BIOGRAPHY OF OLEGARIO “OLLIE” D. CANTOS VII Blind since birth, Olegario “Ollie” D. Cantos VII is Special Counsel to the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice, originally commissioned by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in March 2006. Mr. Cantos recently returned to this post after having served two consecutive terms of service as Associate Director for Domestic Policy at the White House, where he led the implementation of the President’s New Freedom Initiative, the agenda for advancing equality of opportunity for people with all types of disabilities in information and assistive technology, education, employment, and every aspect of community living. One of the highest-placed persons with a disability in the federal government today, Mr. Cantos began his work at the Justice Department in August 2004 when he was originally commissioned by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft as Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Working on a number of fronts to advance disability rights enforcement, Mr. Cantos is Member of the Attorney General’s Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities, Member of the Incident Management Team of the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities headed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DOJ Representative on the Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Member of the Subcommittee on the New Freedom Initiative of the Interagency Coordinating Council on Disability Research, spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Education. In these and other prominent roles, responsibilities include fostering closer ties between the Justice Department and disability rights leaders at all levels, facilitating greater compliance by businesses with applicable federal disability rights laws, and establishing and strengthening new cross-agency partnerships to promote full participation by people with disabilities in every facet of societal life. Mr. Cantos was the first and only person ever to serve as General Counsel and Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Prior to that, Mr. Cantos was Staff Attorney and Director of Outreach and Education at the Western Law Center for Disability Rights (now renamed the Disability Rights Legal Center) in Los Angeles. Widely known for his ability to network and bring stakeholders together for a common purpose, Mr. Cantos also collaborates with national leaders of disability rights organizations and high-ranking officials from the White House and various federal departments to provide consumer perspective on policies affecting the disability 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 addressed over 30,000 in 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. Most recently, this year, 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, 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. Last December, he was personally given the Legacy of the Filipino award from Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Presidential Palace. Also in 2006, 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 Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, the Leadership Award from the National Hispanic Professional Organization, a Living Tribute Award from Catholic Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Pride of Leadership Award from the Filipino-American Republicans of Virginia, 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), the prestigious Eisenhower Commission by the Republican National Committee “in recognition of a lifetime of dedication and unstinting support,” 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, 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 an Assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 1780 of the National Capital Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, Academic Advisory Board Member for LeadAmerica, and Attorney Mentor for the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. He also served as an ABA presidential appointee to the Commission itself, was Vice Chairman of the Committee for Scouts with Disabilities at the Council level, 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 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., Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy; Indian Treaty Room, The White House, 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 Young, Esq., Ph.D., Former Associate Director for Public Liaison, The White House.
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