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NEA Press Release

NEA partners with the Ford Foundation to advance disability rights on a journey towards justice 

NEA President: We must uplift and empower individuals with disabilities  
Published: April 27, 2023
This article originally appeared on

WASHINGTON — The National Education Association is launching a new initiative in partnership with the Ford Foundation’s U.S. Disability Rights program to raise awareness and work to eliminate the many forms of structural discrimination that impact individuals with disabilities. 

“We are proud to partner with the Ford Foundation to advance the rights of people with disabilities. Just like other marginalized communities, institutional discrimination has systematically harmed the disability community,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “We know that barriers to a safe, just and equitable public education are complex and long-standing. For years students with disabilities have experienced disparities in academic achievement, been placed in inappropriately restrictive environments, and experienced higher rates of exclusionary discipline. Consequently, they also have lower graduation rates.” 

“Activist Marian Wright Edelman says, ‘you cannot be what you cannot see.’ For so many students with disabilities, the experience is one of isolation and frustration. What would it mean to know teachers with disabilities and to broaden support for the disability experience in schools?” said Rebecca Cokley, U.S. Disability Rights program officer at the Ford Foundation. “We must transform our classrooms to be places of strength and support for students and teachers with disabilities and help support them to lead and thrive.”

The initiative has two primary goals. The first is to build awareness among educators and others of the many forms of inequality that affect the one in five Americans with disabilities (with a special emphasis on educators with disabilities.) The second is to help educator leaders become powerful advocates for a quality education that will enable all students with disabilities to reach their full potential. Importantly, the grant will serve to unify NEA and partner organizations in leading on disability rights and inclusion as we navigate the path towards justice for those with disabilities. 

“Educators of all backgrounds must be included in these efforts to help advance disability rights and justice for those with disabilities,” said Pringle. “We will collaborate with disability groups, educators, parents and families, employers, communities and other stakeholders to uplift and empower individuals with disabilities.” 

The Ford Foundation announced its first grantmaking Disability Rights Program in October 2021. From 2018 to 2020, Ford has invested more than $50 million toward projects and organizations focused on disability and an additional $125 million to social justice organizations working toward disability inclusion. The Ford’s Disability Rights Program focuses on advancing economic justice; strengthening disability organizations through multiyear, core-funding support; building a pipeline of diverse disability rights and justice organizations and countering disability stigma. 

“There is no justice without the inclusion of people with disabilities,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “When people with disabilities lead the way—and those with the power actively listen and learn— our society can move beyond compliance and toward justice.” 

“With more than 3 million members representing communities from every state in the nation, the NEA is a powerful force for justice and excellence in public education,” added Pringle. “Together with the Ford Foundation we can advance education equity, disability rights, inclusion and forge a path forward on a journey towards justice.” 

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at 



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