“Linking ableism to other forms of oppression is also critical.”
Photo courtesy of Catherine Hyde Townsend
“Developing relationships between community leaders and philanthropic staff is essential. These social networks not only inform grant-making decisions, but also help reinforce learning and understanding of the disability community. It’s also one of the hardest things to do.”
Name or Anonymous:
Catherine Hyde Townsend
Please share how you prefer to introduce yourself:
I’ve worked in philanthropy on human rights issues since 2002 and became disabled 16 years ago.
Like lots of people, I was pretty clueless about disability before I experienced it myself. But I quickly realized what internalized ableism looked like as well as the social model of disability. I had/have access to incredible support from my family, work and friends, as well as significant privilege within the healthcare system. I haven’t always self-identified for a variety of reasons, but do so now for both political and personal reasons, finding significant community with others in the disability community.
For most of my time within philanthropy, I’ve been trying to educate and advocate to colleagues about how they can better include people with disabilities. One of the things I’m most proud of is helping to launch the Disability Rights Fund, a global donor that uses a participatory decision-making structure.
Most of my past work was at Wellspring Advisors, which works anonymously and takes a very low profile. For obvious reasons that was challenging, but I was able to launch and expand a grant-making portfolio focused on the [UN] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with a very intersectional lens. That grant-making was/is really important, but it was also important for donors of women’s rights, HIV, AIDS, immigration, etc., to understand the ways different forms of oppression link and reinforce one another, but also how our advocacy can do the same.
My current work seeks to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities within philanthropy – mostly focusing on the grant-making, but a lot on learning and culture change, as you cannot have one without the other.