Disabled in Development Project Storyteller #1: Sandy Ho
“The idea of disabled people supporting disabled-led projects resonated with the community organizer side of me that does not often have access to being on the other side of the philanthropic world, as grantors.” -Sandy Ho
“Either I risked losing money because I made “too much” income, or I risked losing it because I didn’t fill out the bottomless pit of forms every year as required by the government. In that sense I internalized money and the concept of philanthropy as something that wasn’t meant for me to access.”
Please share how you prefer to introduce yourself:
My name is Sandy Ho. I’m a disability community-organizer, activist, and disability policy researcher. I’m also the founder of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit, a biennial national conference organized by disabled activists that centers marginalized disabled people.
In 2015 I was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for my work in mentoring for transitional-age disabled women. I’m one third of the team behind Access Is Love, a campaign that is co-partnered by Alice Wong and Mia Mingus, and serve as a Trustee of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter.
My areas of work include disability justice, racial justice, intersectionality, and disability studies. I’m a disabled queer Asian American woman whose writing has been published by Bitch Media online.
Your pronouns are:
Current Job Title(s) and Organization(s) (if applicable):
Founder and Co-Organizer of Disability & Intersectionality Summit.
Years in philanthropy on both the fund-seeking and fund-giving sides:
Less than 5 years.
“More often than not, I am asked to provide some kind of advising around physical access.” #OurDisabledLaborDay
Number of years in the workforce prior to 2007, when there was a surge into social media?
…. 0. I was a sophomore in college in 2007, I was an intern and studying at the Washington Semester Program. I didn’t get my first job until after college in 2009.
Number of years in the workforce prior to 1990, when the ADA was passed?
..0. I was 3.
Number of years in the workforce prior to 1977, when the federal Section 504 regulations were signed?
..0. Ho was not even a blip on the world’s radar!
Have you held any positions that make funding decisions and/or sets funding priorities?
Yes. As someone who is the point-person for DIS I make those decisions all the time. But in terms of a position outside of organizing that I do on my own, in a more “official” capacity? No. I have not held that role that has required making funding decisions.
Are you currently opening identifying as disabled, managing a chronic illness, and/or dealing with aging issues in your workplace or with contracting companies, or in volunteer roles?
Yes, in all of my professional and organizing roles I openly identify as a disabled queer Asian-American woman.
“I take those experiences and understand the ways my privilege can contribute to removing some of those access barriers. Those are the same barriers that have enabled philanthropy to remain perpetually comfortable in where it sits as a direct result of how funding, social capital, and wealth are framed.”
Do you have any colleagues on your team or in your organization who identify as disabled/chronically ill/aging?
Yes, both in my organizing capacity, and in my professional role.
Do any of the funding decision-makers who are your peers, or who you report to, identify as disabled/chronically ill/aging?
In my organizing capacity for DIS, yes! All of them identify as disabled for DIS including our fiscal sponsor which is a disabled-led organization.
Have you had any ongoing connections with other disabled/chronically ill/aging philanthropy professionals where you can support each other?
I have some friends who are disabled and who work in philanthropy, but we are not really close enough where I would characterize our relationship as one that is “supporting” one another. I think they advise me on what grants to pursue, or opportunities for funding, etc. more than I really help them.
Have you felt it was difficult to build strong relationships with peer colleagues, superiors, donors because of communication barriers?
I think that philanthropy and funding set up some kind of barrier that makes it difficult for people to be transparent in that field. Money is weird because it is a literal embodiment of privilege but it doesn’t necessarily make facilitating the transactional and relational privileges for the movement of money any less daunting. I am not steeped in that world of philanthropy and funding enough to know how to navigate it yet.
Have you ever been provided with professional development, mentorship, and/or leadership training programs where you didn’t have to provide informal programmatic and/or physical access advising?
If you asked me to provide an example, I wouldn’t be able to name a specific professional development, mentorship, or leadership training program. More often than not, I am asked to provide some kind of advising around physical access.
Have you ever experienced what you consider significant secondary stress, anxiety, and/or fear about meeting professional expectations because of disability/chronic illness/aging-related barriers and/or stigma?
Have you ever left a position because of disability/chronic illness/aging-related barriers and/or policies made continuing in the position untenable?
“Those initiatives serve as a reminder to me why disabled-led projects that empower and liberate the innovator to serve our broader disability community must always be at the front of the line for funding. Otherwise we continue to run the risk of proffering up harmful and stigmatizing disability ‘solutions’ and approaches that quite frankly add enough unnecessary noise in our world.”
Have you ever been told in a work performance-related conversation with a superior that your presence is an inspiration to others, and/or that your presence in the workplace is itself remarkable?
Have you ever been physically touched, grabbed, patted on the head, had your assistive equipment handled without your consent by a peer, superior, or donor in a work environment?
Have you ever struggled to participate in team-building exercises, workplace wellness programs, or other initiatives that were optional but not understood as presenting access barriers?
Have you belonged to any other employee resource groups (ERGs), affinity groups for disabled/chronically ill/aging people? Any for other groups (parents, LGBT, etc.) where you found support?
“You have the same right to access social capital and funding that is afforded to every other cis white man pitching a mediocre idea.”
What’s it been like for you securing foundation grants and/or awarding them?
I’m one of the Trustees of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter team which is composed of disabled people who pool their own funds ($100/month) towards awarding a micro-grant of a $1,000 a month to a project in the disability community.
Beyond being a prior recipient of an Awesome Fund in the past, the idea of disabled people supporting disabled-led projects resonated with the community organizer side of me that does not often have access to being on the other side of the philanthropic world, as grantors.
Our team of Trustees are able to read through proposals from what are predominantly grassroots groups and initiatives from individuals who may otherwise not have either the social network to access funding, never mind the philanthropic and professional network to access funding sources that are often guarded behind foundations.
Being disabled is expensive, and there are already a number of articles and reports out there that address this; in particular, for marginalized disabled people of color, the oppression of living in poverty and constantly trying to survive at the edge of being “just at the cusp” limits the capacity of disabled people to survive and be innovators, and support the numerous ways in which people with disabilities provide for their communities.
If I am able to support this and provide alternatives to foundation-giving philanthropy, in whatever small way, I am all for it and every month I do my best to center disabled-led projects that center people with disabilities who are trying to survive at the margins.
That said, we also see so many proposals that position disability in a way that quite frankly makes me sad. So many proposals come in that are still trying to “fix” or “cure” disability in some way, and also initiatives that are not disabled-led but take the tone of “speaking for the voiceless.”
Those initiatives serve as a reminder to me why disabled-led projects that empower and liberate the innovator to serve our broader disability community must always be at the front of the line for funding. Otherwise we continue to run the risk of proffering up harmful and stigmatizing disability “solutions” and approaches that quite frankly add unnecessary noise in our world.
“Money is weird because it is a literal embodiment of privilege but it doesn’t necessarily make facilitating the transactional and relational privileges for the movement of money any less daunting.”
If you could give just one piece of advice to your younger self about being a disabled person in philanthropy, what would it be?
You have the same right to access social capital and funding that is afforded to every other cis white man pitching a mediocre idea.
My younger self had a complicated and confusing relationship with money because I never felt like I owned it — it was always something that could willfully be taken away from me, or needed to be spent on the necessities that come with living as a disabled person.
Either I risked losing money because I made “too much” income, or I risked losing it because I didn’t fill-out the bottomless pit of forms every year as required by the government. In that sense I internalized money and the concept of philanthropy as something that wasn’t meant for me to access. In the eyes of the government, how dare people with disabilities on SSI dare to accumulate enough to warrant meaningful savings never mind accumulate wealth?!
But I would like my younger-self to know that this won’t always be the relationship I have with money, and that is due to privileges including: educational, housing, employment, financial literacy, and citizenship among others.
Now, as a disabled person who has been the recipient of philanthropic grants for projects, and has dipped a toe into micro-grants, I take those experiences and understand the ways my privilege can contribute to removing some of those access barriers.
Those are the same barriers that have enabled philanthropy to remain perpetually comfortable in where it sits as a direct result of how funding, social capital, and wealth are framed. There have been some organizations where this relationship between funding and marginalized communities has shifted but I am only cautiously hopeful.
THANK YOU, SANDY!
Each Monday, the Disabled in Development Project (DiD) will feature one disabled, chronically ill and/or aging Storyteller who will share their experience in advancing disability equity in philanthropy and fundraising.
DiD’s community development goal is to make philanthropy more effective and thus more powerful by centering more disabled people from multiply-marginalized communities. DiD Storytellers educate funders about ableism, celebrate advances in disability inclusion, and testify to the ableist structural barriers they’ve encountered, and that may have halted their career advancement or forced them out.
All Storytellers self-select questions to answer from an extensive list. All Storytellers are modestly compensated for providing their expertise on how to move disability inclusion from principle to practice in philanthropy and fundraising.
If you’d like to become a Storyteller or Field Ally, contact DiD Founder and Director Ingrid Tischer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your truth about our disabled labor to transform philanthropy!