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

National Cross-Disability Nonprofit RespectAbility Calls for Massive Attitudinal, Policy, and Programmatic Disruption of Status Quo through Bold New Strategic Plan

Los Angeles, August 31 – RespectAbility, a diverse disability-led nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, officially announced the release of its new strategic plan. The plan is the culmination of a year-long process that brought together a cadre of key influencers from across the country, building upon evidence-based research, refinement, and results from the past eight years. The result is a bold, forward-looking, and visionary five-year roadmap to shatter old paradigms by engaging in a multifaceted approach to remove physical, programmatic, and attitudinal barriers to full societal participation by people with all types of disabilities.

Ollie Cantos smiling in front of an American flag

Ollie Cantos

“As we look to the future to envision the full scope of what is truly possible, the challenges of today warrant nothing less than decisive and organized action,” said Ollie Cantos, the recently-elected Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and the first member of the AAPI community to lead a national cross-disability group. “When individuals, organizations, private sector companies, and government agencies at all levels come together to achieve concrete and measurable outcomes that truly matter, everyone benefits.”

The strategic plan is driven by three foundational elements that are the heart of the transformation. Synergy results from combining these elements with three core tenets, which operationally drive the growth and development of four key programmatic areas of focus.

“Taken together, by blending both the philosophical underpinnings of a coherent roadmap for growth and the carefully-crafted operational steps necessary to bring to fruition precise goals that have the concrete effect of touching the lives of persons with disabilities across the lifespan, RespectAbility is well positioned to play a leading role in pioneering cutting-edge innovation to foster real and lasting impact,” Cantos added.

The Foundational Elements Driving the Transformation

RespectAbility’s “Theory of Change” has three core elements:

  • DEVELOPING LEADERS: Empowering diverse people with disabilities to gain the training, skills, contacts, and opportunities they need to have seats at decision-making tables.
  • CHANGING ATTITUDES: Increasing diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values this sizable segment of the overall population.
  • ADVANCING OPPORTUNITIES: Seeking and promoting best practices in education, employment, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement so people with disabilities can succeed, just like anyone else.
Three intersecting circles with the three elements of RespectAbility's theory of change inside them. RespectAbility logo in the middle

Strength Through Unparalleled Synergy, Driven by Three Core Tenets

RespectAbility has developed three core tenets that infuse its Theory of Change and underly each of its programs. Those tenets are:

  • DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION, AND ACCESSIBILITY: RespectAbility understands the importance of lived experience in informing good policies and practices. This is particularly reflected in the makeup of RespectAbility’s team of dedicated trailblazers, driving the organization’s success. By design, the majority of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors, Board of Advisors, and Staff has a disability. The majority of RespectAbility’s 30-person board and more than one-third of its staff at all levels also are members of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. The diverse lived experience of our team, combined with an organizational culture that empowers each person to learn from others while teaching others, results in out-of-the-box thinking and true progress for people with disabilities.
  • COLLABORATION: Far too frequently, individuals, organizations, companies, and agencies under-estimate the sheer power of meaningful partnership in which all those involved are seen as having something invaluable to contribute. RespectAbility recognizes and celebrates the fact that each stakeholder in the disability space may lead on some issues, follow on others, and not weigh in on others, depending on priorities. Though no specific stakeholder may be all things to all people, RespectAbility places at a premium the value of partnership and therefore continually seeks to identify areas of commonality in order to minimize duplication of effort, coordinate utilization of available resources, and rally others to unite to advance shared priorities.
  • COMMITMENT TO PERFORMANCE METRICS: Though RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization, by intention, it applies sound and proven business principles to stretch the value of every dollar, every moment of volunteer time, and every endeavor to which it devotes itself. Each team member is dedicated to measuring performance, modifying approaches as part of the never-ending process of improvement, and paving the way for short-term and long-term sustainability and growth. In many ways, effectively factoring Return on Investment (ROI) into organizational decision-making is the key.
RespectAbility Tenets: Diversity Equity Inclusion and Accessibility, Collaboration, and commitment to performance metrics

Programmatic Focus Areas

RespectAbility’s core programmatic focus areas work together in synergy to advance major progress for the 1-in-5 people who live with a physical, sensory, cognitive, mental health, chronic pain, or other disability. RespectAbility’s new plan includes a deeper focus on its four key programmatic areas:

  • ENTERTAINMENT AND NEWS MEDIA: Increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people in media, both on screen and behind the camera/keyboard, so they are seen for what they can do instead of what they cannot.
  • LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Enable diverse people with disabilities to participate fully in decision-making and have seats at decision-making tables.
  • PUBLIC POLICY AND PRACTICES: Break down barriers and promote best practices in education, employment, entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and access.
  • FAITH INCLUSION: Ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith-based communities.

RespectAbility’s new strategic plan incorporates several additional priorities, including working with allies at the state level and beyond to build coalitions and expand positive change, emphasizing policies that impact transition-aged youth with disabilities, and focusing on access and civic engagement. RespectAbility’s non-partisan policy team will continue to develop resources for parents and students to close achievement gaps that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities and English Language Learner (ELL) students with disabilities. RespectAbility’s entertainment and news media consulting work will continue to broaden as studio and network partners increase their interest in authentic and meaningful portrayals of disability on-screen. RespectAbility will also dramatically grow its speaker and training bureau on disability inclusion and issues.

Cantos concluded, “We are extraordinarily proud of how far we have come together, and we eagerly anticipate and plan for a future that is bright, because we will affirmatively make it that way. We know that our strong coalition-building and deep and abiding optimism will be the rocket fuel that propels our disability community to the stratosphere of success and far beyond!”


RespectAbility is rated at the Platinum level by GuideStar and has won numerous awards for its effectiveness. Read the full strategic plan on RespectAbility’s website online:

Consulting support for RespectAbility’s strategic plan was provided by CliftonLarsonAllen.

RespectAbility is hiring! Read more about the currently available positions, and apply online:

About RespectAbility

RespectAbility is a diverse and disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities and that advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future. Our mission is to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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