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Study: Philanthropists, nonprofits exclude people with disabilities

Written on Apr 29, 2019

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of people who work in the social sector say their organizations have made a public commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and have policies that prohibit their groups from denying people with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in services and activities.

Yet, a new study, Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits: A Study on the Inclusion and Exclusion of the 1-in-5 People Who Live with a Disability and What You Can Do to Make Things Better, shows that most tax-exempt organizations aren’t doing enough to enable people with disabilities to have the access and accommodations they need to fully participate in the good the groups are doing.

The research and report are from RespectAbility, a nonprofit working on inclusion efforts for people with disabilities. It includes responses from 969 people who work at tax-exempt organizations. It involved five focus groups and one-on-one discussions with 14 executives at philanthropy-serving organizations.

“Philanthropy-serving organizations don’t know what they don’t know and often haven’t even thought about including people with disabilities,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Even among well-meaning groups who are engaged in racial and gender equity overall, disability is missing.” For example:

  • Only 14% said their organizations use video captions to ensure people who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the content. Captioning services are easy to use and often free and yet 86% are not taking advantage of such tools

  • Just 30% of respondents said their organizations enable people with disabilities to request accommodations such as sign language interpreters on event registration forms. Asking about accommodations sends a clear signal that people with disabilities are welcome and that inclusion is a consideration, yet 70% say their organizations do not make this effort

  • Only 59% said their events always are held in physically accessible spaces

According to the survey, bias is the top reason, cited by more than one-third (36%) of respondents, that keeps organizations from doing even the minimum. Whether overt or implicit, prejudice against people with disabilities is a significant barrier to meaningful inclusion efforts, according to the report’s authors. Additionally, few in positions of power are specifically asking that organizations make including people with disabilities a priority. This means funders and others in leadership positions are not requiring or even suggesting that attention be paid to disability inclusion, according to the authors.

Nonprofits are starting to hire people with disabilities. In 2017, 826,824 workers with disabilities had jobs with nonprofit organizations. The disability employment rate among nonprofit employers increased from 8.9% to 9.1% between 2016 and 2017. There were about 33,922 new nonprofit jobs for people with disabilities in 2017. (Roughly 30% of new jobs for persons with disabilities overall).