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RespectAbility Board members smiling together, many wearing polo shirts with the RespectAbility logo on it

Ollie Cantos Elected Chair of RespectAbility

Ollie Cantos is First Member of Disabled #AAPI Community to Chair National Disability Group

Los Angeles, CA, July 27 – RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, has elected Ollie Cantos as its chair. He previously served as Vice Chair.

Cantos, a blind civil rights attorney who was ABC News Person of the Week, has been active in the civil rights arena since 1990. With past leadership roles at the Disability Rights Legal Center, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Justice Department’s Office of the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and the White House, he currently is Special Assistant in the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Ollie Cantos smiling in front of an American flag

Ollie Cantos

Cantos adopted Colombia-born triplets – Leo, Nick, and Steven – all of whom have become distinguished Eagle Scoutssurvived COVID-19 together, and are blind as well. Cantos is the first disabled person from the Asian American Pacific Islander community to chair a national disability group. A “nothing about us without us” organization, the majority of RespectAbility’s team has disabilities. The majority of its board is also from BIPOC communities.

Cantos took the helm as Hon. Steve Bartlett’s term came to an extremely successful close. During Bartlett’s tenure, RespectAbility expanded dramatically, impacting public policy on workforce and COVID-19 related issues; consulted on 200+ entertainment media productions; and trained dozens of disabled people for leadership. When he previously served in Congress, Bartlett was a lead co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is celebrating its 31st anniversary.

In addition, two new Vice Chairs have been elected: Delbert Whetter, a deaf film producer and executive with Exodus Film Group; and Randall Duchesneau, a founding member of the United Spinal Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter, who is quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury during gymnastics. They joined Vivian Bass, who continues her tenure as Vice Chair. Linda L. Burger was reelected as Treasurer and Ila Eckhoff is RespectAbility’s new Secretary.

RespectAbility’s Board of Advisors also welcomed three new members: Karen Horne, Senior VP Equity and Inclusion at WarnerMedia; Craig Leen, Partner at K&L Gates and former director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) at the U.S. Department of Labor; Stacie M. deArmas, Senior Vice President, Diverse Consumer Insights & Initiatives, DEI Practice at Nielsen.

“RespectAbility’s talented and diverse leaders with disabilities — as well as allies – are breaking barriers to create more opportunities for people with disabilities to thrive in all aspects of community,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility.

“We know that persons with disabilities can and want to fully participate in – and contribute to – all aspects of society,” said Cantos. “By centering people with lived disability experience in leadership roles, ensuring authentic representation in entertainment and news media, advancing successful public policy, and pushing for faith-based and other inclusion, we look forwarding to shifting narratives and creating progress.”

RespectAbility is deeply grateful to outgoing Vice Chair Janet LaBreck and board members Richard G. Phillips, Jr. and Stephen Chbosky, who are rotating onto the emeritus board after stellar service.

The following are RespectAbility’s core programmatic areas:

  • Entertainment and News Media: Increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people in media.
  • Leadership: Enable diverse people with disabilities to get seats at decision-making tables.
  • Policy: Promote best practices in education, employment, entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and access.
  • Faith Inclusion: Ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith-based communities.

The new officers and board members were elected during a multi-day board meeting held in Santa Monica, CA. RespectAbility’s board and staff are hosting multiple events in Los Angeles this week, including:

July 27: Diverse Leaders with Disabilities in Hollywood

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab, done with support from A+E Networks, Bunim-Murray Productions, Final Draft, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Sony Pictures Entertainment, ViacomCBS, The Walt Disney Company and others, is bringing diverse voices into the story-telling process in paid employment. Already we have impacted more than 100 TV episodes and films and are changing the way people with disabilities are shown on screen. This is reducing stigmas that are barriers to employment. Studio executives and disabled talent that are making this possible are attending a convening at the home of RespectAbility Board Member and multi-Emmy-winner, Jonathan Murray.

July 28, 10:30 a.m. PT: Seeking Blind and Low Vision College Graduates for Careers in Policy and Nonprofit Management

Viceroy Hotel Santa Monica: 1819 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Learn how blind and low vision college graduates can join our “earn while you learn” virtual apprenticeship program. We’re looking for talented people who are blind or have low vision from California who have an interest in public service, running for office, advocating on Capitol Hill, working at a nonprofit foundation or in media to join our one-of-a-kind virtual training program.

To learn more about the opportunity and meet the program staff, please join us for a coffee and informational session. Ollie Cantos, who is a blind civil rights attorney who was ABC News Person of the Week, will be there to greet you and help answer your questions!

July 28, 12:00 pm PT: Systems Change and Collaboration in Workforce

Viceroy Hotel Santa Monica: 1819 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Join RespectAbility and the LA Department on Disability, and Executive Director of the LA County Workforce Board Martha Aviles for lunch. Brainstorm strategies and collaborations to create good jobs and a path to wealth for people with disabilities in LA County and beyond. This meeting will include some of the most influential voices to come together to collaborate on education, skills and jobs. We will partner to help people with disabilities not only thrive, but excel! Meet RespectAbility’s workforce team plus our incoming Chairman, Ollie Cantos, a blind lawyer who is a key player on education policy in Washington, and Stephen Simon, who directs the Los Angeles Department on Disability. This can be a turning point in employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

For more information, please contact Lauren Appelbaum at

About RespectAbility

RespectAbility is a national nonprofit organization that works collaboratively with employers, elected officials, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, philanthropists and the entertainment and news media to fight stigmas and advance opportunities. Led by diverse people with disabilities and allies, RespectAbility knows that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email

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