On Thursday, September 15, Borealis Philanthropy’s Disability Inclusion Fund (DIF) launched a Disability x Tech Request for Proposals (RFP) to fund work at the nexus of technology, disability rights, and disability justice. The newly launched initiative, supported by the Ford Foundation’s Technology & Society Program, was co-developed by a diverse advisory committee of disabled people who possess a range of expertise and experience at the intersections of this work. 

This commitee of folks believe that technology and disability justice are only possible if we support disabled leaders and disability-led organizations that are working to ensure that technology can be used by everyone, and is free from ableist bias, algorithmic discrimination, and other forms of disparate treatment that contribute to the further marginalization of disabled folks. 

To capture the importance of—and process around—this work, the DIF chatted with some of our committee members: Plain Language consultant Hallie Bernstein; Center for Democracy and Technology fellow Henry Claypool; DIF x Tech project lead and Twitch Technical Program Manager Liz Henry; and Mozilla Foundation’s Responsible Computer Science Senior Fellow Crystal Lee.

Why was joining this committee important to you? 

Liz: The committee’s discussions were so important in shaping our ideas for ways that disability justice plus technology could be liberatory. I have never given up on my techno-utopianism; it’s not the technology itself that’s the key, it’s what culture we create with that technology that sparks real change. I loved getting the committee’s wide range of perspectives. We did a lot of work to improve the accessibility of our application, we came out with a sort of tapestry of potential project ideas to inspire grant applicants to see themselves and their ideas as possible, and I think we all learned something from each other and enjoyed our time together in meetings, carefully making a space to listen, to be heard, to celebrate, and to build.

Crystal: In many ways, it was important to join this committee because I wanted to (1) think through how to make grant processes more accessible, (2) think through what it means to be truly committed to disability justice, and (3) connect with others who have thought through this in many different lenses. 

What was your experience like in being part of the development of this RFP?

Hallie: I learned what a disability justice focused space could look like. It was important to me to join this project to help ensure that the grant, which was aimed at the disability community, can reach more disabled people. Having a plain language translation of the RFP will help ensure that everyone who could benefit from the funding opportunity can access the information needed to apply. By incorporating access needs, such as plain language, into the RFP, disabled people will not feel left out of this opportunity. 

Henry: As someone that worked on a report that made recommendations about how to improve the representation of disability rights and disability justice in technology policy work, it was such a great experience being part of a group that helped shape and refine a plan to fund people from multiply marginalized communities.  

What do you hope to come out of this funding opportunity? 

Hallie: I hope to see disabled people who are left out of other funding opportunities due to inaccessibility apply for this opportunity.

Henry: I am looking to the Fellows program to help people from these communities get the support they need to bring their whole selves to work on technology policy by bringing a social justice frame to their work. Having support from this program for three years will hopefully allow participants to grapple with existing power structures and find productive ways of navigating and dismantling these counter-product barriers that keep people out. 

Liz: I’d love for this to add momentum to current efforts to bring disabled people’s perspectives into the creation of new technologies. I also hope that we can help to bring potentially liberatory technologies to existing disability justice movements and organizations. It’s especially exciting that our fund is deeply committed to supporting disabled leaders. For social change to happen, we need deep insights and leadership from the most marginalized people. In the same way that disability inclusion work spread from science fiction conventions to tech conferences, I hope that our fund will help develop templates for other funding organizations to use, with a participatory process that is intersectional and includes disabled people, whether or not the focus of their grants are directly related to disability justice.

Crystal: I’m really excited to see the program as a model for accessible grant making AND as a place where grantees can create both great projects and be a part of a community who is thinking intentionally about how to integrate disability justice into the development of new technologies.