My husband and I started our family’s charitable fund shortly after we got married. Like other philanthropists, we wanted to make the world a better, safer, more respectful and welcoming place. Now that we have children, we want our children to grow up in a society that sees, respects and benefits from the diverse talents of all people – regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or identity, or ability. So how can our philanthropy help?
Over the last fifteen years we have donated to 96 different nonprofits. There are a few “one-offs” every year due to special events and situations, but primarily we invest in nonprofits year after year as we care about their causes and have deep relationships of trust. However, because we have seen that there can be a big gap between the excellent work that they do on a specific project or issue area, and the overall way in which they conduct their own operations, we are being more selective about our grantees.
To us, an excellent nonprofit lives its values 24/7 and across 360 degrees of its operations. This includes not only who it serves – but also who it hires, how it chooses and respects its board members and volunteers, and the welcoming nature in which it treats all people equally.
The issue of transforming how people see ‘disability’ and valuing people of all levels of ability inclusively is especially dear to our hearts. We believe strongly that those in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors consider community members with disabilities, not only in their programming, but also in their daily operations.
One in five Americans has a disability. That is 56 million people. There are 1.2 million Americans between ages 16 and 20 with disabilities. Only 7 percent of people born with disabilities will graduate college. Every year, 300,000 age into what should be the workforce. But because of the discrimination and bias against disability, the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities is over twice that of persons without disabilities (29 percent compared to 13 percent). People with disabilities are also far more likely to be victims or perpetrators of crimes and to have negative health outcomes. Furthermore, people with disabilities of color or who are members of other underserved groups are even more likely than their white counterparts to experience poor health, and may even face “double discrimination.”
For example, faith-based organizations are not legally obligated to respect the rights of people with disabilities. Sadly, many such groups do not hire people with disabilities, have them on their boards of directors or accept them in their schools or institutions. When they do work with people with disabilities, it is through a lens of pity as opposed to respect and empowerment. The same is true regarding how some treat people from the LGBTQ community.
For example, Goodwill Industries pays their executives more than $400K a year while paying literally thousands of people with disabilities sub-minimum wage. NBC News did an exposé showing that Goodwill has employees with disabilities who make 20 cents an hour. However, the donations to them keep rolling in.
As a philanthropist you can have a huge impact on social justice, diversity and inclusion without funding any groups that focus on those issues– regardless of issue focus I, we should mirror the kind of diversity and inclusion we seek and expect of our grantees. You can make a tremendous positive difference in the lives of people who have been marginalized throughout history. I’ve found three excellent places for foundations to start.
Studies show that 70 percent of young people with disabilities can get jobs and careers when they are given the right placement and supports. Encouraging high expectations, eliminating stigmas and connecting them to effective programs and support systems can enable positive outcomes. People with disabilities have abilities too. When foundations consider these facts in funding other areas, they find that their funding is more impactful when accounting for addressing the needs of people with disabilities in their work.
We must respect human beings and their right to be appreciated for the strengths they have, and not be defined by their disabilities. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair is a person first, and their wheelchair is a tool. They are not “wheelchair-bound.” We are “people with disabilities” (PwDs), not “handicapped” or “the disabled.”
We are most impactful when we are welcoming and respectful of the talents, experiences and perspectives that diversity brings to the decision-making table. People who have been historically disadvantaged – because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or disability status all comprise the larger society in which we live. Inclusion means promoting justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions and systems, and well as their distribution of resources. Similar to how the LGBTQ community and immigrants are working to gain acceptance and equality – people with disabilities should be valued as equal human beings and for the talents they have.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of www.RespectAbilityUSA.org, co-founder/director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust and founder and president of www.laszlostrategies.com. To read more about this issue, please read this piece by the author. She is also a columnist at Huffington Post.