While it’s great that you’re discussing large long-term investments in accessibility, there are some smaller and quicker things you could do right now to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Using microphones at your public meetings would be a great way to help ensure that hard-of-hearing people like me can participate fully.

Saying these words at a public meeting was life changing. I had previously asked the meeting organizers to consider using a sound system, but I had always framed it as a suggestion with some embarrassment that I was being a burden. Framing the request as an accommodation I was entitled to under the ADA was incredibly empowering.

When I shifted my focus from my perceived deficit to demanding that the organizers remove barriers to my full participation, I went from feeling inadequate and isolated to powerful. And because accessibility frequently benefits everyone, multiple audience members thanked me for asking, saying that microphones would improve their experience too.

Ableism is now central to my vocabulary, and as I learn to recognize ableism in our systems, laws, culture, and in myself, I am seeking new ways to work and to live. One of the greatest joys of this work is the opportunity to connect with disabled leaders who bring creative and innovative solutions to problems of all kinds. My deaf friends taught me to use live captioning apps to augment my comprehension both on and off Zoom, and vastly simplified my note taking in the process. Fellow disabled colleagues have helped me explore how I might design programs that truly include people both virtually and in person. Observing the extensive mutual aid efforts of disabled people responding to COVID-19 or to climate-change-induced disasters gives me insight into how we must prevent our broken systems from leaving people behind through both immediate action and the long-term fight for better policies. I’m continually learning from disability justice leaders about how interlocking systems of ableism, racism, and multiple other forms of oppression influence our systems and culture, as well as my own ways of thinking, and the privileges I hold.

Philanthropy can play a significant role in seeding social change. Serving the Disability & Philanthropy Forum is a unique opportunity to continue my own personal and professional learning journey alongside philanthropic leaders committed to inclusion and disabled movement builders. Together, we can leverage the wisdom of the disability community and the investments of philanthropy to disrupt ableism and advance equity.

Read the full article about dismantling ableism by Emily Harris at PEAK Grantmaking.