Communication is fundamental to our lives. It’s how we connect with each other and navigate society. Yet our ways of communicating often exclude the one-in-six adults in America with a sensory or communication disability, including people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low-vision, have speech or intellectual disabilities, and many more. To build a more inclusive and accessible world, we must commit to understanding their challenges and enacting the changes those most impacted by structural challenges recommend.

I know this because my children taught me.

I was working at the UN when my twin daughters were diagnosed with Autism and sensory processing disorders. While I was fighting to protect freedom of thought and expression internationally, at home, my children were unable to express their own thoughts. They are excluded by a society unwilling to truly listen and accommodate their different ways of communicating.

I now manage a grant program that serves people with any and all communication disabilities, improving access for Deaf, blind, neurodiverse, and other disabled communities. The access provided by projects we fund varies: it includes not only American Sign Language, captioning, and braille, but also text-to-speech on mobile devices, sensory deprivation rooms, and more. I have not found any other foundations that work exclusively to support the one-in-six people with communication disabilities. This shocking funding gap is partly explained by the history of ableism that runs through philanthropy.

Philanthropy remains part of an unequal power dynamic. People with disabilities continue to be overlooked by foundations. And as the UN report notes, “Invisibility can create inequality, and unequal treatment can itself lead to, or reinforce, invisibility.”

As foundations, we are responsible for creating meaningful change benefitting those who need it most. Don’t know where to start? Here’s what foundations can do to build equity for disabled communities:

  • Make workplaces accessible for people with disabilities and deliberately recruit leaders and staff with disabilities.
  • Make all your internal and external communications and meetings accessible. 
  • Fund disability projects. Remember that people with disabilities, including communication disabilities, intersect with multiple communities that funders already focus on.
  • Require the inclusion of people with disabilities in projects designed for people with disabilities and require grantees to pay them for their participation.
  • Make your application processes accessible.

Read the full article about philanthropy helping disabled communities by Matt Cherry at Northern California Grantmakers.