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How can funders help to build a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world?

Author: Tania Bronstein, Programme Manager, Trust for London

Today, on the International Day of People with Disabilities (3 December), our Programme Manager Tania Bronstein reflects on how we can 'build back better' towards a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world.

The task is urgent. COVID-19 has exposed and widened pre-existing inequalities in communities, and is casting a spotlight on long-standing systemic inequalities that Deaf and Disabled people experience.

Disabled people made up almost 60% of all people who died from COVID-19 up until July 2020, and are 11 times more likely to die of the virus. Health conditions play their part, but official analysis suggests that poverty and deprivation are significant factors. 'Abandoned, Forgotten and Ignored – The impact of COVID-19 on Disabled people' (pdf) by Inclusion London reveals how unequal access to health care, to food, to safety information, and reduced social support, left thousands of Disabled people struggling to get bare necessities, facing increased risks and distress, and in fear for their lives.

Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) have been the first point of call for people in crisis and an essential lifeline for their communities during this pandemic. Funders have also stepped up to the challenge by supporting civil society organisations at the frontline in quite unprecedented ways. Many are pooling their resources to make it easier and quicker to access funds; a number are giving grantees additional flexibility in how they use their grants; others are digging deeper into their endowments to release more funds.

Importantly, funders are recognising that the groups hardest hit by the pandemic are those most affected by systemic inequalities, and several are taking steps to ensure that their emergency funds reach those groups; BAME communities, LGBTQ+ people, and Deaf and Disabled people.

Trust for London and funders of civil society across the UK have shown we can be bold, flexible and creative in our responses to the pandemic. Now, as we begin to figure out what disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable funding may look like post-pandemic, we need to bear in mind that the long-standing systemic inequalities that exacerbated vulnerabilities will remain with us after the new vaccines, if successful, are rolled out. Can we build on this momentum to build back better? In short, I think we can.

We now have an opportunity to use this crisis to reflect on why we give, who we give to, how we give, and how we can do it better.

COVID-19 has made us realise that the goal posts can be moved to the benefit of present and future grantees and of groups that miss out the most. The field is not even for all, and because DDPOs have been traditionally under-funded, achieving anything near equitable funding requires us to take intentional action to level the field. Beyond ensuring that our ways and our processes are accessible (which we must by law), inclusive practices would help to ensure that DDPOs have access to the funds they need to carry out community action and mobilise to tackle deeply ingrained social injustices which the pandemic has exposed. Our recent experience responding to the crisis has taught us that where there is a will there is a way.

Now is the time for funders to grasp the opportunity to build back better, pro-actively improve our funding opportunities for DDPOs, and become an ally of DDPOs working for social justice.