ABOUT OLEGARIO “OLLIE” D. CANTOS VII
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 senior official in the Federal Government. An attorney, he is also former Associate Director for Domestic Policy at the White House. 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.
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 is Academic Advisory Board Member for LeadAmerica and Attorney Mentor for the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. He also broke new ground in 2010 by becoming the very first blind person in the more than 70-year history of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary ever to serve at the district level as Legal Officer, covering one of the most active multi-state regions in the nation. In the past, he served as an ABA presidential appointee to the Commission 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.
Past honors and awards include the Legacy of the Filipino Award from now-former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and, within the U.S., the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation; the Spirit of Service Award in Distinguished Leadership from the Corporation for National and Community Service; 2004 California Big Brother of the Year; and multiple Justice Department awards including from the Office for Victims of Crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Civil Rights Division.
A three-time finisher of the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon, hobbies include rollerblading, horseback riding, and bowling. 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.