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Today, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to announce that AAPD has received a new $1,000,000 grant from the Ford Foundation U.S. Disability Rights Program. The grant has been established to support the advocacy of disabled students, faculty, and staff to center disabled university community members as postsecondary education navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement marks the largest grant ever issued by the Ford Foundation’s U.S. Disability Rights portfolio, which launched in 2021, and builds on the powerful legacy of student and youth organizing in the disability rights and justice movement.
Higher education is inaccessible to disabled students and employees in a multitude of ways, posing barriers even before the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continues, and preventative measures such as masking and routine testing are now implemented inconsistently if at all, students, faculty, and staff with disabilities yet face additional threats to their health and safety. Institutions of higher education are not just places of learning, but they are workplaces. Disabled workers have also faced immense barriers, discrimination, and impossible choices during the pandemic.
Equal access to education and to workplaces without the presence of disability discrimination are protected civil rights. When campus COVID-19 protocols do not center the needs of disabled and high-risk community members, individuals are forced to choose between accessing their education or employment and their own health. This impossible choice has significant impacts on educational attainment and on student, faculty, and staff mental health.
While all college students reported high levels of stress and mental health challenges during the pandemic, disabled college students were twice as likely as their nondisabled peers to experience anxiety, and three times as likely to face depression. And, according to the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, while over 22% of Americans have a disability, only 4% of higher education faculty are disabled. This indicates higher education’s inaccessibility to disabled employees, and that community and solidarity among higher education professionals may not be easy to find.
“AAPD is thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Ford Foundation to directly support disabled student, staff, and faculty advocacy efforts to ensure that institutions of higher education adopt more inclusive and accessible policies and support systems,” said Christine Liao, Programs Director at the American Association of People with Disabilities.