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Ford Foundation launches U.S. Disability Rights Program

Man in wheelchair with guide dog

The Ford Foundation today announced the launch of its first-ever grantmaking program focused on advancing the rights of people with disabilities in the United States, with an annual budget of $10 million. From 2018 to 2020, Ford has invested more than $50 million toward projects and organizations focused on disability and an additional $125 million to social justice organizations working toward disability inclusion.

The launch of the U.S. Disability Rights program marks the next stage of Ford’s sustained commitment to the community and wider efforts to transform the foundation toward disability inclusion in all of its operations and grantmaking.

One in five Americans have a disability, yet people with disabilities continue to face unfair policies that systematize poverty and persistent prejudice that has segregated them from movements and society. The Ford Foundation is seizing an opportunity to impact one of the largest communities in the United States to strengthen its work and partnerships with movement leaders.

In embracing the disability community’s motto of “nothing about us without us,” the foundation consulted about 200 disability leaders across the United States to shape the new program’s grantmaking strategy. With their guidance, Ford’s U.S. Disability Rights Program will focus on advancing economic justice; strengthening disability organizations through multi-year, core funding support; building a pipeline of a diverse disability leadership, both within disability rights and justice organizations and in the broader social justice arena; and countering disability stigma.

“There is no justice without the inclusion of people with disabilities,” says Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “When people with disabilities lead the way—and those with power actively listen and learn—our society can move beyond basic compliance and toward justice. Ford Foundation is proud to learn from disability leaders who have shown us that achieving justice requires solutions informed by intersectionality and grounded in equity.”

“Any efforts to combat inequality can only be successful by explicitly including disability,” says Disability advocate Rebecca Cokley, who joined the foundation earlier this year as program officer to lead the U.S. Disability Rights program. “As a person with multiple disabilities, I am honored to continue serving the disability community in building collective power and fighting for their perspectives and experiences to be included in policy decisions that affect them. Critical to this work is a diverse disability leadership that represents the full experience of the community, interconnected social justice movements that understand how disability is situated in all justice areas, a society that celebrates disability pride, and a philanthropic sector that bolsters support for the community.”

Initial investments from the portfolio include grants to:

  • The Century Foundation to build a national disability and economic justice roundtable that will help coordinate a disability agenda in policy arenas;
  • The Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund to build a national association of disabled journalists;
  • Access Living of Chicago to expand work with survivors of gun violence;
  • Crushing Colonialism to use moving image storytelling to uplift Native Americans with disabilities and their advocacy work;
  • MEAction to advocate for the recognition, education, and research around myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and the emerging long-haul COVID community.

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