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Steps Forward From The Survey

So how do we improve? Our survey findings offer some insight and direction:

3.1. Talking about people with disabilities in a positive way is a good first step.

We suffer from crisis fatigue. The tendency in the social sector to catastrophize the issues we care about and present them in the most drastic terms possible does not work here. And it is not helpful or necessary, given the hopeful potential that exists with inclusion efforts.

When we tested various statements about inclusion for people disabilities, respondents were clearly drawn toward positive messaging. By far the most compelling argument was, “Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect, and include people of all backgrounds. This includes people with disabilities,”selected as the top choice out of five options by nearly half (44 percent) of respondents.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) chose, “Problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them first hand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them.” 

Another 18 percent chose, “Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income, achieve independence and be included, just like anyone else,”as the most compelling reason.

These three statements are imbued with optimism and confidence.

Negative messages – like “Only 1 in 3 people with a disability has a job. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as people without disabilities. They are disproportionally impacted by issues of school suspension and dropping out, unemployment, homelessness, abuse, incarceration and other issues,” – were found to be most compelling by just seven percent of respondents. When we asked which of the five was the second most compelling reason, again the responses clustered around the positive messages and there was very little support for those that were negatively framed.

Q 10. What do you think is the most compelling reason to include and increase opportunities for people with disabilities?

All Respondents
Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect and include people of all backgrounds. This includes people with disabilities. 44%
Problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them first hand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them. 24%
Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income, achieve independence and be included, just like anyone else. 18%
Companies including Microsoft, JPMC, Coca-Cola and others have seen that talented people with disabilities can bring unique experiences, innovation and determination to organizations. It is time for nonprofits and philanthropy to benefit from what people with disabilities CAN do. 8%
Only 1 in 3 people with a disability has a job. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as people without disabilities. They are disproportionally impacted by issues of school suspension and dropping out, unemployment, homelessness, abuse, incarceration and other issues. 7%

Q 11. And what would be your second choice?

All Respondents
Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect and include people of all backgrounds. This includes people with disabilities. 28%
Problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them first hand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them. 27%
Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income, achieve independence and be included, just like anyone else. 22%
Companies including Microsoft, JPMC, Coca-Cola and others have seen that talented people with disabilities can bring unique experiences, innovation and determination to organizations. It is time for nonprofits and philanthropy to benefit from what people with disabilities CAN do. 13%
Only 1 in 3 people with a disability has a job. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as people without disabilities. They are disproportionally impacted by issues of school suspension and dropping out, unemployment, homelessness, abuse, incarceration and other issues. 10%

Similarly, when asked about facts that convey the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities, positive framing was much more appealing. Given six choices and asked to identify the single most compelling fact about why increasing inclusion of people with disabilities is important, more than a third (37 percent) of respondents chose, “Studies show that 70% of people with disabilities want to work and that the majority of young people with disabilities can get jobs and careers when they are given the right opportunities and supports.” Nearly another third (30 percent) chose the optimistically worded, “Most accommodations to include people with disabilities are simple, free or low cost. With new technology and best practices, more people with disabilities can be included successfully.”

People were far less likely to resonate to dry, basic facts like, “32 percent of Federal prisoners, 40 percent of people in jail, and the majority of women who are incarcerated have a disability”and “There are more than six million children with disabilities, including more than a million black/African American and 1.5 million LatinX students with disabilities in our schools today,” which garnered just three percent and four percent respectively. Again, when we asked for the second most compelling fact, the responses clustered around those with a positive or hopeful presentation.

Q 12. Which one of these facts is most compelling that increasing inclusion of people with disabilities is important?

Bar graph with responses to Question 12. 32% of Federal prisoners, 40% of people in jail and the majority of women who are incarcerated have a disability. Chosen by 3% There are more than six million children with disabilities, including more than a million black/African American and 1.5 million LatinX students with disabilities in our schools today. Chosen by 4% Only 35% of working age people with disabilities has a job and the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities is over twice that of persons without disabilities (29% compared to 13%). Chosen by 10% Fully 1 in 5 people have a disability. Chosen by 16% Most accommodations to include people with disabilities are simple, free or low cost. With new technology and best practices, more people with disabilities can be included successfully. Chosen by 30% Studies show that 70% of people with disabilities want to work and that the majority of young people with disabilities can get jobs and careers when they are given the right opportunities and supports. Chosen by 37%

Q 13. And, what would be your second choice?

Bar graph with responses to Question 13. 32% of Federal prisoners, 40% of people in jail and the majority of women who are incarcerated have a disability. Chosen by 5% There are more than six million children with disabilities, including more than a million black/African American and 1.5 million LatinX students with disabilities in our schools today. Chosen by 8% Fully 1 in 5 people have a disability. Chosen by 14% Only 35% of working age people with disabilities has a job and the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities is over twice that of persons without disabilities (29% compared to 13%). Chosen by 17% Most accommodations to include people with disabilities are simple, free or low cost. With new technology and best practices, more people with disabilities can be included successfully. Chosen by 27% Studies show that 70% of people with disabilities want to work and that the majority of young people with disabilities can get jobs and careers when they are given the right opportunities and supports. Chosen by 29%

Expanded inclusion for people with disabilities is hopeful and positive, so why should we not talk about it that way? Providing opportunities for people with disabilities is constructive and important. Presenting it as another crisis does not help the cause. What does help:

Open-Ended Survey Responses:

“Showing positiveexamples of the contributions people with disabilities are making in their communities and workplaces to help shift ideas and bias.”

“Leading by example, promoting the positive outcomes and impacts of hiring and including individuals with disabilities in our diverse workforce. Help others to realize that there is a large untapped workforce that can meet many needs of any employer.”

“Engaging with those that are different and seeing that there are commonalities, they are competent, etc., seems to be the factor that can change hearts and minds.”

“A lot more discussion, news and social media especially highlighting success stories so the general population can become educated and enlightened.”

3.2. Make it your policy.

Talking the talk helps with walking the walk. It increases awareness. It leads to action. It is both a reminder and a commitment. As it pertains to disability inclusion, by nearly every measure in our survey, organizations with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies do better than those without. Organizations with DEI policies that specifically include disabilitydo better still. From representation on the board to representation in marketing materials, from staff trainings to public events – organizations who say disability inclusion matters to them are taking steps to prove it.

Orgs With No DEI Policy Orgs With a DEI Policy Orgs With a DEI Policy That Includes Disability Orgs With People With Disabilities Among Board, Staff or Leadership
Board includes people with disabilities 17% 26% 34% 45%
Professional leadership includes people with disabilities 11% 22% 28% 38%
Staff overall includes people with disabilities 27% 47% 57% 81%
Organization has made intentional efforts to recruit people with disabilities for employment, internships, volunteer or board positions 15% 26% 34% 38%
Organization asks members or grantees to intentionally include people with disabilities in their work 10% 23% 28% 25%
Organization depicts people with visible disabilities in marketing materials 28% 41% 50% 53%
Organization has an explicit public policy that people with disabilities cannot be denied an equal opportunity to participate in services and activities 58% 77% 82% 81%
Events always are held in physically accessible spaces 49% 63% 67% 71%
Website is set up properly for screen readers for people with low vision 9% 19% 24% 24%
All video content has captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing 5% 17% 21% 20%
Public events enable people with disabilities to request accommodations such as sign language interpreters, live captioning, or food allergy alternatives 21% 34% 38% 40%
There is a process for employees, board, or trustees to request and receive accommodations if needed 20% 49% 56% 58%
Learning opportunities for staff include disability as an area of focus 23% 39% 51% 48%

Interview Excerpt:

“When we publicize our conference making clear that inclusion and access is a priority for us and that if you have questions whatsoever about that or you need anything, all you have to do is come and talk to us. Just sending those messages is important. I’m not going to assert that we’re some form of best practices. I think we’re working on all this stuff.”

3.3. Make it your practice.

Declaring your commitment to disability inclusion is meaningful to be sure, but actually hiring people with disabilities is leadership by example. After all, problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them firsthand and know solutions that work. Organizations that include people with disabilities among their board, leadership, or staff are far more likely to be walking the walk.

For example, 78 percent of organizations whose board, leadership, and staff include people with disabilities have made a public commitment to DEI, compared to 72 percent of the entirety of our survey. A much more pronounced difference exists in whether those DEI policies specifically mentioned disability: 83 percent vs. 68 percent.

Nearly half – 48 percent – of organizations whose board, leadership, or staff include people with disabilities have provided staff DEI learning opportunities that included disability as an area of focus. Among the total, just 35 percent have done so.

Perhaps not surprisingly, organizations whose board, leadership, or staff include people with disabilities have more inclusive internal policies and hiring practices. They are more likely to make intentional efforts when recruiting staff (38 percent vs. 23 percent of the total). They are more likely to ask members or grantees to intentionally include people disabilities in their work (25 percent vs. 20 percent.)  They are more likely to have publicly-stated policies that specifically say the organization cannot deny people with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in services and activities (81 percent vs. 72 percent). They are more likely to have a process where employees, trustees, board members, and volunteers with disabilities can request and receive accommodations as needed so that they can succeed in their roles (58 percent vs. 41 percent).

And they are not just doing better internally. Their public practice is also more welcoming. Organizations whose board, leadership, or staff include people with disabilities are also more likely to show people with visible disabilities in their marketing materials (53 percent vs. 38 percent). For every external-facing inclusion measure we asked about – website compatibility with screen readers, captioning on videos, events held in accessible venues, accommodations such as sign language interpreters – organizations whose board, leadership, or staff include people with disabilities did far better than the survey total.

Although, it is important to note that some of these findings still are dismal. One example is the fact that even among organizations with people with disabilities among their board, leadership, or staff, only one-in-five use captions on all their video content to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can participate. This is especially telling as so many millions of people rely on captions in order to understand content, and it can be free and instant to put them on videos via YouTube.

All Respondents Organizations With People With Disabilities Among Board, Staff, or Leadership
Events are always held in physically accessible spaces that have accessible parking or transportation options 59% 71%
Website is set up properly for screen readers for people with low vision 17% 24%
All video content has captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing 14% 20%
Public events enable people with disabilities to request accommodations such as sign language interpreters, live captioning, or food allergy alternatives 30% 40%

Ensuring a fully-accessible website, including both captions and audio descriptions for all products, is important for those who have either visual or auditory disabilities. People who have both auditory and visual disabilities are not only consumers of the information put out by nonprofits and foundations but also may be among the population served by the work of the organization. This assistive technology ensures they are accessible to all. For websites, add tags, captions, a site index and alt text to images. Ensure that all videos have captions. Video hosting sites such as YouTube have free tools that allow users to add automated subtitles to their clips, but this is not as reliable. Auto-captioning is not always perfect. We would recommend ensuring the accuracy of the captions. Vimeo allows its users to upload transcripts to create captions. Making a transcript of the video available online is also an incredibly helpful resource for users who have auditory disabilities, like Deafness or who are Hard of Hearing. Many of these things also increase Search Engine Optimization, increasing a website’s reach and readership.

Does the actual inclusion come first and lead to more awareness and better policies? Or do the policies come first and lead to more inclusion? Our survey does not say, but the correlation is undeniable. Groups whose board, leadership or staff include people with disabilities are far better at inclusion than others in the field.

Open-Ended Survey Responses:

“Having persons with disabilities on staff, in planning committees and as major contributors to events or campaigns will lead to more acceptance and inclusion. Essentially, just ‘doing it.’ As more people with disabilities are included, there will be more visibility and awareness and that will grow the acceptance and inclusion rates.”

“If people were able to see themselves in the place of someone with a disability – or if they had the chance to really know someone or work with someone with a disability – that would really help people see the issue beyond their preconceived notions.”

“We are usually hesitant to accept someone who is different from ourselves because we are not informed. Education, information, and training is always a place to start when it comes to accepting change.”

3.4. Lead with intent. Efforts (or deficiencies) in the social sector are magnified far beyond our own organizations.

Foundations and nonprofits know better than anyone that change does not just happen. Systemic change is premeditated, planned for, and purposefully done. Our field prides itself on thinking long and hard about how best to effect change and improve the world. Our funding dollars influence trends and behavior far beyond our own walls. Our actions provide a model for service as well as the services themselves.

And clearly the will is there. We asked respondents about tools, training, and resources to support the work of including people with disabilities, and interest was overwhelming. A majority of respondents said they would find it helpful to have training in accessible and inclusive communications (technology, website, social media); training in recruiting, hiring, retaining, and succeeding with employees, volunteers, and board members with disabilities; free online tools and training they could use anytime; as well as training in disability etiquette. Nearly half – 42 percent – said it would be helpful to receive money to create accessibility and/or accommodations for people with disabilities.

Additionally, more than a third of respondents said it would helpful to have information and training on how to add the disability lens to work on issues faced by marginalized people; as well as training in physical, programmatic, and event accessibility; and data on people with disabilities and the groups and programs serving them in their specific geographic area. Just seven percent said no resources were needed.

Key takeaways from this research are that leaders should not wait to be asked and funders should be more instructive in their direction. Additionally, people with disabilities need to speak up, although it is not solely their responsibility to advocate for these overdue changes  A person with a disability may not be an expert on every kind of disability and they do not want to carry the baggage of being the “disability voice” in an organization any more than a single person from any other marginalized community in an office wants to speak on behalf of all people from that group. As with all with DEI efforts, there must be experts on a wide variety of inclusion issues involved in the core development of policies and practices.

Our field is creative, scrappy, innovative, and committed. If wearen’t leading on behalf of people with disabilities, it diminishes us, and them, and society. If wedon’t do this, who will?

Interview Excerpts:

“We do not call out disability as specific in a way … My hope and belief is that will shift over time as we become more, as we continue in our work. We are literally, I feel just at the beginning of this journey here. What I can offer is a commitment and a desire for that to happen and that means money, and time, and people and conversation and willingness to shift as needed. I’d love to have this exact conversation with you in a year…just to see where we are and how far we’ve gotten.”

“What we could use right now is good ideas for the kinds of programming that would be useful for the kinds of ways this can be a piece of everyone’s mission. No matter what you’re giving to, whether it’s the arts or education or criminal justice or whatever, chances are there’s a thread that includes this work.”

“Our heart’s in the right place and I think that everybody [here] has a high level of humility. So, that makes us teachable, right? It means we ask our friends how do we show up for them, our members, people of disenfranchised communities. How can we stand up with you or for you? I feel like that’s a good thing. We have the good raw material to start with. But that’s about it right now. And I think seeking to do the right thing is a good quality. You know at least we have that.”

“While inclusion and diversity are core organizational values, this has been primarily framed in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ identity, and immigration status. It would be good for us to also have staff representation who are people with disabilities, and we would be open to suggestions as to how to make this work.”

Open-Ended Survey Responses:

“Nonprofits need to be more aware of the technology that is available to make their offices accessible. For example, our blindstaff member has a device which allows her to read her notes in Braille during a live presentation. Many people may not be aware that these devices are out there and oftentimes people believe people with disabilities are less capable.”

“[It would help if we had] grants that explicitly require people with disabilities to be served, on staff, etc.”

“More team work and workplace structures that don’t expect one person to be able to accomplish everything on their own. More shared responsibility would help hiring managers look beyond a deficit that one person may have and focus on the assets that an entire team has. I think there’s general fear that people with disabilities will be a burden on the organization and our colleagues. If we expect one person to be able to do everything themselves, that will be true (and every employee will experience failure because none of us are able to do everything on our own). A focus on group assets, rather than individual deficits, would create space and acceptance for everyone to bring their highest and best abilities, and make it acceptable to expect us to fill in each other’s gaps.”

“Hiring disabled workers and taking time to train them, has resulted in increased confidence and talent. They were treated and held accountable just like every other staff member.”

“Many of the seeming barriers to entry are easily overcome with clear communication – it needs to be more commonplace to hold the discussions to ensure success for all.”

“I think nonprofits are generally quite committed to diversity and inclusion.  Making sure people understand that diversity includes people with disabilities is critical.”

“People need to JUST DO IT.”

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