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RespectAbility’s COVID-19 Response: Collective Actions and the Ongoing Power of Change

Ollie, Steven, Nick and Leo Cantos, along with Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Calvin Harris and Vivian Bass at RespectAbility's 2018 Summit

Ollie Cantos, RespectAbility Vice Chair, with his triplet sons who are Eagle Scouts, along with RespectAbility Vice Chair Vivian Bass, Calvin Harris, Chair Emeritus and CEO Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

As part of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ COVID-19 Coordination Cohort, we have been helping lead the united efforts of more than 110 disability groups on Capitol Hill. We at RespectAbility are grateful to join so many other national disability organizations in standing with our community when we were needed most. Quite simply, we are family, and THAT is what families DO.

When COVID-19 began to ravage our own by threatening the lives, livelihoods and physical and mental health of our friends, colleagues and loved ones, we quickly activated all our assets at every level. We leveraged an “all hands-on-deck” approach to make a difference on multiple fronts. As has been true since our inception, we called upon thousands to get involved. True to who we are, we rallied like never before:

  • As the pandemic’s impact caused persons with disabilities to wonder how they could best cope with the many challenges that emerged, RespectAbility was there, quickly centralizing and distributing timely and critical resources on accessible teleworking, job seeking, online education, economic impact payments, unemployment and other government benefits, and access to COVID-19 testing, food and more.
  • RespectAbility promptly solicited and acted upon suggestions from various community segments including those living with mobility, sensory, intellectual/developmental, psychiatric and learning disabilities.
  • When millions of fellow people with disabilities who had been receiving federal nutrition assistance originally were forced to choose between going without food or risking infection to leave their homes to obtain essential supplies, we acted. In a mere six weeks, our team, working alongside partners, secured a way for 90% of all SNAP recipients to have critical food supplies delivered at home.

And, on a more personal level, when my blind Eagle Scout triplet sons Leo, Nick and Steven were infected with COVID-19 and two of them were hospitalized and had to be placed on oxygen, the whole RespectAbility family was there, sending their prayers and cheering them on. The four of us, along with other voices throughout the movement, urged everyone to take this pandemic seriously to spare the pain and anguish this disease leaves in its wake.

In 2021 our activism continues. We urge all our fellow Americans to maintain appropriate social distancing, wear masks or face coverings, and wash their hands regularly. We may at long last get ahead of the disease by doing our part.

Ollie Cantos smiling in front of an American flag

Ollie Cantos

COVID-19 knows no borders. It devastates every part of the community and does not care about a person’s station in life. It is not liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, and we all must do our part. Even if we feel fine, we may nevertheless unwittingly infect those around us, especially those older in age or whose medical conditions leave them immunocompromised.

At a public policy level, as Congress debates new stimulus efforts, we will continue to be ready, along with others, to endeavor diligently and consistently to bolster support for our community of more than 56 million people nationwide. We also will keep developing practical tools and resources to help in whatever way we can.

Together, we will meet all the challenges before us as we continue being the force for the change we want to see. Herein lies the power of collective action!

Meet the Author

Ollie Cantos

Ollie Cantos is Vice Chair of RespectAbility. He is a noted civil rights attorney who has won numerous national awards and has been appointed to positions by two presidents. Blind himself, he adopted triplets who are also blind and who became the first blind triplets to become Eagle Scouts.

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