, speech, physical, or auditory disabilities they may be burdened with." The guidelines developed by the initiative — with the help of disability organizations, government resources, and research labs — are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the latest version of which is WCAG 2.1.

A Top-Down View of What WCAG Compliance Entails

Adoption of WCAG includes providing text options for non-text content, clear titles for Web pages, "disability-considerate colors," and straightforward site structure so that people with focus-related disorders can navigate the site. It's worth noting that many websites were already compliant with the guidelines.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 20-21, 2019)

April 21, 2019

Redacted-Legal-Documents-1And...we're back with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Disabilities

In a post on the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, the foundation's Noorain Khan and Catherine Townshend update readers on the foundation's disability inclusion journey.

Diversity

On the GrantSpace blog, Julieta Mendez, director of programs at Candid, explains how the organization's DEI programs are supporting the social sector.

Education

"Seven years after the state passed a law that required Maine’s high schools to award diplomas on the basis of demonstrated 'proficiency' in eight key areas, and nine months after the legislature repealed that mandate, the debate over proficiency-based diplomas continues to divide districts, teachers and families...even as the concept spreads to other schools and states." Kelly Field reports for the Hechinger Report.

Health

A proposed Trump administration rule to allow employers to fund individual, tax-preferred accounts for employees rather than cover them under employer-sponsored group plans could shift individuals from employee-sponsored plans to state-regulated individual markets and end up destabilizing those markets. Georgetown University professors JoAnn Volk and Kevin Lucia dig into the details on the Commonwealth Fund's To The Point blog.

Impact/Effectiveness

Charity Navigator, in partnership with Feedback Labs, Candid, GlobalGiving, Listen for Good, Acumen, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Bridges Fund Management, Development Gateway, and Keystone Accountability, has announced the release of version 1.0 of the Principles of Constituent Feedback, an effort to begin collecting and publishing the reflections of nonprofits on their feedback practice before #GivingTuesday 2019.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 14-15, 2018)

April 15, 2018

Uncle-sam-taxesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Lincoln Center president Deborah L. Spar, who left the top job at Barnard College to helm the performing arts mecca, has decided to step down after only a year. Robin Pogrebin and Michael Cooper report for the New York Times.

And across the East River, the Brooklyn Museum has come under fire for its decision to hire a white woman, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, as a consulting curator for African art. Alex Greenberger reports for ArtNews.

Civil Society

Writing in openDemocracy's Transformation blog, Vern Hughes, director of Civil Society Australia, suggests that the problem with the public and private sectors' "embrace of ‘civil society’ is that it bears little resemblance to what civil society actually is or means. Most of civil society is not constituted formally or headed up by a CEO," adds Hughes. Indeed, "[j]ust 40 years ago, very few not-for-profits or charities had CEOs at all: that term was associated with the corporate sector, and few community groups or charities had even contemplated mimicking the language and culture of such a different sphere. But in just four decades all this has changed, and it has changed at an extraordinarily rapid rate, with very little public discussion or scrutiny of the enormity of the organizational transformation involved and its social and political impact."

Roused by certain statements made by Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Congress earlier this week, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz shares some thoughts about the often-unappreciated role that civil society organizations and nonprofits play in curating and moderating content for the Facebooks of the world.

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Funding Disability Arts

October 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series ;here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Fudning for disability artsThe stage has been set for a new and vibrant era of funding for disabled artists and disability arts. A spate of innovative programs — Dance/NYC’s Disability. Dance. Artistry. Fund, Alliance for Artist Communities’ Creative Access Fellowship Program, and the Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship, among others — are putting new dollars into art made by and with disabled people and raising the bar for the broader philanthropic sector.

With CreateNYC, released this summer, the City of New York established the first cultural plan in the United States with disability-specific strategies for expanding cultural access, including a new fund for disabled artists, cultural workers, and audiences. In this and other ways, the city is modeling the kind of leadership that is urgently needed at all levels of government.

Because they embrace disability as a positive artistic and generative force, these efforts are already generating value. They also represent a shift in arts philanthropy, where the exclusion of disabled people is entrenched and where niche disability-specific funds largely have been limited to facility improvements or programs focused on the therapeutic and educational benefits of the arts. And they are demonstrating how, by funding the field of disability arts and its workforce, philanthropy can move the whole creative sector forward — and, by extension, drive social change.

The moment is rife with opportunity. On the one hand, there are opportunities for more expansive disability-specific funds. Indeed, a new generation of disability arts organizations and fiscally sponsored projects is primed for capacity-building investments, and there are critical gaps in funding for disabled artists along the artistic development continuum, from public school classrooms to professional studios and stages.

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Toward More Inclusive Diversity in the Philanthropic Sector: LGBTQ People and People With Disabilities

July 28, 2017

DiversityThe philanthropic sector has taken steps to address the lack of inclusion of women and people of color in its talent pool. But newly released research from the Council on Foundations reveals that several demographics often are missing from philanthropic talent conversations and decisions.

The reason for this may well be a lack of data. For almost thirty years, the council has collected data on grantmaker staff composition and compensation in the United States. Our annual Grantmaker Salary and Benefits Survey represents a set of data points from more than a thousand grantmakers, including data on nearly ten thousand full-time paid professional and administrative staff members.

Using this rich dataset, we analyzed the demographics of the philanthropic sector looking back five and ten years, with a focus on the representation of women and people of color. Our recently released report, State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector, highlights findings based on that analysis.

Even our large dataset, however, lacked sufficient data for us to be able to conduct any meaningful analysis with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical/intellectual disability.

That raises a number of important questions. Are the LGBTQ population and people with disabilities simply underrepresented within the talent pool available to the sector? Are survey respondents reluctant to report on these particular demographics? There are no simple answers. Much has been said about the underrepresentation of women and people of color in top jobs at the nation's foundations, and several organizations have developed fellowship and pipeline programs designed to bolster the diversity of the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Role models such as the California Endowment's Robert K. Ross and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's La June Montgomery Tabron also serve as champions for the importance of diverse and inclusive institutions that embrace equitable grantmaking practices.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 23-24, 2016)

April 24, 2016

BarerootcherrytreeOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Americans for the Arts has released the sixth and final edition of the National Arts Index, its annual report the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. This edition, which covers the years 2002-13 and includes data on eighty-one national-level indicators, provides "provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts — before, during, and after." You can download the full report (4.38mb, PDF) a one-page summary, and/or previous reports from this page.

Climate Change

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther suggests that is we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we not only have to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we'will also need to figure out how to pull vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. It's a daunting challenge, but we've got "a decade or two, perhaps" to figure it out, Gunther adds, and philanthropy, which has yet to devote much money to research on these technologies, has a real opportunity to make a difference.

In a Q&A here on PhilanTopic, the United Nation Foundation's Reid Detchon explains the significance of the Paris Agreement, which representatives of more than a hundred and seventy countries signed at a ceremony at the UN on Friday. And in a post on Medium, the National Resource Defense Council's Reah Suh argues that the accord represents the greatest opportunity the world has had to shift "from the carbon-rich fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy options that can power our future." home and abroad.

Disabilities

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has just awarded $20 million to thirty nonprofits working to engineer a better life for the disabled around the globe. Wired's Davey Alba has the details.

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss shares key takeaways from Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation, a new report written by a team of teachers and administrators headed by veteran educator Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and education historian and activist Diane Ravitch.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has launched an initiative called the Better Math Teaching Network. Learn more here.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2015)

August 01, 2015

It was a typically hot and muggy July in most places, but here at PhilanTopic it was an especially cool month, with new posts from Sarah Gunther and Diana Samarasan related to the release of an updated Foundation Center report on funding for global human rights, three posts full of great fundraising and governance advice for nonprofit leaders, a new Q&A with Jean Case, and the latest installment in Matt Schwartz' Cause-Driven Design series topping the list of the most popular posts on the blog. What, you were on vacation? Don't sweat it. Here's your chance to catch up....

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Being Counted: Funding for People With Disabilities

July 16, 2015

"It's a sad truth that in many developing countries people with disabilities simply don't count. No data is collected on their disabilities nor their abilities, so it’s as if they just don’t exist…."

— Former UK parliamentary undersecretary for the Department for International Development (DFID) (quoted in the Guardian)

Disability_symbolsRecognizing that, to date, development goals have not been reached because people at the margins have not been included, the concept of "leave no one behind" has been a key part of the post-2015 development process. Among those left behind have been people with disabilities who, until the publication of the first World Bank/World Health Organization World Report on Disability in 2011, were not specifically enumerated among the world's population.

As it turns out, people with disabilities make up an estimated one billion people around the world. That is 15 percent of the world's population, or one in every seven people. Further, children with disabilities are the single largest group excluded from school, making up 30 percent to 40 percent of the out-of-school population according to UNESCO. Women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to be victims of domestic violence than other women, and 20 percent of the poorest people in the world are people with disabilities.

Despite these dire statistics, most countries in the developing world either do not count their populations with disabilities or do not use standardized methods to do so, meaning that official data on persons with disabilities and the conditions they live in is poor or absent.

Until recently, this was also the case among human rights funders and human rights organizations. Disability — considered a charity or medical issue — was not delineated as a human rights concern. Indeed, it was only in 2010, following the implementation in 2008 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that even as formidable an advocate as Human Rights Watch started systematically reporting on rights abuses against persons with disabilities.

Thus, when the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center initiated a project in 2010 to map global human rights grantmaking, I was excited that the project would include people with disabilities among the recipient populations to be tracked. For the first time, people with disabilities would be listed as a population of concern for funders making human rights grants.

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Is Your Philanthropy 'Autism Aware'?

April 02, 2014

(Peter Berns is chief executive officer of The Arc, the largest community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in the nation.)

Headshot_peter_bernsOver the last six years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its estimate on the number of kids in the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorder ("ASD" or "autism") from 1 in 125 in 2008, to 1 in 88 in 2012, to 1 in 68 today. That's a staggering increase.

Children, youth, and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, are part of the fabric of society. They attend the preschools and kindergartens that many of you are working to improve and can be found among the ranks of students striving to succeed in school and go to college. You'll find them among the unemployed struggling to find a job, among patients with chronic conditions searching for adequate care, and among the homeless. Many of them are active in the visual and performing arts or enriching society through their scholarship, activism, and community service. Their family members and friends are everywhere you look. They are not going away, nor should they.

Autism is part of the human condition; it permeates every aspect of our communities because it is a fact of life. Which is why, regardless of grantmaking priorities, foundations and philanthropists must be autism aware and do more to incorporate a "disability dimension" into their work.

Think about it. Is it really possible to affect the "school-to-prison pipeline" without taking into account what's happening in the special education system or statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which show that students with disabilities experience higher rates of discipline, suspension, and involvement with law enforcement than students without disabilities? Is it really possible to effectively address domestic and sexual violence if you don't know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience such violence at a much higher rate – three times as high for women with disabilities, and twice as high for men with disabilities – than the general population? Is it really possible to address chronic unemployment without considering that people with autism and other I/DD experience much higher rates of unemployment – as high as 80 percent – and need much more in the way of supports and interventions in order to secure gainful employment?

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The Value Add of Engagement

January 15, 2014

(Jay Ruderman is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. You can engage with him on Twitter and/or follow the foundation to learn more about inclusion. A version of this post appears on our sister GrantCraft blog.)

Headshot_Jay-RudermanThere are over 500,000,000 users on Twitter – and I am one of them.

As president of a family foundation, I spend my day managing the foundation's operations and staff, working with partners in the philanthropic and organizational world, and searching for new, innovative projects to invest in. Our foundation advocates for and advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community. Our focus is on creating lasting change and I work tirelessly in pursuit of creating a fair and flourishing community.

I speak at conferences, conduct interviews with journalists, meet with legislators, and do whatever is necessary to push the issue of inclusion onto the agenda. Like you, I have a very full schedule filled with meetings, phone calls, site visits, and still more meetings.

And then I started tweeting.

Most of my philanthropic friends and foundation colleagues do not use social media, for a variety of reasons. I myself was unsure of how effective Twitter could be in helping to change the status quo. But I embarked on this experiment six months ago to see if I could build community around the issues the foundation advocates for. I understood that it takes time to build an audience and find one's voice online. Change does not happen overnight.

Of utmost importance was having a Twitter strategy in place. I knew in advance whom the influencers I wanted to engage were, how to connect with them, and what type of content to push out. Certainly I had much to learn:  how to engage, how to effectively use the platform, when and how to post, and how to conduct conversations. I have learned through trial and error and the early results are encouraging – there has been a definite increase in the number of conversations I participate in, retweets, and mentions. (Notice I didn't mention number of followers – that's not a metric I'm using to measure success.) Additionally, my tweeting has brought increased exposure for our foundation's official account, and we have seen a marked upswing in traffic to our blog.

So far, so good.

People ask me why I tweet – especially those who think Twitter is where people post about their morning coffee! I see Twitter as an integral tool to furthering our mission. Here's why:

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The Case for Using a Social Justice Lens in Grantmaking

August 21, 2012

(Over the course of his career, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, has served as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, as president of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, and as founding executive director of Funders Concerned About AIDS. A version of this post appears in the summer issue of GMNsight, a new journal written for and by members of the Grants Managers Network.)

Social Justice -- A New Phenomenon?

Social_justiceNo. As early as 1972, in an internal memo to John H. Knowles, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, one of his officers suggested that the foundation use the phrase "Towards Social Justice in an Interdependent World" as a 'unifying theme' to describe its work.

Also, in the 1970s, select small- to medium-sized public, family, independent, and public foundations embraced the practice, language, and ethos of social justice, as evidenced by their early support of the U.S. civil rights movement. Their ranks included such private foundations as Norman, Field, Stern, New World, Taconic, and the John Hay Whitney. Subsequently, the public foundations that comprised the Funding Exchange Network -- the Tides Foundation; women's and LGBT funders such as the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; and the Black United Fund movement -- joined their ranks. David Hunter, Stern's long-term executive director, served as a mentor and guide for many of these funds. The word justice also appeared in the literature of religiously affiliated grantmakers such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Jewish Fund for Justice. This was not surprising, since the precepts of justice are evident in the world's major religions and sacred texts.

Subsequently, this diverse set of donors, in terms of their structure and sources of revenues, began to meet annually under the aegis of the National Network of Change-Oriented Foundations. In 1981, the network's successor organization, the National Network of Foundations (NNG), asserted the following two purposes in its mandate:

To be a voice for issues of social and economic justice within the philanthropic community and externally in sectors of the broad community including government, business, labor and education, and to expand the resource base (human and financial) for social and economic justice activities.

As one indicator of the size of this community of funders, also in 1981 the National Network of Grantmakers and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) in their publication, The Grantseekers Guide, A Directory for Social and Economic Justice Projects, listed more than one hundred foundations and corporate-giving programs.

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The Art of Inclusion: New York Funders Mobilize to Make the Arts More Accessible

April 24, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she spoke with Douglas Bauer, executive director of the New York City-based Clark Foundation, about the foundation's efforts to build the capacity of its grantees.)

Disability_symbolsIf a person with a serious vision, hearing, or mobility impairment came to your office on business or joined your organization as an employee, you would do whatever you needed to to accommodate that person so he or she could do his or her job. Indeed, most people would be embarrassed if their employer failed to create an accessible work space for such a guest, while failure to do so for a new employee is illegal.

But what if everyone at the office gathered around the virtual water cooler on a Monday morning to share their excitement about the latest blockbuster exhibition at the local art museum or the holiday performance at the local concert hall? Would your colleague have been there on Saturday along with everyone else? Would the museum or concert hall have been equipped to accommodate a patron who is blind or hearing impaired? Would any of their foundation grant dollars have been dedicated to figuring out how to make it possible for that potential audience member to enjoy its offerings?

Gains won as a result of the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are now so familiar -- curb cuts, kneeling buses, signs in Braille -- that it is tempting to assume that issues of concern to people with disabilities have been embraced by the field of philanthropy. Unfortunately, the data tell a different story. According to the Disability Funders Network (DFN), of the $45.7 billion in foundation grants awarded in 2011, only $559 million -- less than three percent -- was directed to disability issues.

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Breaking the Cycle: Toward a More Holistic Treatment of Sexuality

March 01, 2012

(Colleen Hoff is director of the Center for Research & Education on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University. Her ongoing HIV prevention study on gay couples is the largest ever in the U.S. Justin Keller is the center's development director.)

Icon_gender_logoSexuality remains a largely taboo topic in the world of philanthropy. Culturally speaking, it tends to make us uncomfortable, and controversy is not something foundations tend to seek out. To avoid potential conflicts, private funders interested in the subject tend to narrow their focus to specific needs-based issues: reproductive rights and health, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), intimate partner violence, women's rights and social justice, and marriage equality. Unfortunately, these needs-based labels can restrict our thinking about sexuality and its connection to health and well-being.

Among other things, this narrow view forces researchers and educators in the field to frame their work in the context of disease or other negative consequences of sex, such as unintended pregnancy. Without question, these issues need to be addressed. But by defining sexuality in terms of the negative outcomes associated with it, we are painting an incomplete picture. More devastatingly, it prevents important research questions from even being asked.

Both the White House and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have recently started to recognize the importance of sexuality as a vital component of the human experience. As early as 2001, former United States Surgeon General David Satcher stated "that sexuality encompasses more than sexual behavior, that the many aspects of sexuality include not only the physical, but the mental and the spiritual as well...." Despite this acknowledgment, federal funds dedicated to this area of research are almost completely devoted to HIV/AIDS and STIs. What little research has been done on the positive impact of sex clearly indicates that healthy sexuality contributes greatly to overall health and well-being. Framing adverse sexual health outcomes within the larger context of sexuality may allow for the development of more holistic, effective programmatic approaches to these issues.

Here is a small sample of areas that have been virtually ignored:

Gay and Lesbian Parents

According to a 2011 report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, over 50 percent of lesbian and gay parents adopted children from the welfare system, while 60 percent adopted trans-racially (i.e., a child of a different race). Fourteen thousand of the one hundred thousand foster children in the U.S. currently live in homes headed by gay or lesbian parents. And approximately 57 percent of children adopted by gay and lesbian parents have one or more special needs (e.g., developmental disabilities, complex medical issues, and emotional/behavioral disturbances). Despite these figures, little is known about this important and growing population of caregivers, and some literature suggests that gay and lesbian parents and their families receive disparate treatment from schools, healthcare providers, and federal and state entitlement programs. Clearly, there is an immediate need to better understand these experiences so that policies and service providers are able to adapt to this unique and growing population and provide these families with the resources they need.

Sexuality and Disability

As noted above, sexuality tends to be a taboo subject, and discussing it in the context of disability complicates things further. Sexuality can be very confusing for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are developing physically at the same rate as their peers without disabilities. Everyone involved in their lives -- parents, schools, community -- wants to include these youth in conversations about sexuality but also wants to protect them from abuse and exploitation. Research in this area can be critical to informing best practices, programs, and policies that acknowledge that youth with disabilities often are just as curious and confused about sexuality as their peers without disabilities.

Bullying

Despite the increased visibility of LGBT people in society over the last several decades, gay and non-gender conforming teens are still often bullied, with some driven to suicide. The tragic and highly publicized deaths of gay teens such as Jamey Rodemeyer, Jamie Hubley, and Kameron Jacobsen have created a national discourse on the plight of LGBT teens in public school. In 2010, a Mississippi high school canceled its senior prom when a lesbian teen expressed her intention to bring her girlfriend. Such actions demonstrate to LGBT teens that they are less valued than their straight peers. With foundations and popular celebrities such as Lady Gaga engaging in advocacy related to this important social issue, it is critical that we spend the time and resources to understand the unique social environment of schools and the support needed by marginalized teens from a social science perspective.

Diversity in Research

Research is an increasingly difficult market for young researchers of color. A recent study published in Science magazine showed that African Americans are significantly less likely to receive National Institutes of Health grants than white researchers. Mentorship and professional opportunities are critical for students of color currently in the academic pipeline. Diversity of experience plays an important role in the formation of scientific hypotheses. The lack of diversity in the field of sexual health is especially disturbing in light of significant disparities in communities of color with respect to HIV/AIDS, STIs, and unintended pregnancy. Research is needed to examine why these barriers and disparities exist for both researchers of color and communities at risk.

In sum, as our understanding of sexuality grows in the academic realm, we believe the controversy and negative associations tied to it will diminish. The private philanthropic sector's participation is critical if this is to happen sooner rather than later. It would be wonderful, in the near future, to see funders treat sexuality holistically, the way they do other important social and cultural issues such as the arts, education, and economic development. This work will not only improve and save lives, it also will provide an opportunity to promote wellness and acceptance in society. That is something we can all embrace.

(Image: Selina Anttinen)

-- Colleen Hoff and Justin Keller

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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