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Nonprofits struggle to be inclusive to workers with disabilities

Among other damning statistics: Fewer than 60% of groups typically ensure that the spaces for their events are physically accessible.

Nonprofits struggle to be inclusive to workers with disabilities
[Source Image: vi73777/iStock]

Nonprofits are expected to improve the world for the better, but there’s at least one area where they’re falling very short: While 1 in 4 Americans has a disability, about 75% of nonprofit boards don’t have anyone with a disability on them. That disparity, first reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, has led to some obvious mistakes in how services get provided.

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For instance, fewer than 60% of groups typically ensure that the spaces for their events are physically accessible to people of all abilities. Regardless of topic area, few places use video captioning on their content to ensure that deaf viewers can engage with it. As the Chronicle reports, these findings come from RespectAbility, a disability rights group that surveyed nearly about 970 nonprofit and foundation employees.

“Philanthropy and the nonprofit community are at the heart of what drives progress in the world,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the group’s president told a news agency. “We want to be at the table to help set the agenda and help solve problems for all people, and we are being excluded.”

But the unequal representation continues beyond just top leadership roles. At nonprofits and cause groups, people with disabilities account for only about 9% of the workforce, according to RespectAbility data, versus 19% among the U.S. workforce as a whole, according to Bureau of Labor statistics numbers. And that’s still low, given that most people with disabilities who aren’t working report wanting to work, even if they can’t find immediate employment.

At least one-third of the RespectAbility survey respondents believe the lack of hiring within their groups is a result of internal bias among current leaders. It may be unintentional, but people without disabilities can obviously not think about making that an extension of formal diversity hiring practices.

But small changes can start to snowball. Organizations who already had at least one board member or an employee with a disability on staff were reportedly nearly twice as likely to make an effort to recruit more people with disabilities. Even then, there’s a ways to go: Only 38% of those organizations were reportedly inclusive when recruiting.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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