Webinar: How Ableism Shows Up in Philanthropy

Click here for a transcript of this webinar.

We exist in a society that devalues disabled people by perpetuating the false notion that only certain bodies and minds are worthy. This is known as ableism, a pervasive form of discrimination based on stigmas and stereotypes toward disability. Structural forms of marginalization, including racism and gender bias, significantly exacerbate the prejudice that people with disabilities experience. Yet, philanthropy too often continues to leave ableism out of the conversation when we talk about addressing social injustices. 

It’s clear that if the philanthropic sector is to advance social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, then it must not only recognize that disability is a key element in its work, but also acknowledge that ableism is a core barrier to it. In this webinar, we will explore how ableism manifests throughout our society and within the philanthropic sector. We will also address anti-ableist principles and practices that we can learn from leaders in the disability community.

Sam Gill, President and CEO of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, moderated this powerful conversation with Lydia X. Z. Brown, Policy Counsel for Privacy & Data at the Center for Democracy & Technology; Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer, U.S. Disability Rights program at the Ford Foundation; and Ryan Easterly, Executive Director of the WITH Foundation.

In addition to this webinar, we encourage you to read the following article: Time for Philanthropy to Confront Ableism by Jen Bokoff, Director of Development at the Disability Rights Fund, and Sandy Ho, Director of the Disability Inclusion Fund at Borealis Philanthropy.

About the Panelists

Sam Gill, a light-skinned man with short black hair and rectangular dark-rimmed glasses.

Moderator: Sam Gill, President and CEO of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and member of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy

Samsher (Sam) Singh Gill is the third president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), a New York-headquartered, national philanthropic organization that supports the performing arts, medical research, the environment and child well-being. He also serves as president of several operating foundations that run under DDCF’s umbrella, including the Duke Farms Foundation, which operates a center for environmental stewardship in Hillsborough, N.J., and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, which operates a museum for learning about the global cultures of Islamic art and design in Honolulu as well as a New York-based grants program with a related mission.

Prior to joining DDCF in April 2021, Gill was senior vice president and chief program officer at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he oversaw more than $100 million in annual grantmaking across the foundation’s programs, in addition to managing Knight’s research and assessment portfolio and its grants administration function. Previously, he also served as vice president of Freedman Consulting, LLC.

Gill also served on the board of the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and on the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He attended the University of Chicago and the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

A native of Minnesota, Gill lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife, Maira Reimão, and their two children.

Lydia smiles and tilts their head slightly to the side, looking confidently at the camera. They are a young-ish East Asian person with a streak of teal in their short black hair, wearing glasses, a cobalt blue jacket and navy tie, with a blue copper wall behind them.

Panelist: Lydia X. Z. Brown, Policy Counsel for Privacy & Data at the Center for Democracy & Technology

Lydia X. Z. Brown is an advocate, organizer, attorney, strategist, and writer whose work focuses on interpersonal and state violence against disabled people at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, language, and nation. They are Policy Counsel for Privacy & Data at the Center for Democracy & Technology, focused on algorithmic discrimination and disability, as well as Director of Policy, Advocacy, & External Affairs at the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. Lydia is also adjunct lecturer and core faculty in Georgetown’s Disability Studies Program, and adjunct professorial lecturer in American University’s Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies.

They serve as a commissioner on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, chairperson of the ABA Civil Rights & Social Justice Section’s Disability Rights Committee, co-president of the Disability Rights Bar Association, and representative for the Disability Justice Committee to the National Lawyers Guild’s National Executive Committee. Lydia founded the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, and they are creating Disability Justice Wisdom Tarot. Lydia is past chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, and former Justice Catalyst Legal Fellow at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Often, their most important work has no title, job description, or funding, and probably never will.

A white woman with red hair wearing a navy blazer and white top, against a brick wall.

Panelist: Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer, U.S. Disability Rights program, Ford Foundation

Rebecca Cokley is the program officer for the Ford Foundation’s first-ever U.S. Disability Rights program, which is focused on strengthening the field, building a pipeline of diverse leadership, promoting disability pride, and mobilizing resources toward disability rights work. She also serves as the foundation’s liaison to the President’s Council for Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy.

Prior to joining Ford, Rebecca was the cofounder and director of the Disability Justice initiative at the Center for American Progress, where she built out a progressive policy platform that protected the rights and services disabled people depend on for survival and also developed innovative solutions like a proposed disabled worker tax credit and increased access to capital for disability-owned small businesses. She also stewarded a campaign that resulted in an unprecedented 12 presidential candidates developing disability policy platforms.

Prior to her work at American Progress, she served as the executive director for the National Council on Disability, where she worked on sexual violence on college campuses, policing reform, and the civil rights of disabled parents. A three-time presidential appointee, Rebecca served in key policy roles at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as oversaw diversity and inclusion efforts for the Obama administration.

Rebecca is a frequent speaker and contributor on issues of public policy and disability inclusion in the media and at major national conferences. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Ryan Easterly, a Black man wearing glasses, a gray jacket, and light colored button down.

Panelist: Ryan Easterly, Executive Director, WITH Foundation

Ryan Easterly is an experienced grantmaker, strategist, and advocate who’s driven by a desire to effect meaningful change. His vernacular and love for sweet tea reveal his proud Alabama roots. His experiences as an individual with historically resilient identities inform his commitment to bridging gaps and supporting people’s access to resources and power. 

Ryan has worked in philanthropy for more than a decade. He’s held positions within the HSC Foundation and currently serves as Executive Director of the WITH Foundation, a private foundation that promotes comprehensive healthcare for adults with developmental disabilities in the United States. Outside of his work in grantmaking, he has also worked within the federal sector and on community outreach and advocacy efforts.

Widely regarded as a visionary leader on the intersections of race, class, and disability, Ryan was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. He now serves as a member of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy and serves as co-chair of Exponent Philanthropy’s Disability Funders Peer Circle.