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Identifying High-Impact Nonprofits Working with People with Disabilities in the U.S.

June 6th, 2011 by dawn Leave a reply »


Approximately 54 million individuals (20% of U.S. population) of all ages, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status and educational attainment in the United States live with at least one disability. As a result, we believe it is important to identify nonprofits that are doing outstanding work on a national level in the area of people with disabilities.




If you are an expert on nonprofits that work with people with disabilities, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey and we hope you will share your perspective and insights with us! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me, Dawn at, and we would love to include your insights.


The findings below were a result of interviewing eleven influential experts in the field. I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in this sector, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!



Our research includes nonprofit organizations that support people with any of the following:

  1. 1. Developmental disabilities
  2. 2. Physical disabilities
  3. 3. Mental disabilities
  4. 4. Blindness and deafness

Types of nonprofits might include research, advocacy, legislative, education, or direct services.

Excluded from our research are for-profit organizations and funders.

Nonprofits considered in this research might provide the following types of services:

  1. Transportation- how to get to and from the workplace, health care appointments, social settings, school settings, etc.
  2. Health care- although most people with disabilities are on social security disability insurance, medicare or Medicaid, they still face secondary complications and need constant health care support.
  3. Housing- many people with disabilities live either with their family, a caretaker, or some kind of independent living situation. Most do not live on their own because they don’t have the income stream to support it. Accessibility and affordable housing is key.
  4. Misc. Services- to allow people with disabilities to live in their communities rather than live in institutions.
  5. Employment- see below

Other areas can also include education, sports, and activities.

Employment: Data released in July 2010 from an earlier study, the Kessler Foundation/NOD Survey of Americans with Disabilities, found that little progress has been made in closing the employment gap between people with and without disabilities since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In fact, only 21 percent of people with disabilities, ages 18 to 64, reported that they are working either full or part-time, compared to 59 percent of people without disabilities.


Also, there are many disincentives in place that prevent people from getting a job. For example, if a person with disabilities earns above a certain level, they lose their benefits, and if they lose the job, they have to apply from the very beginning.


From this latest survey, although 70 percent of corporations polled have diversity policies or programs in place, only two-thirds of those with programs include disability as a component. Only 18 percent of companies offer an education program aimed at integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. The low figures are particularly notable given that a majority of employers perceive the costs of hiring a person with a disability to be the same as hiring a person without a disability (62 percent). Source

These are just a summary of my notes after having talked to eleven experts in the field. What do you think? What have I missed? What might you add? Please feel free to leave a comment and help build on these notes.



  1. Kate Lang says:

    If you haven’t seen the big NYTimes article today about systematic abuses in state-run group homes for people with developmental disabilities, definitely check it out. It is horrifying and advocacy in this area is very important.

    One service type you left out is the area of education/sports/activities. Once fundamental needs like a safe living environment are met, these types of services are very important to the quality of life of adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities, since they provide them with opportunities to learn, have a social life, and become more independent.

    (Not an expert, just a sister of a developmentally disabled brother)

  2. dawn says:

    Thanks for your insightful comment Kate. We invited experts in the area of education/sports/activities in the field of disabilities, but will call it out more explicitly in the scope of our research.

  3. Julie McBride says:

    Kate brings up a very important issue. Recreational opportunities are key to continued growth and independence. I work at an equine rescue and rehab ranch and we run programs for people with disabilities. We have a therapeutic riding program for those struggling with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. We also run a volunteer program where our special needs volunteers are working alongside our non special needs volunteers. This has been great to help them work on their social skills, build self confidence, and motivate them to set goals. One of our young ladies now comes to volunteer one day without her coach and is assisting us in teaching new volunteers and visitors how to take care of horses. They bring so much to our ranch in how willingly they share themselves with us all. It is a win-win situation and one I highly encourage other organizations to embrace.

  4. Dawn Kwan says:


    Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. It’s great to hear about the story of how confident one of your young ladies became with the help of your organization’s work!

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