For years, Kristy Trautmann was the only one to speak up.
Since 2010, she has been the executive director of the FISA Foundation, a small philanthropy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that takes an intersectional approach to improving the lives of women, girls, and people with disabilities. As part of her role, she often meets with funders and service providers working on a broad range of issues that affect these communities.
In 2020, Trautmann met with census organizers to strategize how to increase the disability community’s participation in the census. She asked whether accessible census hubs and printed materials in large type or braille would be provided. Meeting with arts funders, she raised the need for captioning and other accessibility measures for artists with disabilities. Speaking to social service providers, she stressed the importance of reaching children with disabilities.
In every instance, she was met with blank stares from people who hadn’t given much, if any, thought to how to include people with disabilities.
“Over and over, I was the only one to say anything,” Trautmann says. “It was frustrating, and I felt impotent.”
For too long, philanthropy has treated disability as a niche area for specialized foundations, an approach that is rooted in the ableist notion that disability is a separate issue that isn’t integral to work that addresses injustice and inequality. “We are so good at silos in philanthropy,” Trautmann says. “It has been challenging to get philanthropy to see disability not as some extra thing but as part of the equity agenda.”
Disability intersects with every issue because disabled people exist in every community and in greater numbers in those already impacted by oppression. Anti-poverty agendas will never be achieved if they neglect disability. Reproductive justice work is not effective if it leaves disabled people behind.
Roughly one billion people around the world have some form of disability. In the United States, more than 25 percent of adults live with a disability. The issues the disabled community faces—from voting rights to accessing employment—are structural inequities that cut across the social justice sector. Yet for years, disability work has been relegated to specialized organizations and excluded from larger movements that address global inequality. To build a world where everyone is equal, organizations fighting for justice—and the funders supporting them—need to understand how society’s diverse systems of oppression reinforce one another and center intersectionality and the disability community in their work.
Read the full article about disability justice by Avchai Scher at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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