“The paradox of privilege is that it shields us from fully experiencing or acknowledging inequality, even while giving us more power to do something about it.” –Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

On September 12, 2016, Darren Walker published an article titled, “Ignorance is the enemy within: On the power of our privilege, and the privilege of our power.” Walker’s piece is an introspective analysis, built off his own admitted obliviousness to an enormous minority group: more than one billion people around the world that live with one form of disability or another.

The Ford Foundation, founded in 1936, is a private organization with the mission of advancing human welfare by reducing poverty and injustice, strengthening democratic values, promoting international cooperation, and advancing human achievement. In addition to investing in individuals and building institutions, the Ford Foundation works towards its ultimate goal by supporting new ideas for social good and inclusion. In November 2015, Walker offered details on a new program the Foundation was planning, called FordForward.

FordForward offers a blueprint for how the Foundation will attempt to address inequality across the globe. The Foundation defines five key drivers of inequality:

  • Entrenched cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion
  • Unequal access to government decision-making and resources
  • Rules of the economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes
  • A failure to invest in and protect vital public goods, such as education and natural resources
  • Persistent prejudice and discrimination against women, as well as racial, ethnic, and caste minorities

Walker admits that after the details mission statement of FordForward was published, a slew of messages began pouring in: where was the mention of inequality faced by the disabled? For an organization like the Ford Foundation that prided itself on its diversity, it overlooked one of the biggest and most diverse groups out there: persons with disabilities.

Privilege, Walker writes in his follow-up article, shields us from fully experiencing or acknowledging inequality. Privilege refers to “unearned advantages or preferential treatment from which we all benefit in different ways—whether due to our place of origin, our citizenship status, our parents, our education, our ability, our gender identity, our place in a hierarchy.” Privilege is not only experienced by individuals. Walker is correct to point out that institutions can also have privilege, which is why the Foundation ignored the issue of disability inequality for as long as it did.

An institution is made up of those values that comprise it. Different people, different experiences, different ideas and values—these are the things that provide, as Walker puts it, a system of checks and balances. In this particular instance, however, it was the public that provided the necessary check and balance.

We at User1st know first hand that there’s a severe lack of institutional awareness revolving disability inclusion. As a company dedicated to making the web accessible to individuals with disabilities, our first obstacle almost always centers on education—explaining the concept of web accessibility and how many people need it to actively participate and contribute to mainstream society. Our experience has taught us that there is no universal approach to making people care about disability inclusion. Our team is comprised of engineers, developers, legal experts, academic researchers and disability activists to try and get our message across in different ways. We regularly participate in weekly Twitter discussions with AXSChat, an online community dedicated to accessibility inclusion, and attend disability-related events to evolve our thinking and offerings.

Walker has pushed the direction of the Ford Foundation towards that of open dialogue and learning. For this, we at User1st applaud him, as we applaud all those who help highlight the inequality faced by persons with disabilities, both visible and invisible. We appreciate the effort to learn about the struggles and widespread discrimination suffered by those with visible in invisible disabilities. Just as importantly, we value Walker’s acknowledgement of his oversight and his attempt to correct it. User1st supports the mission of the Ford Foundation, and we hope to help tackle disability inequality as best we can, together.