A New Disability Advocate: The Ford Foundation


Mature aged man with a disability operating touchscreen computer

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation makes a public effort to include people with disabilities.  He explained his organization’s initiative on the foundation’s blog in an open letter, titled Ignorance Is the Enemy: On the Power of Our Privelege and the Privilege of Our Power.   He cited the efforts of James Baldwin in the 1960s and 1970s and the Black Lives Matter movement of today as important forces in “confronting power, privilege, and ignorance.”  By privilege, Mr. Walker speaks of unearned advantages or preferential treatment one group holds over another.  And ignorance, he says, is such a ferocious enemy because of its conspiratorial silence.  As an African American gay man, Mr. Walker pledged his organization would focus on combating inequality.  At that time, leading disability advocates took Mr. Walker to task for overlooking a major constituency:  people with disabilities.  In this open letter, he acknowledges his error of omission with candor and has pledged to rectify it.  In his powerful and honest letter, he cites specific instances in which people of disabilities have faced all kinds of discrimination; in this context, he pledges to move “from ignorance to enlightenment.”

Carol Glazer, of the National Institute on Disability, was one of the first disability advocates to speak out in praise of Mr. Walker, in her blog post, “Ford Foundation’s Remarkable Mea Culpa Will Provide Greater Opportunities for People with Disabilities.”  The piece was published by Huffpost Business Mr. Walker, she says, has shown a profound leadership that should guide other philanthropic organizations.

Dr. Catherine Kudlick, of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, an important academic advocacy organization, acknowledged this important development but added that while it is an important start, more needs to be done.   She has three suggestions, which we quote:

  • Know that the best way to help people with disabilities is to find ways for disabled people to help you.  That means, says Dr. Kudlick, embracing the philosophy of “Nothing about us without us!”
  • Ask what it means to cure disability.   While alleviating physical or emotional suffering is important, says Dr. Kudlick, all too often the talk of a cure entails – even unintentionally – denying the disability rather than changing people’s attitudes.  Moreover, she says, it does not have to be an either/or.
  • Learn our history.  Doing so offers critical insight into important issues, such as discrimination.

Having said that, Dr. Kudlick is very pleased and optimistic about this development.  As an advocacy organization, so is the Advancing Opportunities team.





One thought on “A New Disability Advocate: The Ford Foundation

  1. Reblogged this on Janusz Korczak – Pediatrician, Writer, Educator, Orphanage Director, and Children's Advocate and commented:

    The Ford Foundation has long been a leader in philanthropy, supporting causes and efforts to repair the world. However, several disability advocates took the foundation and its president, Darren Walker, to task for omitting this key constituency. With noteworthy candor, Mr. Walker acknowledged his error of omission and issued a public apology, backed by a pledge to advocate for people with all disabilities. In this article I wrote for the blog of the agency I work for, Advancing Opportunities, I cite Mr. Walker’s original letter, along with two very favorable responses from disability advocates.


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