How to Do Inclusive Philanthropy: Introducing #DisabledInDevelopment

A Crip in PhilanthropyI’m a in grant-making ! Whoopee! As of November 1, I became a Trustee of Awesome Foundation’s Disability Chapter. It only took 25 years of being on the grant-seeking side of . I’d like to thank every teacher and boss who helped me with inaccessible toilets along the way.  You had my back when I was angry about something even I didn’t fully understand: I was up against a real thing – ableism – that created structural barriers to doing my job well.

And that brings me to: How to Do Inclusive Philanthropy.

Actually raising money, day in, day out, at DREDF doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for big-vision work. But I have one for inclusive philanthropy:

Philanthropy that has evolved from being the hothouse for benevolent ableism to a force for fighting all forms of ableism. Wash that charity right out of its hair.

I could spend months fine-tuning an inclusive philanthropy action plan but I’ve got a year-end campaign to run. So. Here are what 25 years of being disabled in development tell me are the ways to start scrubbing the charity model out of philanthropy:

1. Go inside out, bottom up.

Start by respecting the knowledge your current staff likely has, especially your front-line, support, and administrative staffs. 

The key: Lose your bias for titles and fancy degrees, and find out who in your organization has an interest in flexible schedules, paid family leave, and other such benefits. Why? Because disability, chronic illness, and aging may be driving that interest. Because they may feel they’ve been “special tracked” and blocked from moving up. That makes them more likely to have a vested interest in disability inclusion.

Why: Real change takes dogged persistence and these employees could well be your long-haul champions for transformative change.

2. Demonstrate that disability inclusion is not “the Other” in your philanthropic organization.

One of the most common misperceptions about disability is that it’s just not something your organization “does.” Fill out this simple “disability inventory” and you may well see disability is all around you, but called something else. 

Why: There absolutely will be folks in your philanthropic organization who believe disability = other people. They’ll be more receptive to the dogged persistence of your disability champions if it doesn’t mean “new stuff.”

3. Organize. Organize. Organize.

Help tell the real-life, true experiences of being disabled in development so that our invisible knowledge can help make glorious, ableism-ending change in philanthropy. Contact me if you’d like to be profiled (by name or anonymously) and featured in my new #DisabledInDevelopment series. I’ve got brief interviews with 3 amazing people — all women of color — in the works.

Compensation available because I don’t expect unpaid consulting from disabled people.

Why: So, so many people in philanthropy do not have the option of being out, safely, as disabled. #DisabledInDevelopment is intended both to help normalize disability in the sector and to provide an accessible platform for describing the structural discrimination they encounter and that all-too often halts career advancement or forces them out when they “hit the porcelain ceiling.”

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There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe: I Could Be Taken From You

There's No Cure for Gretchen Lowe
Gretchen Lowe, age 35 at the 90’s midpoint, was not dying, as she was at pains to point out more frequently than she would have wished. She had muscular dystrophy, a distinction often lost on those who equated strength with muscle mass, consciousness with cognition, and worth with productivity. A growing chorus assumed this would be her preference, death before disability, rather than the indignity of grappling with that terminal condition from which the chorus-members, themselves imperfect, suffered: life that is both enviable and bleak, and always, always unfair in distribution of the same.
Like so many of her friends, Gretchen had swapped one coast for the other after college and she left DC, a city of increasingly impossible winters, lawyers, and three years of an uninteresting technical proofreader job, and moved to San Francisco, a city of manageable weather, bike messengers instead of lawyers, and apparently no editorial jobs. Five years in, she was the administrative director of a small free clinic for women and had cycled through four shared flats before the Recluse, her boyfriend, gave up his Pacific Heights studio and moved in, more or less, to Gretchen’s two-bedroom flat on a quiet street in Cole Valley.
Like ancient Rome, San Francisco was a city of hills and, with few exceptions, honored its dead by housing them firmly and in perpetuity outside its official boundaries. Gretchen lived and worked firmly within those boundaries, mostly because taking public transportation to and from work everyday took what limited energy she had. She did have an increasingly hard time breathing and walking, her grip was undeniably poor, her fingers lacking in dexterity, but she had an even harder time imagining herself dead, or wanting to be dead.
But she had no master plan, no Disability for Dummies to be her guide, just a lifetime of experience in a body that was weak, breathless, and clumsy, and getting more so year by year. So Gretchen did what was practical and what made life – her life, none other’s – worth living. She kept to the flatter parts of town, used the bathroom before she left home and work, and thought more about her next meal than eternity. In this last concern she had the unwavering support of her family; Gretchen did know how to find a decent restaurant.
She needed this particular skill on this particular evening because her mother, Alice, had flown in. Festive feelings aside, Gretchen had serious misgivings to broach, misgivings that were about a clinical research opportunity that divided them called “Genetic Reparative Therapy.”
When Alice had first excitedly called her daughter months before about GRT, Gretchen couldn’t bring herself to say a hard, “No.” She herself didn’t know exactly why she was flat-out rejecting this “cure” — or why she couldn’t tell Alice no. She’d certainly done it before.
It wasn’t until she burst into tears after half-watching an old Sally Field movie about a mother not leaving her daughter that the feelings coalesced within her as a single as-yet-unspoken fear: “I could be taken from you and you would never get me back.”
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There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe: Dignity Is No Accident(s)

Another Excerpt From There's No Cure for Gretchen Lowe a novelThere was a remarkable lack of public debate in San Francisco — or anywhere else — on Adult Diaper Dispensation (ADD). All costs were loudly underwritten by The Dignity Foundation, a charitable body dedicated to community development, medical research, K-12 education, and, now, small businesses hit by the “squat-by defecation” of serial defecants.

Would you like a TDF annual report? We have one for you right here. It makes no mention of our corporate sibling and sponsor, a disposable paper-goods manufacturer that is aging out of infant goods into a more mature market. Our Dignity Initiative public information campaign takes a broad-based social education approach to bring the public up to speed on what we can do — together — through top-level messaging in high-traffic spaces with framing that deploys innocuous word-play rather that blunt fear.
This top-level messaging was visible to all who cared to look out the car window at the blinking billboard near the off-ramp at Duboce. Dignity Is No Accident(s).
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A Crip in Philanthropy: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: This Moment in Disability, Dignity, and Human Rights

A Crip in PhilanthropyAn earlier version of these remarks was shared at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, California on March 3, 2018. I deeply appreciated their welcome when I was invited to address their community by Anne Cohen, an activist, disabled parent, and board member at the organization where I am Director of Development, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) or, as Anne has dubbed it, “the ACLU of disability rights.” CBJ’s cross-disability access allowed me to take the first step in organizing community support: communicate.
I grew up with a disability, one that is genetic. I have been a plaintiff in an ADA access case here in California. It involved a bathroom. That required a lot of talking publicly about my using the bathroom. For disabled people like me – physically disabled — being disabled means never knowing where your next accessible public bathroom is. Today. Nearly thirty years after the ADA was passed. And keep in mind those 30 years coincide with my fundraising career in social justice non-profits and their philanthropic allies. Those are whole decades of trying my best to use empathy and imagination to shift that stubborn disability narrative that says I receive but can’t give. That disability is a health thing. That I need a cure when a toilet would be preferable. That I am charity, personified, not justice, denied.

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There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe: The Dignity Initiative

Another Excerpt From There's No Cure for Gretchen Lowe a novelAnd she had made sure the door was locked. She stood there, watching the gray-blue paint and listening to what was happening from within. At first, nothing. Then a murmuring confusion, then a rapid rise in decibel levels, quickly becoming Frank’s singular baritone summoning Gretchen. It didn’t occur to anyone that it was anything but an accident.

She waited and then knocked to get their attention.
“Hi!” she called. She had to knock harder because, as usual, they were still talking. “Hi, everybody! Are you ready to start the meeting?”

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Disabled People Have Waited 30 Years to #PeeToo: Protect the ADA and Tell Congress to Vote NO on HR 620

In a hurry to contact California co-sponsors to say #HandsOffTheADA? DREDF has contact info and scripts.

THE ADA PASSED IN 1990. DISABLED PEOPLE STILL DO PEE MATH IN 2018. THAT ADDS UP TO INJUSTICE. TOILET ACCESS DELAYED IS TOILET ACCESS DENIED CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE BEFORE THEY VOTE THE WEEK OF FEB. 12: SAY VOTE NO ON #HR620, THE ADA EDUCATION AND “REFORM” ACT OF 2017 IF YOU DON’T GET WHY WE’RE TAKING ACTION TO STALL HR 620 YOU TRY HOLDING IT FOR 30 YEARS DREDF.ORG/HR620/


“Where, after all, do universal human disability rights begin? In too-small bathrooms, of necessity close to home – so close and so small that they still cannot be seen on any radar of Rep. Speier and way too many California representatives.”

It is profoundly demoralizing that Rep. Speier and other California members of Congress are cosponsoring .

Imagine that you have a harasser. Imagine that never know whether he will block you from getting into the public bathroom you need — sometimes pretty badly! — or not.

Imagine hearing that your harasser deserves 6 months to make “reasonable progress” toward not-harassing you — as much. After you wait 6 months, maybe you’ll be allowed to say NO to your harasser. Maybe.

Imagine your Representative is  championing your harasser’s excuse that it’s really hard to not harass you: “You have to understand that, yes, he knows what he’s doing has been against the law for almost 30 years but he needs more education.”

Access to a toilet is about dignity and safety whether the barrier is a harasser or a narrow door.

The ADA has been the law of the land for nearly 30 years and the only “reform” it needs is significantly greater enforcement. Disabled people in 2018 still can’t count on something as basic as a toilet in public spaces. If you don’t think there’s a cumulative effect of never knowing where your next pee can actually take place, you try holding it through 30 years of work-related business trips, restaurant meals, and meetings. Continue reading

D’Oh! Undermining the ADA Will Hurt Ordinary Americans

Since there are were a number of Democrats in Congress who are still not grokking that their vote voting for H.R. 620, the ADA Notification Act, is a vote against civil rights and disabled Americans, I’m going to show this absurd bill in action against real Americans.
By showing it in action against those really-real Americans, The Simpsons.
Lisa Simpson throwing up her hands in horror

“WHAT??? Democrat Representative Jackie Speier co-sponsored H.R. 620, the ADA Notification Act, that undermines vital civil rights protections for millions of disabled Americans?! HOW DID WAL-MART GET TO YOU, JACKIE???”?

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