RespectAbility, a bipartisan group focused on inclusion for individuals with disabilities, says that bias is a key factor that puts disability-inclusive diversity on the sidelines at many nonprofits.
Are nonprofits focusing enough on inclusion when it comes to individuals with disabilities?
A new study not only suggests that they aren’t, but also that welcome mats are hard to come by for the roughly 20 percent of Americans who have some form of disability.
In its new report Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits, the bipartisan group RespectAbility makes the case that many nonprofits and philanthropic groups often exclude those with disabilities even when making public commitments that suggests otherwise.
The report [PDF], which surveyed 969 nonprofit and foundation employees, found that just 14 percent of respondents were offering video captions with their content, despite such services often being made available for free. Additionally, only 30 percent reported making available accommodations for individuals with disabilities, such as interpreters, at their events. And just 59 percent of events were held at accessible spaces—a particularly concerning number, given that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is about 30 years old at this point.
The report suggests that a major factor in this failure to make room for individuals with disabilities was bias, whether implicit or explicit, cited by more than a third of respondents (36 percent). Other factors, including nobody specifically making a point to ask about inclusion (18 percent), competing concerns (16 percent), a lack of resources (16 percent), and legal concerns (11 percent) were also cited by the report.
That said, the report wasn’t entirely negative. In fact, it found that organizations that were inclusive of people with disabilities—whether by hiring them as staff or board members or by adopting a disabilities-inclusive diversity and inclusion policy—were far more likely to ensure that people with disabilities were a part of the organization in some way, and that issues with accessibility were addressed.
Additionally, the group noted that a large number of workers with disabilities had jobs in the nonprofit sector—826,824 in 2017, with nonprofit employers having a disability employment rate of 9.1 percent that year.
The report offered a series of steps that nonprofits and foundations could take to improve the situation, many of which it says come without additional investment.
In a news release, RespectAbility Board Chairman Steve Bartlett, a former congressman who helped author the ADA, made the case that inclusion helped to strengthen nonprofits.
“Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect, and include people of all backgrounds, including people with disabilities,” Bartlett said. “We hope these findings inspire the social sector to heal itself. It’s easier than you think to make improvements.”