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Summer 2017 Fellows standing or seated in wheelchairs, smiling and posing for the camera

Roy Payan, Policy and Civic Engagement Apprentice

National Leadership Program, Fall 2021

Roy Payan headshot

Roy Payan

Roy Payan (he/him) is a Policy and Civic Engagement Apprentice in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Fall 2021. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Payan’s apprenticeship was funded by the Fox Family Foundation.

Payan is originally from El Paso, Texas, but grew up on a ranch in Northern California, in Yolo County next to an Indian reservation in a small town named Clarksburg. Payan graduated from Cal State Los Angeles with a double major in Rehabilitation Services in which he learned the characteristics, mannerisms and traits of a wide spectrum of disabilities. He is currently working on his Masters in Public Policy for Nonprofits at the University of Southern California (USC), where he hopes to eventually earn his doctorate.

Payan has direct experience with public policy and the law. After losing his vision overseas, he returned to college as an adult. In 2016, he requested the community college he was attending to begin making all their learning platforms, websites, portals and library databases accessible for all students with disabilities. When they refused, Payan launched a federal lawsuit to force them to comply. He knew the college would never remedy the problem in time to benefit him, but he filed the lawsuit for all those with disabilities who will come after him, all those too afraid or intimidated to say anything. He won that lawsuit before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2021. This ruling mandates that all colleges be ADA compliant or be held in contempt of court. He plans to utilize his experience with this Fellowship to continue his advocacy on behalf of all persons with disabilities. He hopes to someday write policy legislation to support persons with disabilities.

Payan is frequently told that he does not behave like a typical disabled person. His response is always, “what is a person with a disability supposed to behave like”? Though he is visually impaired, when he is not studying, he enjoys playing his guitar, swimming, kayaking, and frequently goes horseback riding, rock climbing and hiking. He cherishes his country upbringing and currently lives in the open space hillsides of Los Angeles amongst the wildlife and hawks. He likes to come across coyotes or bob cats on the open trails near his home, but they don’t seem to care much for him because they always run away. Perhaps he is not as good looking as they are.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact for more information.



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Roy Payan
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