Disabilities Not a Priority in Social Sector DEI Efforts, Study Finds

Disabilities Not a Priority in Social Sector DEI Efforts, Study Finds

Most foundations and nonprofits are not doing enough to provide people with disabilities the access and accommodations they need to participate fully in programs and services, a report from RespectAbility finds.

Based on a survey of nearly a thousand nonprofit and foundation staff, interviews with fourteen executives at philanthropy-serving organizations, and focus group discussions, the report, 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 (HTML or PDF, 54 pages), found that 66 percent of respondents' organizations serve people with disabilities, while 72 percent have made a public commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and have policies that prohibit denying equal participation opportunities to people with disabilities. But only 59 percent of the surveyed organizations always hold events in physically accessible spaces; only 30 percent enable people with disabilities to request accommodations such as sign language interpreters on event registration forms; and just 14 percent use video captions to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the content.

According to the report, the reason most commonly cited for the limited inclusion of people with disabilities was "overt or unconscious bias" (36 percent), followed by not being specifically asked "to include people with disabilities and make it a priority" (18 percent), "other, more urgent concerns" (16 percent), and the lack of training and/or resources (16 percent). The study found that among organizations with a publicly stated commitment to DEI, fewer specifically refer to disability (68 percent) than to race (93 percent), gender (87 percent), or sexual orientation (73 percent). 

The report also found that organizations with a DEI policy that explicitly names disability as an area of focus, as well as those with people with disabilities in board, leadership, and/or staff positions, are more likely to act to ensure equal opportunity. For example, 34 percent of organizations with DEI policies that include disability and 38 percent of those with board members, leaders, and/or staff with disabilities have made intentional efforts to recruit people with disabilities, compared with 26 percent among all organizations with a DEI policy and 15 percent of those with no policy. Organizations with DEI policies that include disability and those with board members, leaders, and/or staff with disabilities also are more likely to hold all events in physically accessible spaces (71 percent and 67 percent), compared with all organizations with DEI policies (63 percent) or those without a policy (49 percent), and to have websites set up for screen readers for people with low-vision (24 percent each, compared with 19 percent and 9 percent).

"Philanthropy-serving organizations don't know what they don't know and often haven't even thought about including people with disabilities," said RespectAbility president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. "Even among well-meaning groups who are engaged in a lot [of efforts] on racial and gender equity overall, disability is missing."

(Photo credit: RespectAbility)