Which Funders Will Get Behind Chicago’s New Disabilities Initiative?

A quarter-century after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, adults with disabilities still find it difficult to find employment, succeed in school, and rise above poverty. To celebrate the 25th anniversary, a new local initiative has emerged in Chicago to take the law’s successes a few steps further. 

It’s called ADA 25 Chicago, and right now, it's promising to place people with disabilities in leadership positions on boards and commissions in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors. Over 160 foundations, government agencies, and corporations have already jumped on the support bandwagon and committed to programs and initiatives that’ll make Chicago more accessible for the disabled.

So who are the major players so far?

Well, one of the biggest players is Exelon, the founding sponsor of the Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities. Recently, this corporation has simultaneously seen profit growth and increased charitable giving through the Exelon Foundation. STEM education has been the foundation’s top priority lately, but it’s also been paying attention to stay-in-school initiatives, community neighborhood development, and now, people with disabilities, too.

Related - We'll Say It Again: Energy Companies Are Loaded. Just Look at Exelon's STEM Giving

"Programs like the newly established Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities deliver on our key values of diversity and inclusion, and support a changing workforce for years to come," Steve Solomon, vice president of corporate relations at Exelon said in a press release. "Greater inclusion of people with disabilities in business and community life is not just a moral imperative, but is also an economic advantage for our region."

Other early corporate supporters include Deloitte, ManpowerGroup, Walgreens, and Microsoft.

Another major player is the Chicago Community Trust. CCT actually initiated ADA 25 Chicago and invested $1 million to create and implement the initiative. So this is the funder that’s keeping the wheels turning on these ADA projects, and in fact, a two-day summit is scheduled for November to discuss partner commitments and long-term programs.

And that leadership institute isn’t the only ADA 25 Chicago program in the works. The Chicagoland Business Leadership Network has gained about 15 partners so far to promote workplaces that include people with disabilities. Supporters include Grainger, Comcast, and AT&T. The 25 for 25 Cultural Access Project includes over 30 cultural organizations in Chicago that are committed to making their experiences and offerings more accessible to the disabled. Some of these groups include the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Chicago History Museum.

Going forward, local groups will primarily be looking to fund ADA-related programs and initiatives in the areas of education, employment, community inclusion, and technology. It seems that these ADA 25 Chicago partner programs are about a lot more than simply writing a check and moving on. The group is looking for organizations of all types to host educational events, sporting events, art performances, training courses, and anything else that’s creative and a little outside the box. However, good old-fashioned program support could certainly come in handy for nonprofits that are committing to these ADA-inspired initiatives, too.  

If we were to take a few guesses, we’d speculate that a few other foundations will get involved in this new city-wide commitment before too long. The Coleman Foundation, for example, was established in part to support people with developmental disabilities. Coleman has been passionate about empowering people with disabilities to secure jobs and explore entrepreneurship in Chicago.  

Related: IP’s Profile of the Coleman Foundation

Although The John Merck Fund is based in Boston, it supports developmental disabilities causes all around the country. So perhaps we’ll soon see some local support from the East Coast, too.

Related: The John Merck Fund's Developmental Disabilities Program Shifts to the Translational

To get involved, check out ADA 25 Chicago’s partner page or reach out to the group’s organizers at ADA25Chicago@CCT.org.