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What Funders Need to Know About Disability-Inclusive Grantmaking: National Council on Independent Living

This interview is a Q&A with Cara Liebowitz, Former Development Coordinator at the National Council on Independent Living.

Cara Liebowitz sits outside on a cement patio with bushes behind her.
Cara Liebowitz

As the alarming impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities (particularly disabled people of color) quickly became clear, the Disability Inclusion Fund (DIF) launched a $200,000 rapid response funding opportunity. The funding provided support for organizations on the front lines serving people with disabilities during this crisis, including mutual aid and support for organizing, policy, and systems-change advocacy. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) was among the recipients of this grant. In the following Q&A, which has been lightly edited for clarity, Cara Liebowitz, Development Coordinator at NCIL, shines a spotlight on what the DIF rapid response grant enabled the organization to accomplish and why disability-inclusive funding is more crucial than ever.

Can you share a bit about your work/the work of your organization?

The National Council on Independent Living is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: individuals with disabilities, Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States.

I’m proud to work as the Development Coordinator at NCIL. I handle all of NCIL’s fundraising, grant writing, and organizational partnerships, including sponsorship, exhibiting, and advertising for our Annual Conference.

Can you share a bit about the work your organization has been able to accomplish with the DIF RR grant?

We’ve been able to do quite a bit of strong advocacy work connected to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on disabled people. To start, we established a COVID-19 resource page which includes resources about COVID-19 in a wide variety of formats, including plain language. We’ve worked hard to encourage our members to contact their Congressional representatives to urge them to recognize the crucial need to include people with disabilities in COVID relief bills. And we’ve also put forth messages about key advocacy issues, including 1) a statement on the death of Michael Hickson, a Black disabled man who died from COVID-19 after being refused life-saving treatment because of his perceived quality of life as a disabled person, and 2) signing on to a letter opposing rationing life-saving care to people on the basis of disability. 

Why is it so important for grant makers to center disability inclusion in their work?

Disabled people are the world’s largest minority. No matter what community or issue your grantmaking is focused on, disabled people are going to be affected. Remember, if you ignore disabled people in your work, you’re overlooking at least 20% of the population.

What can funders do to ensure their grant application process is accessible?

Please provide multiple ways to submit your application.  Often, online grant portals are not accessible to those who use assistive technology to access the Internet or people with visual processing disabilities. Also, be sure to provide your application in plain language and keep it as short and to the point as possible.

What do you most want funders to know about the overall impact funding has on disability-focused work?

People with disabilities are not a “niche” group. Our issues are not primarily medical, and funding shouldn’t be limited to groups working on medical research or similar initiatives.  Disability is woven into all other issues. Furthermore, disability is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time. Even if you don’t think disability affects you, it does, or will likely affect you in the future. As such, no matter what you’re funding, you should be funding disability work in that area.