22 posts categorized "Disabilities"

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.


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

This Week in PubHub: Protecting the Rights of People With Disabilities

January 27, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she wrote about trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of marginalized populations.)

Throughout the month of January, we're highlighting research on various aspects of the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights around the globe. This week, we're featuring four reports that address topics related to the rights of people with disabilities.

Among the most egregious examples of human rights violations involving the disabled is the forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities, as described in Sterilization of Women and Girls With Disabilities (4 pages, PDF), an issue brief from the Open Society Foundations in collaboration with Human Rights Watch, Women With Disabilities Australia, and the International Disability Alliance. The report points out that the practice is justified in many countries as being in the "best interests" of the women -- who are sterilized without their knowledge, despite refusing or not having the opportunity to consent, and/or after being encouraged to do so through misinformation, as a result of financial incentives, or by intimidation. In addition to being an act of violence, a form of social control, and a violation of numerous international human rights standards, forced sterilization, the paper notes, is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which promotes the right of all people with disabilities to start a family and, for women, to control their fertility on an equal basis with the non-disabled.

The right to live one's life with the same choices as others is at the core of A Community for All: Implementing Article 19 (39 pages, PDF), another publication from the Open Society Foundations. Based on Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that people with disabilities have the right to live independently and be counted as members of society with the same choices as others, the report calls for ending the institutionalization of people with disabilities and to create community-based alternatives and services for them that promote social inclusion. A separate checklist lists ten steps to achieving those ends, starting with "Commit to transforming the system from institutional services to community-based services" and ending with "Establish mechanisms for periodic review of the action plan and national strategy."

What is the nonprofit sector's role with respect to the issue? According to Renewing the Commitment: An ADA Compliance Guide for Nonprofits (139 pages; 15.49MB; PDF), a report from the Chicago Community Trust, about 54 million people in the United States -- nearly one in five -- have at least one disability, and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires most nonprofits to provide them with equal access to services. The guide provides a checklist, resource list, and advice on serving people with disabilities, encourages nonprofits to make sure that their facilities and communications meet the various needs of the disabled community, and highlights considerations for specific types of events, services, and programs. An action agenda in this area includes a call to collaborate with people with disabilities and the organizations that represent them in the planning and compliance process.

Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who return with severe injuries will require care and services, as well. Based on qualitative and quantitative assessments of services needed by Iraq/Afghanistan veterans and their families, the RAND Corporation report A Needs Assessment of New York State Veterans (102 pages, PDF) found, among other things, that veterans were frustrated with employment preference programs that do not prevent discrimination against those with disabilities, as promised. Funded by the New York State Health Foundation, the report concludes that responsibility for the health and well-being of veterans extend well beyond the VA to other clinical and social service delivery systems, and calls for better coordination of care, better outreach to veterans seeking assistance, and more accessible, sustainable, and higher-quality mental health care.

What do you think needs to be done to protect the rights of and enhance the lives of people with disabilities? Are there specific unmet needs that foundations and nonprofits should be addressing? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And be sure to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on topics related to civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Bridging the Knowledge Gap About Grantmaking for People with Disabilities

October 27, 2010

(Laura Cronin is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. Her last post was a Q&A with Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.)

Ada_diamond_color Every funder can, and should, be a disability funder.

A group of New York grantmakers and advocates gathered last week under the auspices of the Disability Funders Network (DFN) to discuss how to make that statement a reality and to galvanize support for a fuller embrace by organized philanthropy of the twenty-one-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to DFN, an estimated 54 million Americans have at least one disability, making them the largest minority group in the nation. As baby boomers age and more veterans return from war, experts estimate that number could double within twenty years. But less than 3 percent of philanthropic giving is directed to programs serving people with disabilities.

The Kessler Foundation, a DFN member, recently commissioned Harris Interactive to survey the impact of disability on national workforce participation.

Results from the survey reveal that while 70 percent of corporations polled have diversity policies or programs in place, only two-thirds of those with programs include disability as a component. In addition, only 18 percent of companies offer an education program aimed at integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. The findings are notable given that most employers consider the cost of hiring people with disabilities to be the same as hiring employees without a disability (62 percent). The panelists urged funders to design programs to explicitly consider disability.

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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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