Thank You MacKenzie Scott!

The Easterseals Black Child Fund

Easterseals Brings Scale to Diversity and Inclusion Philanthropy

An African American child, male, using a wheelchair and adaptive swing

At Easterseals, our main goal is to ensure that all people, no matter what background or ability, are 100% included and 100% empowered. Unfortunately, we still live in a society with systemic inequities that create significant barriers for minorities, especially minorities with disabilities. That is why we’ve established the Black Child Fund  to help end racial disparities in healthcare, childcare, and education faced by Black children early and throughout life. Through this fund, we've begun the initial phase of a special education advocate training course, developed through our partnership with researchers from the Collaborative on Racialized Disability (CORD), which addresses the pressing need to serve Black students with disabilities and their families. This is just the beginning.

In the wake of COVID-19, racial inequities are exacerbated.  During this time in history when systems that provide healthcare, education, and childcare are under unprecedented stress, we are seeking $5 million in support from visionary partners to act now in addressing issues with lasting consequences. We thank our current funders: The Abbott Fund, Comcast, and the Kellogg Foundation. 


an instructor looks over the shoulder of a young child as she completes homework at a tableEnriching Education for Black Students with Disabilities

Easterseals has partnered with researchers at the Collaborative on Racialized Disability (CORD) on an initiative to improve access to special education resources for families of Black students with disabilities. The initiative addresses a pressing need to eliminate disparities in special education services for Black children and youth by identifying, recruiting, and training existing special education advocates to prepare them to better serve Black students with disabilities by centering the needs and experiences of their families and promoting more equitable and inclusive special education access and practices.

Black students encounter wide inequities in services provided within specialized education programs. Black youth with disabilities are disproportionately represented in special education and more likely to experience exclusionary disciplinary actions from schools. Anti-Black racism and ableism – a system that assigns value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideals of normalcy and intelligence – exacerbate the challenges Black families face when navigating and accessing high quality special education services. Yet typical trainings for special education advocates tend not to directly address the uniqueness and complexity of Black families’ experiences.

Learn more about the outcomes from the initial phase of a special education advocate training course, developed through our partnership with CORD researchers which addresses the pressing need to serve Black students with disabilities and their families.


Easterseals and Inclusion Advocacy

Virtual Event with Education Week: Advancing Equity, Inclusion and Access to Quality Education
Alongside Education Week, we hosted an important conversation that focused on advancing equity, inclusion, and access to quality education for children at the intersection of Blackness and disability. Learn more about this event.


Did you know?

  • Black children with autism are less likely to be identified at an early age, according to research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Black children with autism were five times as likely to have been misdiagnosed with behavior disorders.
  • Parents of Black children in special education programs often do not know their rights in negotiating Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or representing their interests during IEP meetings with their school district.
  • Black parents that suspect that their child may not be developing on par with their peers can have a difficult time securing appropriate educational and medical resources to address their concerns.

Erika WatsonEasterseals Leadership

Erika L. Watson is the National Director for Childhood Development, Education, and Equity at Easterseals National Office. In her current role at Easterseals, Watson leads The Black Child Fund aimed to improve the lives of children of color with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and their families. Prior to joining Easterseals, Watson worked for iMentor as Executive Director National Partnerships where she built partnerships and programs to help first generation high school graduates get to and through college using mentoring as a tool to their success. Watson spent several years at Leadership for Educational Equity where she led regional teams in their efforts to disrupt systems of educational inequality through advocacy, policy, and elected leadership. Watson served on the Equitable Nutrition in Schools advisory council to First Lady Michelle Obama. Watson’s visionary leadership reaches beyond the education sector to include women’s issues and equitable access to employment opportunities. In 2002, she founded Dress for Success in Washington, DC, a not-for-profit focused on helping unemployed and underemployed women build skills and secure meaningful career opportunities. To date, Dress for Success has helped more than 30,000 women in the Capitol community on the path to financial self-sufficiency. She holds an MBA from George Washington University and a BS from Howard University.
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