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Disabled people deserve more than medical research

They want liberation not just medical research!

Philanthropy has historically had one singular focus when it comes to disabled people: fixing us. And while cures for cancers and diseases are certainly important—the reality is that disabled people like me will always exist—and we deserve full, happy, liberated lives right now. And in that respect, philanthropy has almost completely failed, with just a few small funders embracing the idea of liberation for disabled people—a world in which we can thrive with full rights, justice, and access—as worthwhile at all. I’d like to invite you to change that.

Just 2 percent of philanthropic funding goes to disability causes, despite disabled people comprising 25 percent of the U.S. population—and that 25 percent are just those we know about. Too often our community is told that disability just doesn’t fit.

The Reality

The reality is that now is the moment to invest in disabled people. Not for cures and fixes but for our liberation and in the fight against ableism.

What we in the disability community know is that every issue is, in fact, a disability issue. Every form of oppression causes disability—from racism to environmental injustice and colonialism to reproductive injustice and homophobia to patriarchy. And disability makes all of us more vulnerable to every form of oppression. If you are a funder who cares about abortion, you should care about disability. If you are a funder who cares about racism, you should care about disability. If you are a funder who cares about capitalism or labor unions, you can’t forget about what capitalism is doing to workers—disabling them. When or once people are disabled, they are that much more vulnerable to union-busting corporations, racist cops, abusive husbands, transphobic laws. The list goes on.

The Fight that is irrevocably intertwined

Our fights are irrevocably intertwined. And by failing to fund the fight against ableism, progressive funders are failing to help build a truly progressive future. An accessible world, a world where we have power and liberation and dignity regardless of our disability status, is a world where all of us thrive. Workers. Black, Latiné, Indigenous, and AAPI folks. Women. LGBTQ people. Immigrants. Poor people. Families. Everyone.

This is why I co-founded New Disabled South, an organization devoted to fighting for disabled people in the South, where issues like poverty, voting rights, and criminalization disproportionately impact the disabled community.

This moment in time presents a unique opportunity to invest in disabled people. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest mass-disabling event since the Vietnam War to the United States—which will result in huge shifts in how many people view disability as they come to realize they are disabled themselves.

Philanthropists should see this as a wake-up call, a chance to shift their priorities and invest in the disabled community, because we can win big things together.

As we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is crucial that donors remember that the ADA is not the ceiling but merely the floor. The ADA, while a testament to the tireless efforts of disabled activists who fought for our rights, is not the cap for disability causes. While we are grateful for the progress it has brought, we know that there is so much more to be done. Philanthropy has an essential role to play in building upon the foundation of the ADA and further empowering the cause of liberation for disabled Americans.

The future for disability philanthropy is disability justice. It means investing where the disabled community has opportunities to thrive, not just to be protected from discrimination in public spaces. When donors consider what that looks like, ableism should be top of mind. While charity, medical advancements, and cures for specific disabilities have their place, they should not be the sole focus of philanthropic efforts around disability. Ableism perpetuates harmful stereotypes as well as the infantilization and fear surrounding disabled people, limits our ability to thrive and not just survive, and ultimately denies us our right to autonomy and self-determination. By centering our efforts on combating ableism, we can challenge the structural barriers that prevent disabled folks from fully participating in society.

Achieving this means that donors need to reframe their perspective on what it means to fund disability causes. Organizations across the country are fighting this cause, whether on a national level or regionally like we are at New Disabled South. Funding disability initiatives not only corrects the historical underinvestment in these issues, but also helps fuel a movement that is growing at an exciting pace. Disability-led organizations should be supported and empowered to lead in these efforts, as we have the experience and expertise to build upon the foundation of the ADA and the disability rights movement and effect change for generations to come.

Join us at the 2023 Military Children's Leadership Development & Financial Fair - Youth & Philanthropy. Visit

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