Skip to main content
A meeting in a casual business place, with several co-workers sitting at a conference table and one person standing and giving a presentation

Funding Offered for Disability Inclusion Workplace Initiatives

Ten percent of adults ages 21–64 reported having a disability in the 2019 American Community Survey, but most U.S. workplaces do not reflect this level of diversity. This is often due to social factors, such as stigma associated with disability, unfamiliarity with disability as an aspect of the human condition and lack of knowledge about the law, as well as minimal awareness of technological solutions to improve communication, mobility and task completion.

The Yang-Tan Institute in the ILR School focuses on increasing employment of individuals with disabilities through advancing equitable workplace practices, implementing policy and systemic improvement efforts, and conducting research to introduce new evidence-based practices into the field. Its WorkABILITY Innovation Lab aims to fund innovations to advance disability inclusion in the workplace. WorkABILITY offers grants to organizations within the United States and the U.S. territories of up to $75,000, and applications are being accepted from July 1 through August 15. Applications from small- and medium-sized businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies, as well as large corporations, are encouraged.

An exciting element of WorkABILITY is that it seeks to fund projects that are both feasible and replicable. Information and models developed through one WorkABILITY project can be shared and replicated by other employers and used to inform agency or government programs or policy. In fact, results from one WorkABILITY grant could inspire a new idea that could be experimented with in a future WorkABILITY grant. 

For a project to receive a WorkABILITY grant, in addition to being feasible and replicable, it should be original or an original adaptation of an existing practice. Projects should also address specific needs of job seekers, employers or service providers, and they should seek to change workplace behaviors, practices and/or policies. More information is available on the WorkABLITY Innovation Lab website, and the site has a screening wizard so prospective applicants can test if an idea meets basic criteria before they begin the formal application process.

Inclusive Workplaces

For workers with disabilities, inclusion may start with the way a job description is written, or with how interviews are conducted. Inclusion has to do with whether individuals feel welcome in the workplace and experience the same mentorship and training opportunities as other employees. There are many types of disabilities, ranging from obvious mobility impairments or sensory disabilities, such as low vision or deafness, to more subtle conditions requiring medication or work breaks. 

Inclusion Basics

There is a lot to know about the  benefits to business, best practices and regulations surrounding employment and disability. Not all workplaces are ready to apply for a WorkABILITY grant, so the Yang-Tan Institute suggests organizations begin by assessing where they are – and where they want to go – with their vision for disability inclusion. A great way to get started is with the institute’s BenchmarkABILITY® tool, which aims to guide a business through checklists and best-practice suggestions toward a clear assessment of gaps in their disability inclusion efforts.

Once an organization engages in a process like BenchmarkABILITY, ideas may begin bubbling to the surface. Perhaps an organization’s products and services lend themselves to including people with certain disabilities (Microsoft’s Neurodiversity Hiring Program comes to mind), or perhaps an organization wants to welcome more veterans (according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41% of veterans who have left the military since 2001 have a disability). An organization may discover that the lived experiences of people with certain disabilities can improve the products and services it sells, since this same 10% of Americans ages 21–64 mentioned at the start of this article represent millions of people who appreciate accessible products and services. Also, an organization may develop ideas for how it can interact with a local service provider to be part of a talent pipeline for job seekers with disabilities.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The pilot recipient of a WorkABILITY grant, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has begun a project to support the justice, equity, diversity and inclusion goals in the Cornell Lab’s strategic plan. The three-phase project has an overall goal of establishing scalable practices to attract and retain people with disabilities. The first phase focuses on evaluating how the Cornell Lab currently operates, and the second phase focuses on staff training and changing policies and procedures. In the final phase, the Cornell Lab will assess their progress and share their results with the Cornell Human Resources community and beyond.

Applicants Welcome

The Yang-Tan Institute welcomes grant applicants who have interesting ideas for how they can do something differently in order to meaningfully include more people with disabilities. The Apply page at the WorkABILITY site describes seven potential areas of focus for applications, including job design, applicant sourcing and onboarding. Whether you want to begin the application process, or you just want to think more carefully about what an inclusive workplace might be like, the Apply page is well worth a read.