Jackson disability advocacy group shutters amid financial woes

The head of Cultivate Ability said it may not be the only human service nonprofit struggling in Teton County.
A local organization closing its doors encouraged employers to rethink how they go about creating welcoming spaces. (Direct Media/CC by 1.0)

by | Mar 7, 2023 | Social Problems

A group that strives to help local workplaces be more inclusive toward people with disabilities is closing its doors. 

For the past five years, Cultivate Ability has provided disability training to employers, such as the town of Jackson and Teton County Library.

The need

Seadar Rose Davis, the group’s executive director, said one in four people in Jackson have disabilities — mental, physical or developmental — and about half of them are unemployed.

“It’s more than likely you are already working with people and interacting with people with disabilities and you just don’t know it,” Davis said.

The group has encouraged employers to rethink how they go about creating welcoming spaces. 

For instance, many employers list job ads saying applicants can only apply by email. Davis said this sets up a barrier for people with visual disabilities. She said one way employers can be more inclusive is by allowing people to apply by phone.

“Everyone has a place,” Davis said. “And everyone should have a chance and have opportunities to grow and thrive.”

Shutting down

Davis said the organization is shuttering because of what she described as a “perfect storm,” referring to the pandemic and the looming threat of a possible recession. 

But, at the end of the day, she said, it came down to money.

We just couldn’t find a sustainable funding source that fit,” Davis said.

And Cultivate Ability may not be alone. Davis said a lot of human services groups in Jackson come up against the same barriers. 

I know that human services, in particular, are so needed in this community,” Davis said. “And many of them struggle.”

Although Davis emphasized that it’s not a competition, she said these groups — which focus on disabilities, housing and other social justice issues — may not get the same amount of attention as the town’s many environmental organizations, for instance.

“We all want to conserve what we love here, the beauty, the environment, the animals,” she said. “I think sometimes the people that are struggling — it’s hard for us to see that behind that really beautiful facade.”

Cultivate Ability’s work revolved around fundamentally changing systems and attacking the root causes of workplace discrimination against people with disabilities. Davis said this may have been difficult for people to comprehend compared to more tangible goals.

According to Davis, “It was hard for people to wrap their heads around what the work was.”

Regardless, she said she encourages the community to continue to invest in organizations like hers, which focus on helping local people who are struggling.

“I would just urge people to really think about the human services and what they mean to our community and how important they are to making a place where everyone can thrive,” Davis said.

What’s next

Some of Cultivate Ability’s programs could live on through other local organizations, though the details are still being worked out. 

Davis said one program called Next Steps will likely not continue. Organizations such as Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Teton Literacy Center were participating in that program, which creates custom goals for each organization on how to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.

“When I feel the grief of what’s happening with our organization, that’s the one that makes me the most sad,” Davis said. “That one, I think, had the most potential, but it’s a really heavy lift.”

However, some of Cultivate Ability’s other programs, such as their workplace training, are likely to be rehoused.

“The work is not stopping,” Davis said. “It’s going to need to continue, not just in Jackson, in Wyoming, but throughout our country, throughout the world.”

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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