Program Recap: “Building Inclusion of People with Disabilities into Your Organization’s Mindset”

Highlights from “Building Inclusion of People with Disabilities into Your Organization’s Mindset” by Rachel Jellinek

Did you know that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. has a seen or unseen disability?  Steve Slowinski from Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) explained the breadth of the term, “disability,” and the difference between the “medical model of disability, ” and the “social model of disability.”  The former assigns disability as a deficit of the self, whereas the latter supports the idea that there is nothing wrong with the person; it’s the physical space or social environment they are in that is not being inclusive.

Steve also shared the distinction between “people-first” or “person-first” language (e.g., “a person with autism”) and “identity-first” language (e.g., “an autistic person”).  For the “identity-first” language, especially if you’re thinking of the social model of disability, having this perspective can be a source of advocacy and community building.   Many disabled people are loud and proud about their disability and say “I’m a disabled person.”  If you don’t know how someone likes to be identified, person-first is a safe language to use.

One thing to avoid doing is using terms, like “differently abled,” as a substitute for “disability” or “disabled.”  “Disability” and “disabled” aren’t bad words.  By using other expressions, you perpetuate the stigma attached to these words, and you also deny disabled people their rights that are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law 30 years ago.

Nicole Agois Hurel from Open Door Arts emphasized the need to recognize the intersectionality of disability with the missions of our organizations.  Just like George Floyd’s murder has brought home that racial justice needs to be an integral part of our work no matter what, inclusion of people with disabilities also needs to be a priority.  It needs to be infused within the organization.  We shouldn’t have a mindset of “Here are four things I need to do in order to be in compliance with the ADA and avoid being sued.” #accessislove 

Nicole also raised the key point that if you’re putting out a program and you want to make sure it is accessible (e.g., ASL interpreter, captioning,) it’s necessary to budget for those services ahead of time and understand what the services are, not only that you’re putting them in.  For example, ASL is not just an accessibility piece; it’s a language.  It’s important to have cultural understanding of the difference between access in terms of a deaf person using ASL versus captioning.

Ellice Patterson from Abilities Dance Boston stressed the need to include people with disabilities in your planning process and discussions about accessibility.  Hire folks from the disability community to conduct an audit of your space and your programs and see where the gaps are in making this work fully accessible and inclusive.  It’s crucial to pay them for that work. 

In terms of funders who have gotten things wrong or right:

  • Ellice related personal stories of funder bias where she was on the receiving end of comments like, “You don’t look like you have a disability,” and “Your dancers dance too well to have a disability.” She’s also been inappropriately asked to share her diagnosis story.
  • In terms of positive experiences, she gave a shout out to Charles Baldwin from the Mass Cultural Council.

Klare Shaw from the Liberty Mutual Foundation spoke of her group’s move from the medical model of disability to the social model of disability.  The Foundation sponsors membership for their nonprofit partners to have access to PYD’s online training:  She highly recommended the training, as did Rachel Borgatti, the moderator of the panel.

Click HERE to view the complete webinar.

Sample Resources (Source: Ford Foundation)

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