How the Kessler Foundation kicked off 2016 with Targeted Employment Grants

According to the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment & Disability Survey, more than 68 percent of people with disabilities are striving to work. Essentially, “striving to work” means preparing for employment, looking for jobs, having a job, and looking for more hours. The American disabled population has become increasingly self-sufficient and is overcoming barriers that stood in the way for far too long.

To refresh your memory, Kessler is a leader in rehabilitation research and is a big disability funder, especially toward expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Since 2005, the funder has committed over $30.6 million to assist over 3,000 people with disabilities with employment and job skills.


To kick off 2016, Kessler awarded a new round of grants toward quality jobs for disabled people. The funder announced $2,309,230 million in grants across the country.

Rodger DeRose, the Kessler Foundation’s president and CEO made the following statement:

We are pleased with the success of these innovative projects as more people with disabilities enter the workforce. An inclusive workforce not only benefits individuals with disabilities but the workplaces and overall economy as well. Businesses benefit from the creative solutions developed by employees from diverse backgrounds. Making a commitment to hire jobseekers with disabilities builds brand loyalty by attracting the $175 billion annual buying power of these individuals and their families. The economy benefits as individuals with disabilities become tax-paying citizens and lessen their reliance on government programs.

The bulk of this money went toward signature employment grants in Maryland, Florida, St. Louis, and Chicago. These grants are designed help organizations develop improved practices for hiring and keeping on employees with disabilities. Recent grantees included the Maryland Customized Employment Project, a college-to-career initiative of the Florida Atlantic University Foundation, Mercy Health Foundation’s Healthcare Workforce Inclusion Model for opportunities in St. Louis, and the READY program for students with disabilities in Chicago. 

In addition to its funding for disability employment, Kessler also supports research about cognition, mobility and really targets people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Although it’s based in New Jersey, Kessler’s disability employment funding has a nationwide reach.

Recently, the foundation also gave a total of $600,000 to seven organizations as community employment grants. These types of grants typically stay in New Jersey and range between $50,000 and $100,000 over a period of two years. The funder’s special initiative grants go toward recreation activities for people with disabilities including veterans, and often go toward programs for dance, film, horseback riding, and caregiving support. These $5,000 to $20,000 one-year grants are made by invitation only.

You can view a full list and descriptions of 2015 grantees on the Kessler website. These are some press releases you can read to learn more about recent grantees and why Kessler is supporting them:

This is a great funder to approach with ideas about nontraditional solutions that increase employment outcomes for disabled adults. For the signature employment grants program, “preference is given for interventions that overcome specific employment barriers related to long-term dependence on public assistance or advance competitive employment in a cost-effective manner.”

Kessler also requires prospective signature program grantees to match its grants by at least 15 percent. You can apply for up to two years of funding between $100,000 and $500,000, and your organization must have a budget of at least $3 million to be eligible. The next grant concept deadline is March 18, and potential grant candidates will meet with Kessler's grant committee by video conference in the fall. Send an email over to if you have specific questions between now and then.