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Ariel Simms to Implement Renewed Vision and Foster New Growth and Opportunities as RespectAbility’s Next President and CEO

Ariel Simms smiling headshot wearing glasses and a blazer

Ariel Simms (they/them or she/her)

Washington, D.C., May 10 – As the disability community continues to feel the transformative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disability advocacy nonprofit RespectAbility announces that Ariel Simms (they/them or she/her) has been named President and Chief Executive Officer. In this role, Ariel will foster new growth and opportunities, as part of a renewed vision to deepen RespectAbility’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

“I am incredibly excited to join RespectAbility as its next leader, building on the powerful work of the organization’s co-founders, board, staff, Fellows, and Apprentices. As a diverse, disability-led nonprofit, RespectAbility has advocated to increase opportunity and decrease marginalization of individuals with disabilities and the stigma that persists in every facet of our society. I am eager to renew partnerships and build bridges, ensuring that RespectAbility centers those within and across the disability community who face the most barriers. Coming into RespectAbility at this critical time, we are undergoing transformational change inside and out to become a more just, equitable, and inclusive organization, and one that is deeply trusted by the communities we serve,” Ariel said.

A social justice advocate, leader, and educator, Ariel has worked to promote equity, justice, and meaningful inclusion of marginalized communities throughout their career. Ariel has been a life-long member of the disability community, growing into their first disabilities in childhood, while also supporting disabled family members. As a multiply disabled person, Ariel understands firsthand the challenges faced by those whose disabilities are not always readily apparent.

“Ariel is becoming President and CEO at a particularly pivotal time in our disability community’s history,” said RespectAbility‘s Board Chairman, Ollie Cantos.  “As we seek to expand meaningful opportunities for more than 61 million of us to participate fully in every facet of societal life, the unique combination of partnership-building, policy, communications, leadership, and advocacy skills that Ariel brings to us will lend itself well to our fostering the magnitude of systems change that is only possible by individuals and organizations coming together by rallying the totality of our collective will to make real all that we know to be truly within reach. As we keep moving forward, full speed ahead, even in the midst of the pandemic and its ongoing challenges, we surely have it within us to tackle those obstacles head-on. Ariel is the right person to lead at the right time.”

Ariel will lead a diverse and growing team of 20 full-time staff, of whom more than 85% have disabilities, as well as a team of more than 30 trained alumni of RespectAbility’s pipeline programming who now serve as project consultants, of whom 100% have disabilities. Under Ariel’s leadership, RespectAbility will continue to be guided by its strategic plan, which was unveiled in summer 2021. RespectAbility’s core tenets, which are embedded in all its programmatic activities, include:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
  • Collaboration
  • Commitment to Performance Metrics

Ariel started their professional career in the disability field as a mental health counselor in the state of Michigan. They worked with individuals who lived at society’s margins — those with psychosocial disabilities who often were also BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ — in a hospital psychiatric unit. This experience led Ariel to pursue a legal education, in which they gained more tools to educate, advocate, and inform public policy concerning disability and human rights.

Since then, Ariel has advocated in the United States and internationally, in a variety of areas, including supported decision-making/legal capacity, health care, access to justice, education, employment, and self-advocacy. Ariel is a Scholar in Residence with the Philosophy and Religion Department at American University and serves on the Board of Directors for the Disability Rights Bar Association. Prior to joining RespectAbility, they led The Arc of the United States’ equity work as the Director of Access, Equity, & Inclusion, working to ensure The Arc’s advocacy was intersectional and responsive to the needs of multiply marginalized communities. Ariel also led Chapter Growth & Affiliate Relations, bringing on new chapters and supporting the almost 600 existing chapters of The Arc and nonprofit associate members across the country. They also worked to onboard and support new leaders in The Arc’s network.

“RespectAbility’s programs have achieved so much, from advancing workforce issues and partnering with the entertainment industry to furthering faith inclusion and developing a disability leadership pipeline. In our next phase as an organization, we commit to continued growth and learning in our advocacy,” Ariel said. “RespectAbility’s future is bright, and I am filled with hope for the possibilities we will continue to create in partnership with so many incredible advocates and activists.”

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 stigma and advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

RespectAbility’s theory of change captures how the core programmatic activities intersect to drive long-term impact:

  • Developing Leaders: We empower 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 systematic change in how society views and values people with disabilities.
  • Advancing Opportunities: We seek and promote best practices in education, employment, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement so people with disabilities can succeed, just like anyone else.

RespectAbility’s core programmatic areas include:

Interested in supporting the work of RespectAbility? Learn more at

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.

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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