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Philanthropic Responses to COVID-19: 4 Disability-Inclusive Approaches

This resource offers four disability-inclusive approaches, each accompanied by examples, to inform your foundation’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For so many of the 1 billion people worldwide who have disabilities – including chronic illnesses – the repercussions of COVID-19 have been disproportionately catastrophic. Society has always failed to prioritize access and inclusion for people with disabilities. But now, the pandemic has significantly amplified how urgent it is for all of us to uphold the rights of the disability community to access life-saving healthcare and other life-sustaining services. As the world finds ways to heal, rebuild, and move forward, it is more vital than ever to recognize and address the needs of the disability community in our grantmaking.

How can you incorporate this lens into your COVID-19-related responses? Four key approaches to disability-inclusion in your current responses include:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Disability-focused rapid response
  3. Inclusive grant application processes
  4. Sharing disability inclusion resources with grantees.

It is imperative to include the perspectives of people with disabilities in your decision-making processes and recognize interconnections with disability in all future funding. Crisis can catalyze collaboration. If building new relationships is not feasible, there are many rich resources available online as a starting point.

​In these challenging times, disability-inclusive grantmaking efforts are crucial for the very survival of people with disabilities. By following the lead of the examples we share below, your foundation has a powerful opportunity to play a role in disability-inclusive relief efforts.

Looking for a helpful starting point? We recommend the following:

1. Be flexible.

Providing grantees flexibility in terms of the grant purpose, deadlines, reporting and grant periods, allows grantees to best address this unprecedented challenge and maintain strong operations.

  • Kessler Foundation has instituted an expedited approval process. Smaller grants under $20,000 are approved with their CEO and internal leadership, while grants over $40,000 only require approval of their grants board chair and chair of the board.
  • Northwest Health Foundation is focusing on accelerating payments and permitting project grants to be used toward general operating.
  • The Disability Rights Fund is working with each of their current grantees to ensure the survival of grantee organizations, staff and beneficiaries through the pandemic.. This includes: 1) no-cost extensions to allow grantees to pick up their work when possible later in the year; and 2) shifting money to activities addressing COVID-19, such as advocacy for accessible communications.
  • The Coleman Foundation launched the COVID-19 Matching Grant Program, in which 80 invited organizations which span its entrepreneurship, disabilities and cancer portfolios may receive matching grants up to $25,000 to support their private fundraising efforts.

2. Include disability in your rapid-response funding efforts.

  • The Disability Inclusion Fund’s rapid response grantmaking will provide support for organizations on the front lines that are serving people with disabilities during #COVID19—including mutual aid, support for systems-change advocacy, and more.
  • Ford Foundation provided core support to help establish the Artists Relief Fund, which will provide $350,000 in funds over one year to support individual artists affected by the economic hardships associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. 21% of initial grantees identify as disabled.
  • FISA Foundation has approved emergency assistance grants to nonprofits that provide attendant care services and residential support for people with disabilities.
  • Kessler Foundation has allocated $1.2 million to their grantees from the past 5 years to provide emergency support for people with disabilities and organizational capacity support.
  • Ruderman Foundation has provided grants to support the mental health and wellbeing of medical professionals and first responders.
  • Northwest Health Foundation is supporting ongoing and emerging mutual aid efforts, such as the Disability Justice Culture Club.
  • Open Society Foundations is funding a coalition of US disability rights organizations to respond to medical rationing guidelines at state and local levels, undertake antidiscrimination litigation, and collect data on infections and deaths in congregate care facilities toward building a compelling case for deinstitutionalization.
  • WITH Foundation has re-allocated around 7% of its annual grant funding to a COVID-19 Response Fund. They invited 41 of their current and past grantees to apply for $25,000 grants through the fund.
  • The Coleman Foundation committed $3 million in flexible financial support through two new grant programs to provide resources for its grantees who are facing the repercussions of the pandemic. The first initiative, Direct COVID Support to Core I/ DD Programs, consists of grant awards for general operations totaling $930,000 to 22 local nonprofit organizations which provide residential services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • The Chicago Community Trust included the disability community in the list of priority populations for its second round of applications to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund.
  • The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation awarded a million-dollar emergency response grant to the United Spinal Association so they can award micro-grants to individuals as well as support their chapters across the country, and initiated a $2.5 million fund, by invitation only, to their past grantees, focused on immediate needs.

3. Ensure that the grant application process is fully inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities.

Here are some helpful tips from the Ford Foundation:

  • Provide proposal and report forms in accessible formats for people with disabilities. This can be as simple as ensuring that a Word Document or PDF is accessible. The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund at the New York Community Trust did this for its RFP to ensure that its $75 million emergency fund was accessible. They are also including captions on all their videos.
  • Accept proposals and reports in alternative formats, including audio and Word documents.
  • Build in additional time or financial resources for organizations or individuals who may need additional accommodations to complete applications.

4. Share disability learning resources with grantees and encourage engagement with the disability community within their COVID-19 responses.

  • Visit and share our round-up of Recommended Resources on Disability and COVID-19.
  • Northwest Health Foundation is using its foundation’s influences to support health justice-related advocacy efforts of communities of disabled people of color.
  • FISA Foundation is working to amplify the voices of disability advocates and allies by encouraging media coverage on these issues, and by using their communication channels to share the messages of the disability community.
  • The Disability Rights Fund is highlighting examples of grantees’ work to ensure that, as much as possible, people with disabilities are not left behind in COVID-19 response in their target countries.
  • Ruderman Foundation released a white paper dedicated to fair resource allocation during the time of COVID-19.

Ensure all of your grantmaking moving forward is disability inclusive. You can increase funding to grantees doing specific disability-related work, but also remember: disability intersects with all other communities and identities, connecting with all of the work we do.