Blind as a result of medical complications at birth, Olegario “Ollie” D. Cantos VII has defied conventional wisdom regarding the levels of success that one could reach at a relatively young age, becoming a presidential appointee by the age of 37. He was Member and Vice-Chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities both under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama and works as a civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Past roles within the Department include Special Assistant and later Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, and he has worked as an appointed member of the Attorney General’s Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities under Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael B. Muckasey, and now Eric H. Holder, Jr. Mr. Cantos has also served as Associate Director for Domestic Policy at the White House under President George W. Bush, coordinating efforts across the Federal Government to facilitate and promote full societal participation of more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. Previously, Mr. Cantos was General Counsel and Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities. Prior to that, he was Staff Attorney and Director of Outreach and Education at the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles.
Mr. Cantos was General Counsel and Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Prior to that, he was Staff Attorney and Director of Outreach and Education at the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles.
Widely known for his ability to network and bring stakeholders together in the spirit of collaboration, Mr. Cantos continually works with leaders in government, the non-profit sector, and private business to facilitate win-win relationships in such a way that maximizes impact on the broader community. Active in work both within and outside the disability field, he continues to be a sought-after speaker as an example of how people with disabilities may reach the highest levels of success in every area of life by exercising both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. His engaging personal style and ability to convey thoughts through the written word have solidly established him as a national leader, also known in various parts of the world.
Mr. Cantos continues to write on a range of topics. He wrote a widely-circulated lead article for the National Center for Victims of Crime to educate the victim/witness services field about the need better to serve children and adults with all types of disabilities. He also wrote a comprehensive toolkit for assisting students and job seekers with disabilities in identifying and determining viable career options, a California primer for crime victims with disabilities and their families, a comprehensive report to the State Bar of California on the delivery of legal services to low-income Californians with disabilities, and a series of online bulletins that addressed issues including transportation, special education, veterans’ benefits, physical accessibility, the criminal justice system, the arts, religion, and employment. He has also appeared on radio and television and in newspapers and magazines and has written articles for nationally-circulated periodicals. He also edited a candid book on experiences of people who are blind, and he was featured in a 1991 book published by the National Federation of the Blind.
Having traveled around the country, Mr. Cantos has addressed crowds ranging from a handful to several thousand. He has spoken to more than 53,000 people over his lifetime thus far and has been featured in media pieces whose collective targeted reach exceeds 80 million individuals worldwide. Audiences have included business entrepreneurs, disability rights activists, attorneys and other legal professionals, school children of all ages, college and university students, press representatives at the National Press Club, meetings of the Congressional Black Caucus, gatherings of government officials, and civil rights leaders at national conferences.
Mr. Cantos has received numerous honors for his work and contributions, both within and outside the field of disability. In 2009, he was bestowed with the Commendation Award from the Office of the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, the Exemplary Advocate Award from the Division on Visual Impairment under the Council for Exceptional Children, the Champion of Advocacy Award from Blind Start of America, a Special Achievement Award from Attorney General Eric Holder, and an Award of Appreciation from the Baltimore Federal Executive Board. In 2008, he was honored with a Special Achievement Award from Former Attorney General Michael B. Muckasey, the Spirit of Service Award in Distinguished Leadership from the Corporation for National and Community Service along with the Institute for Community Inclusion and the Association of University Centers on Excellence in Disability, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the North American Coalition on Parents with Intellectual and Cognitive Challenges and the Southwest Region of the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center, and special recognition from the Filipino-American Multi-Ethnic Society and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In late 2007, he received the Chairman’s Award of Special Recognition from the President’s Committee For Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, a Meritorious Service Award from the New York Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for “outstanding service in the advancement of the public interest,” the Legendary Leadership Award from United Batangueños of Southern California, and awards of appreciation from the Army National Guard and from John Gillis, now Former Director of the Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice. A perpetual award was also established in Mr. Cantos’s honor by the Center for Independent Living in Fresno, California, to be given annually to an outstanding community leader who facilitates broad-based systems change. In December 2006, he was personally given the Legacy of the Filipino award from Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Presidential Palace. Also in 2006, then Reno Mayor Robert A. Cashell Sr. proclaimed October 16 as a day in his honor, and Mr. Cantos was given the Key to the City from former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, the Leadership Award from the National Hispanic Professional Organization, a Living Tribute Award from Catholic Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Robert Stack Award from the Blind Children’s Center, the Distinguished Leadership Award from Batangas USA, the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and awards of appreciation from the Filipino Migrant Heritage Commission, the Navy Installation Command in Washington DC, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Muller. In 2005, Mr. Cantos received a plaque of appreciation from the Air Force Flight Testing Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Loyola Law School, a plaque of appreciation from the 96th Wing Command of the United States Air Force, the Founder’s Award from Asian Rehabilitation Services (its highest honor), and the 2005 Excellence in Diversity Award from the Federal Asian/Pacific American Council. Also in 2005, Lead America, a nationally-renown youth leadership development organization, created and funded an annual scholarship in his name. In 2004, he was recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award from the Points of Light Foundation and was named 2004 California Big Brother of the Year (chosen out of 15,000 matches). He was surprised with a Key to the City from Mayor Kay Barnes in Kansas City (Missouri) in 2003 and, the year before, received a Leader of Tomorrow Award from Speaking For Ourselves in Pennsylvania, a Service Award from the State Bar of California, and an Outstanding Service Award from the Loyola Marymount University National Alumni Association. He received an Award of Recognition from Employment Diversity Source in 2001 in addition to four awards in 2000 including the Paul G. Hearne National Leadership Award from AAPD, an Outstanding Service Award from the City of West Covina, the Access Award from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities, the “Award of Excellence, Service, and Achievement” from United Batangeños of Southern California, and a Distinguished Service Award from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in 1998.
Mr. Cantos is Academic Advisory Board Member for LeadAmerica, mentor for BEST Kids based in Washington DC (serving African American at-risk youth), and Attorney Mentor for the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. In the past, he served as an ABA presidential appointee to the Commission, was an Assistant Scoutmaster for a local troop and Vice Chairman of the Committee for Scouts with Disabilities at the Council level of Boy Scouts of America, and was a member of the National Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Personal Assistance Services, the National Advisory Committee for Improvement of Teacher Quality of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, and the boards of directors of Community Lodgings (a local non-profit organization serving low-income members of the Latino community), the Westside Center for Independent Living, the Blind Children’s Center, the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, and the alumni associations of Loyola Law School and Loyola Marymount University. A long-time advocate for legal services to the poor, six years before he even became an attorney, Mr. Cantos served as Client Advisory Council Chair and then moved up the ranks as Treasurer, Secretary, and Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the second-largest legal services provider in the nation, serving more than 35,000 low-income individuals each year.
A three-time finisher of the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon, hobbies include rollerblading, horseback riding, and exercise. Mr. Cantos is also a science fiction fan and loves being involved with his church and community. He is often noted for his energy and enthusiasm and derives inspiration from God, his family, books on personal development, and various mentors he has had throughout his life. In the words of two individuals who have spoken of him:
• “Ollie is a truly remarkable individual for what he has managed to achieve, the obstacles he has overcome during the course of his life and career as an attorney, his work here at the Domestic Policy Council, and the contagious enthusiasm that he has.” -- Gregory F. Jacob, Esq., Former Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy; Indian Treaty Room, The White House (under President George W. Bush), March 26, 2007.
• “Ollie Cantos has an abiding passion for making the world a better place. He has a capacity for channeling his extraordinary level of energy to produce not just great results in his own work, but also to inspire those around him to do more and do better. His enthusiasm is infectious! Ollie is a deeply caring person, someone who takes his work seriously because he knows it makes a real difference in the lives of real people.” – Jonathan M. Young, Esq., Ph.D., Former Associate Director for Public Liaison, The White House (under President Bill Clinton), Chairman of the National Council on Disability.
Ollie Cantos can be heard on the Building Fortunes Radio shows below.