Kevin Webb, Luticha Andre Doucette, and Elaine Katz

In this week’s post from Further Together, we’re sharing takeaways and resources from our breakout session on “Disability Justice in the Workplace – Empowering Voices, Advancing Inclusion.” The session featured panelists Kevin Webb of Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and Luticha Andre Doucette of Catalyst Consulting Associates, with moderator Elaine Katz of Kessler Foundation, which drives positive change for people with disabilities through groundbreaking rehabilitation and disability employment research and funding for innovative initiatives to provide access to job opportunities.

People with disabilities comprise the largest unique population in the United States, with over 61 million individuals. One in four individuals in the U.S. have some form of disability, and disability cuts across every class, gender, race, and ethnicity, compounding disparities in income and economic security. Yet, people with disabilities are often still an afterthought in funders’ strategies and investments in workforce development and employment. Indeed, Elaine pointed out that only 2% of all philanthropic funding supports disability. Even more troubling, only $0.01 out of every $10, or 0.1%, goes to support disability justice. 

As Elaine articulated, workforce programs are already serving people with disabilities in their programs. She asked our panelists to share best practices for centering people with disabilities in workforce development and ways that funders can better invest in and partner with workforce organizations to advance inclusion and equity.

Kevin Webb shared about his work with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, whose vision is to empower youth with disabilities to lead productive lives by building a pipeline of talent to help create a more inclusive and sustainable society for all. As part of its work, the foundation invests in strategies to increase access for young people with disabilities, including neurodiverse individuals, in career technical education and employment. The foundation works with industry associations in the manufacturing sector to address employee shortages, leveraging the sector’s need for employees to create more opportunities for people with disabilities. Kevin cited the work of several grantees, including Teaching the Autism Community Trades (TACT), the Uniquely Abled Project, and Project Search. These grantees provide training for people with autism and other disabilities and provide training for hiring managers and supervisors on creating a more welcoming workplace. The foundation has not only supported their work but has amplified grantees’ work by sponsoring them to present at conferences, come together for peer learning and networking, and train other organizations to increase uptake and use of best practices.

Luticha Andre Doucette is the CEO and founder of Catalyst Consulting Associates, an evidence-based equity and inclusion partner that helps nonprofits, businesses, and municipalities rethink their ethos through disability justice framework. Luticha challenged attendees to see the worth in every individual and to move from a deficit view to an asset and strengths-based lens. As she put it, “I, in my disabled body, am not the problem. The “isms” are the problem. We need to start thinking about people with disabilities as part of the social fabric and disability as part of the human experience.” She went on to note that the cost of living for people with disabilities is on average 28% higher while workers with disabilities earn a median wage of 66 cents for each $1 earned by workers without disabilities. These disparities point to a number of ways that funders and policymakers can step in; Luticha noted that upfront financial assistance, transportation, and housing accessibility are key priorities of the disability justice community.

The panel provided recommendations for funders looking to advance disability justice in the workplace:

  • Examine your funding practices. How are you identifying and funding organizations led by people with disabilities? How might you Increase funding and resources available to organizations and programs led by people with disabilities and support their growth?
  • Examine who you are partnering with and how. Are you partnering with disability justice organizations and/or organizations led by people with disabilities? Who are your vendors and service providers? 
  • Examine your own organizational practices. How are you hiring, supporting, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities? What are your organizational practices in terms of providing accommodations and support?
  • Assess for accessibility.  Ask grantees–and yourself– how to ensure services are accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities. 
  • Amplify the voices and leadership of individuals with lived experience in shaping policies and initiatives related to employment and social justice. Include representatives from the disability justice community in workforce discussion.
  • Sign the Disability & Philanthropy Forum’s Disability Inclusion Pledge, recognizing that ableism is a core barrier to equity and inclusion and committing to a disability inclusion learning journey and disability inclusion actions within your foundation/organization.

Workforce Matters believes that grantmaking organizations have a role to play in promoting equal access to employment and vocational training for individuals; addressing systemic barriers that perpetuate disparities in employment and wages for individuals with disabilities; and dismantling the stigma and misconceptions surrounding disability employment to promote a more nuanced understanding of disability as a natural aspect of human diversity. We welcome you to access the resources below for additional information and learning.


Disability Inclusion Pledge – Learn how the Disability Inclusion Pledge commits foundations and philanthropy-serving organizations to centering a disability lens.