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Ford Foundation Grants $1M to AAPD to Support Disabled Higher Ed Students and Employees in COVID-19 Landscape

September 6, 2022
Source: American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

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. 

Liao continued, “This grant marks not only an investment in educational access for disabled students, but also an investment in the future of our movement. Through AAPD’s programs focused on career and leadership development, we have witnessed the power that comes from disabled people in higher education building communities that sustain their future advocacy. We will use this funding to strengthen and support those vital advocacy and community networks.”

“The disability rights and justice movement has a rich history of youth and student organizers leading the disability community into a new chapter. From the bold young people who held sit-ins until Section 504 was signed into law to the Deaf students at Gallaudet University who demanded rightful representation with the Deaf President Now protests – in our movement, as has been true in the civil rights movement and so many others, young people have demanded change and lead the way towards [its] progress. The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the disability community in countless ways. It is only fitting that the U.S. Disability Rights’ largest grant to date is focused on supporting disabled students, faculty and staff through the next phase of the pandemic, and that AAPD, an organization whose programs meaningfully support this current generation of disabled leaders will carry out this vital work.” said Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer for the Ford Foundation’s U.S. Disability Rights portfolio. 

A portion of the funding will provide subgrants to organizations led by and/or dedicated to disabled student and staff organizing and advocacy, as well as more informal campus efforts. AAPD will work with individuals and communities within many different types of postsecondary education institutions and programs. 

For more information, or to register to be connected to programs and opportunities pertaining to this grant as they are announced, please visit:


The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD Web site:

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Learn more at

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