Supporting Disability Inclusion Among Creative Groups

New survey research on Ford Foundation grantees shows need and appetite for increased disability resources in arts, film, and journalism.

Emily Driver’s Great Race Through Time and Space by A.A. Brenner and Gregg Mozgala. Photo courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.

by Lane Harwell, Program Officer, Creativity and Free Expression, Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression (CFE) program focuses on disrupting narratives that perpetuate inequality and amplifying underrepresented voices across race, disability, and gender identity. In 2021, the program conducted survey research to better understand its grantees’ current activities, needs, and opportunities related to disability. Given the general scarcity of data on disability in the creative sector, the survey yielded unique and valuable learning and direction for funders working to confront ableism and audism and advance disabled creatives. 

Here is a summary of the 218 individual responses to CFE’s disability survey. 

What We’re Learning

The findings are very encouraging. Many respondents (39%) report offering disability-specific programs, meaning the primary objective is to advance disabled people. The majority of respondents (83%) signal intersectional approaches to programming, especially ones that address how race, sexuality, and gender identities intersect with disability. Grantees that are not disability-specific express enthusiasm for how disability work can further their missions and broader commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, connect them to new audiences, and strengthen artistry. Moreover, some understand how disability can be a generative and artistic force.

The findings also point to work that the arts, film, and journalism sectors can do to advance disability matters. For many grantees, partnering with disability organizations, recruiting and retaining disabled employees, and including disabled people in agenda setting are areas for improvement. Some indicate they have the organizational will to do the work, but lack the financial resources, bandwidth, disabled staff, and disability expertise to do so effectively. Respondents’ most common questions are about how to find resources, experts, and partners; improve human resources; and access funding. These questions are critical as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing climate crisis, which have laid bare and worsened the inequalities facing disability communities, especially disabled people of color. 

The findings encourage us as funders to respond with resources, peer learning, and thought partnership. Here are some of the ways Ford is responding to the survey’s findings.

Disability Resources List

We have developed a working list of resources, experts, and partners in the arts, film, and journalism fields. The list is neither comprehensive nor static. It’s live, collectively sourced, and based primarily on research by consultant Cara Reedy and information shared by grantees through the survey. It includes information about general consultants, regional consultants, and access providers—from American Sign Language interpreters to web accessibility experts. The consultants listed bring a range of expertise, from newsroom training to disability justice. 

Disability + Creativity Series

From the Disability Media Alliance to the performance group Sins Invalid (creators of the disability justice primer, Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People), a growing number of Ford’s arts, film, and journalism grantees offer training and technical assistance to confront ableism and audism in the creative sector and advance disability storytelling, access, care, and engagement. We have turned to them to offer a series of learning sessions in 2020 and 2021 for our grantees looking to advance disability matters. Visit https://bit.ly/DisabilityStorytelling for a session with Cara Reedy and Alice Wong on how to tell disability stories.

These activities coincide with Disability Futures, a fellowship initiative developed in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by United States Artists to spotlight and amplify the work of disabled creatives across disciplines and geography.

At Ford, we believe there is no justice without disability. That is why we are working to confront ableism and audism and advance disability leadership across the social justice sector through our grantmaking, programs, and operations. These efforts are ongoing and learning is integrated every step of the way. 

We hope you will find our survey research and resources to be valuable and continue to share your needs and hopes with us.