As president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I have all too often observed that conversations about health equity ignore disability issues. We must shift the narrative about social justice to incorporate disability inclusion. COVID-19 has helped to illuminate the many inequities facing people with disabilities. Throughout the pandemic, many people with disabilities have contended with gaps in access to care and services, and still struggle with vaccine access. When we talk about health equity, we need to work toward a more inclusive understanding of the life experiences of people with disabilities.

As the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated to health, we at RWJF are on our own learning journey around disability inclusion, and we recognize that we have a long way to go. So, I am pleased to be in conversation with Ryan Easterly, executive director of the WITH Foundation and a fellow member of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy.

Besser: Ryan, is there any call to action you would have for those of us who work in philanthropy?

Easterly: I would like my peers in philanthropy and other sectors to hear me when I say that if you’re considering being more intentional about including disability in your work and about being inclusive in your work, then start that journey of disability inclusion now. The lives of people with disabilities depend on it. Also, if you happen to be a funder who has said, “We don’t do disability,” know that from my perspective, that is discrimination. You are actively making it harder for people with disabilities, myself included, to achieve their own goals and live fully fulfilled lives. So, please start this journey. Don’t wait until you understand everything about disability to start on the journey. There are disability organizations in your community and resources at the Disability & Philanthropy Forum that will support you in this learning. There is no perfect time to start—just start it now. And if you happen to be a funder who is already somewhat experienced in providing disability-inclusive funding, then work with your grantees and partners. Help support them in becoming more intentional and addressing issues related to race, ethnicity, and gender identity. There’s much more work that must be done to support disability organizations and to intentionally address racism. I hope you all will join me on the journey of disability inclusion because we need you.

Read the full article about how philanthropy can better address disability healthcare by Richard E. Besser and Ryan Easterly at Stanford Social Innovation Review.