FISA Foundation awards nearly $500,000 to advance equity for people with disabilities

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FISA Foundation is proud to announce the list of grants awarded in June 2021.  These funding decisions reflect an organizational commitment to equity and justice.

In response to an open call for letters of inquiry for projects and services to advance the rights and address the needs of people with disabilities, the Foundation awarded $469,700 to 18 organizations to address a range of critical issues affecting people with disabilities. “In this most challenging of years, we are so grateful to our grantee-partners who doubled down with determination and imagination to address longstanding injustices made even more serious by the pandemic,” said Kristy Trautmann, FISA’s executive director.

FISA Foundation is particularly proud that half of these projects specifically address the needs of people of color with disabilities, which have not always been well addressed in the field. Ms. Trautmann explained, “We know that the incidence of disability is higher among communities of color, driven by persistent racial inequality in healthcare, housing, economics, education and the environment. To be effective, we need to acknowledge that the experience of living with a disability is not race-neutral. For us, that means shifting some of our funding to invest in partner organizations and initiatives that specifically address the longstanding inequities that people of color with disabilities experience.”

People with disabilities, particularly people of color with disabilities, are dramatically over-represented in the nation’s prisons and jails, often because of incidents related to their disabilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people behind bars in state and federal prisons are nearly three times as likely to report having a disability as the non-incarcerated population, while those in jails are more than four times as likely. Cognitive disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism and intellectual disabilities are among the most commonly reported. These disabilities may not be readily apparent in brief encounters and can be misinterpreted as willful non-compliance, failure to follow orders, or a potential threat by law enforcement officers. Three grants totaling $84,700 specifically address the criminalization of people with disabilities:

  • $35,000 to Abolitionist Law Center to focus on people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities and autism in the Allegheny County jail and criminal courts.
  • $24,700 to Autism Connection of PA for a disability justice initiative to address the needs of people with disabilities as they come to the attention of police, often for behaviors that are related to their disability.
  • $25,000 to Foundation of HOPE for an initiative to target and enhance aftercare services for people with disabilities who have been released from jail, to help them successfully reenter the community.

Other grants addressing the intersection of race and disability:

  • $25,000 to 1Hood Media Academy will provide funding for accessibility accommodations so that its events and programs that address urgent issues in the Black community are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • $15,000 to Latino Community Center for a project to provide culturally appropriate, in-depth support for Latinx families with an autistic child.
  • $75,000 to People’s Hub (via fiduciary Social Good) to engage grassroots organizations in Pittsburgh working on racial justice and other justice-related issues to incorporate anti-ableist practices into their work.
  • $25,000 to The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium (via fiduciary ACHIEVA) for a project to document and share the overlooked history of Western Pennsylvanians with disabilities who are people of color.
  • $20,000 to Transitional Paths to Independent Living (TRPIL) for is efforts to transition people of color with disabilities out of nursing homes to community-based living situations of their choice.
  • $20,000 to University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development to conduct a scan of exclusionary discipline practices across Allegheny County’s early childhood landscape and to document identity-based (disability, race, gender, immigration status, income, etc.) disproportionalities in their use and application.

Grants to improve overall health or dental care for people with disabilities:

  • $20,000 to Allegheny Health Network to enhance dental care for patients with disabilities in the Dental Clinic at Allegheny General Hospital, one of only three dental clinics in Pittsburgh that serve adolescents and adults with disabilities who require specialized care.
  • $25,000 to University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation to create a medical school professional enrichment course on disability justice at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
  • $10,000 to UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital for a project to improve sexuality and reproductive health education for women with physical disabilities.

Other grants advancing rights and opportunities for people with disabilities:

  • $25,000 to Bender Leadership Academy to develop and implement a program that bolsters the civic education and advocacy skills of young adults with disabilities.
  • $25,000 to Center for Hearing and Deaf Services for its Life Skills Program which serves adults who are Deaf and have intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or mental health challenges.
  • $25,000 to Disability Rights PA for a project to monitor nursing facilities to ensure that people with disabilities are not abused nor unnecessarily institutionalized, as well as support for its rights-based advocacy.
  • $25,000 to Disability Options Network to launch a rental program for portable ramps for individuals with disabilities with limited incomes.
  • $25,000 in general operating support to Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy (via fiduciary Side Project, Inc.) for its programs, services, and advocacy for autistic people and to launch a Disability Mutual Aid Fund.
  • $25,000 to United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to support 21 and Able, an initiative to improve the transition to adulthood for youth with disabilities.

FISA also awarded four grants totaling $110,000 to support women experiencing homelessness and immigrant and refugee women.  Grants include:

  • $40,000 in general operating support to Bethlehem Haven for programs and services for women experiencing homelessness.
  • $30,000 in general operating support to Sisters Place for services to assist mothers experiencing homelessness.
  • $25,000 to Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard for specialized programs that address the needs of female veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • $15,000 to Hello Neighbor to support the continuation and expansion of the Smart Start Program, a health education program for women who are immigrants and refugees.

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