Episode 14 – A Man with a Direction: Ollie Cantos
Talk about someone who really gets it when it comes to blindness, accessibility and inclusion, meet Ollie Cantos. It took some time, but Ollie made his way through school, college and then law school. Ollie has been an extremely and unstoppable lawyer spending now many years in government service in the United States.
Ollie will tell you his life story in this episode. He then will go on to discuss a truly positive life dedicated to proving that blindness is not the myth we believe. I know you will be enthralled by Ollie and what he has to say.
Some directories do not show full show notes. For the complete transcription please visit https://michaelhingson.com/podcast
About the Guest:
Olegario “Ollie” D. Cantos VII, Esq., has served in various senior roles under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He has worked in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education since 2013. Past leadership roles include Staff Attorney and Director of Outreach and Education at the Disability Rights Legal Center in California, General Counsel and Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities, Special Assistant and later Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice, Vice Chair of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and Associate Director for Domestic Policy at the White House. He is Chairman of the Board of RespectAbility, a national nonprofit nonpartisan cross-disability advocacy organization. He is also immediate past Vice President of the Virginia Organization of parents of Blind Children, affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind.
Prior leadership posts include Vice President of the Virginia Organization of Parents of Blind Children, Legal Officer for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Vice President of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Chairman of the Board for Scholarships for Eagles, President of the California Association of Blind Students and the National Association of Blind Students, and member of the boards of directors of the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, the Blind Children’s Center, Community Lodgings, the California Association to Promote the Use of Braille, the National Federation of the Blind of California, Loyola Marymount University Alumni Association, and Loyola Law School Alumni Association.
Ollie’s life story, along with how he adopted three blind triplet boys, was covered by national media outlets including National Public Radio, People Magazine, The Washingtonian Magazine, and ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir in 2017 and in 2020.
Just a few weeks ago, he received the Marc Gold Employment Award by TASH, a National disability advocacy organization, for his years of leadership to promote internship, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities for people with all types of disabilities.
To connect with Ollie on social media, those in the United States may text “Ollie” to 313131.
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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Michael Hingson 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:23
Welcome to another edition of the unstoppable mindset podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. And our guest today Ollie cantos is a little of all of those, especially the unexpected, as I think you’ll see, Ollie is a fascinating soul who’s been around for a while has a lot of interesting stories to tell. And, and on top of everything else. He’s a lawyer is scary. At least he has a law degree but but he hasn’t tried to sue me yet. So I think we’re in good shape, but only Welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Ollie Cantos 01:58
Thank you, Mike. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Michael Hingson 02:00
So I should say from the outset and talking about only that he is he is also blind as I we’ve known each other for quite a while. And we’ve been trying to get him on unstoppable mindset for quite a while, but his schedule is incredibly rigorous. So it has been a little bit of a challenge. But he confessed that he has actually been on vacation for a week. And so now we are able to get him and have him here. So I’d love you to talk a little bit about you and tell me a little bit about your life growing up as a as a blind person and anything that you’d like people to know about that.
Ollie Cantos 02:37
Sure my Well, I was born two months premature. And as the result of medical complications, I was blind from birth from a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. And so in my particular case, I had that resulted in my being totally blind in my left eye, and having partial residual vision in my right. And until about two years ago, it was pretty stable until some things that ended up happening because of an accident, with being hit by a car. But that’s a whole other story. But basically, when I was growing up, life was pretty intense, because I was victimized by bullying a lot. And my, my parents really urged me to do everything I could to make sure to work hard and to achieve high results. And at the time, when I was younger, I honestly didn’t think that I could pretty much do much of anything. And I that’s just being very transparent and honest with you. I just I just didn’t think that there was much that was really possible because of having a limited vision. And so what ended up happening was, there was a struggle between what my parents believed I could do what I believed I could do. And so I tried to get out of chores, I tried to pretty much leverage my my visual impairment to the best extent possible, so I wouldn’t have to do stuff but it didn’t work. It didn’t work. My My mom, she insisted that I do chores to the same degree of efficiency as kids who can see. And she also had me make sure to wash after my baby sister and clean up after her with stuff she leaves around, etc. And I really found it very just it was just a tough, tough existence. But not because my my parents were awful to me but more because I cried to just get out of stuff because I just didn’t believe that it was really possible to do things to the same degree of efficiency. And as I grew up, it was quite a struggle because I read large print, and then when fourth grade hit, I ended up being in a position where the print got smaller than it was harder to read, and so forth. But because I wasn’t taught Braille in school I just strained with what musical vision that I had. And that was a mistake, because it meant that I was far more far more inefficient in comparison to other kids. Because I wasn’t taught Braille. And so growing up and, and working through all of my challenges I ended up doing, okay academically, but it was not without a cost. I hardly had any social life and so forth. But I did work to get involved eventually, with extracurricular activities and everything. But things were so much more of a struggle, because I didn’t, I didn’t know braille. And I, at the time had a very negative attitude about being thought of as, quote, blind, close quote, I felt that if I were thought of that way that I would be segregated, and I didn’t want to look be different in, in comparison to everybody else. And I actually would say, well, at least I’m not one of those blind people. And I look back now and think about those attitudes. But that’s the way that I was taught and, and that’s what I came to believe, like, Well, hey, at least I’m not totally blind. So at least I have some vision. So at least, you know, I’m not one of them. And I don’t have to use one of those canes. And yet, at the same time, it was tough, because, because I would feel like I was closeted all the time, where I tried to hide not being able to see well. And I was ashamed of who I was inside. And I always felt like I was hiding. And whenever I would get into some accident, I clip on something, or I would I would bump into something or bumping into someone, I’d say, oh, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. And I just downplayed it. But the whole time, I just felt like oh my gosh, this is, you know, well, at least they don’t know, because I’m not using a cane. And then later, after starting to, to get involved with with different organizations, I eventually
Ollie Cantos 06:57
came to know people in the National Federation of the Blind. And they’re the ones who taught me very directly that it is respectable to be blind, that it’s okay to use a cane. And because of that, I use a cane for the first time in my life. And eventually I, I learned braille as an adult, I’m not nearly as fast as as my children, which we’ll get to later, but, but I still recognize the valuable importance of Braille. And I’m astonished Braille advocate. And I really believe that even if people have some residual vision, the key is to recognize if if Braille is more efficient than straining one’s eye to reprint. And so because of my life and the way things are, to this day, I’m literally I am actually functionally illiterate. In that sense. I can’t pick up a book and read it straight through, like my son’s can, I’m not able to just read from a speech, I have to memorize things. So I continue to face those sorts of challenges because of, of how I learned braille as an adult, which meant that it’s just hard for me to read as quickly. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But for me, that was an ongoing challenge. But in spite of all of that, I still eventually became an attorney. And I’ve been involved in the in the disability rights movement now for 30 years.
Michael Hingson 08:14
And tell me how old were you when you started to use a cane?
Ollie Cantos 08:20
I was 20 years old I was I was a sophomore, I was a junior in college, or between the summer between my sophomore and junior year is when I went to the National Convention. And so I left not using a cane I came back using one. So that was a that’s, that’s a whole series of stories in and of itself.
Michael Hingson 08:37
Sure. Did you go through any formal orientation training? Or did you kind of teach yourself or how did you really learn to be effective with it?
Ollie Cantos 08:46
Well, it took a while. And then I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in college and, and have between the end of my college years and the beginning of law school. So that’s the time that I that I’m within that setting. And I learned of the blindness skills based on being put under sleep shade. And so everything I did cook, clean, read, walk, travel does anything any any very skills, I learned through the alternative text techniques of blindness. And it was the best thing because it really was a confidence builder. Because then after that I knew that I would still be able to function and that that it really is true that when refining alternative techniques, then we can be as as efficient or at least at a very minimum, far more efficient than we would have been if we just simply strangled what little we can see. If people want to be able to use a residual vision that’s absolutely fine. Provided that is not at the cost of efficiency. And so that’s that’s what I’ve I’ve come to realize and that’s why to this very day. I really push hard for for Braille for kids as well as adults. and because of the value of that, and of course, technology these days, has, has undergone such significant innovations. And concurrent with that, though, we still need to know the bit of the fundamentals of Braille, because it really can be a real a real booster of efficiency in the long run after after learning.
Michael Hingson 10:23
There’s a general consensus that the literacy rate in terms of Braille for buying people has dropped. Why is that?
Ollie Cantos 10:32
Well, it’s dropped, because historically, the 40s, the literacy rate among blind people was 99 0%. And that was when, when kids were in schools for the blind across the country. And then, with the advent of the new, newer special education laws over the more recent decades, kids started learning in school, alongside their their peers without disabilities, and that is an important and valuable historical step. The difficulty was that because of how spread out various of us work, there wasn’t necessarily access to quality Braille instruction, because because we are what’s called, we have what’s called low incidence disability. And so as a result of that, there isn’t necessarily a lot of people to meet the demand for Braille instruction or providing Braille education. And so even though the law to the state presumes that a blind person should a blind students shouldn’t should learn braille. Having actual access is another story in many instances.
Michael Hingson 11:35
Well, of course, the other part of that is that the general attitude, and it’s kind of self fulfilling, but the general attitude is, well, blind people don’t need Braille, because their books recorded or other ways of doing it. And so the literacy rate has gone down. And now people use the argument. Well, very few people 10% read Braille. And so it clearly isn’t the way to go. But the reality is that it does involve in part, the educational system, not learning that Braille is the true reading and writing method for blind people. Which gets back to the whole issue of attitudes about blindness in the educational world, much less elsewhere.
Ollie Cantos 12:17
Yeah, absolutely, Mike. And so if people will fundamentally believe that it is not either respectable to be blind, or that blindness somehow means that somebody has lower ability than, of course, at all costs, they will try to avoid anything associated with techniques that are utilized by people who are totally blind. That was literally my attitude for the first 20 years of my life. And, and I just, I remember, the very first day of first grade, they put Braille in my hands, but literally the next day it was gone. But that’s the only time ever, ever that I had been exposed to Braille writer and so forth. And so it really does come down to attitudes about blindness. And it also it also means that we need to look at take an honest look at what we ourselves think about blinds, including people who are blind themselves. And they say, Well, you know, there’s a difference between between totally blind and, and well, maybe I’m legally blind, you know, that sort of thing, at least, the way that I now believe, when it comes to blindness, it’s just fine to use the word. I mean, it’s not a matter of merely changing the word or trying to say some other word about it. But it’s actually more a matter of what we think about it, or what we think about blindness. So if if, if the community can come to a place where they recognize that, regardless of the degree to which somebody cannot see that, they still will be able to compete on terms of equality, if given the proper training, basic skills and the opportunity to succeed, then that’s what will be really of significant help with with not only expecting more of blind children, but also blind children expecting more of themselves blind parents expecting more of them, the educational system, expecting more of them. And ultimately, when they grow up them rising to those higher expectations, as opposed to when members of our community end up having lower expectations, they don’t do as much so then therefore, it’s self fulfilling prophecy. And because of that, they say, see, look at how most people these days who are blind don’t read Braille, or their the unemployment rate is very, very high. And so we just have to look at there’s always a societal aside a societal tension between the way things used to be and the way things are, and, and things can either get gradually worse or gradually better, but they’re always these constant forces that that that come up against each other. And so from everything that I have seen in my life and from raising my kids, the key philosophically is to believe that our children can grow up to be whatever they want, and that whatever They do achieve things that are the source of inspiration would be that because they work hard and just like anybody else, but we have got to be careful about being inspired by people with disabilities who just do average things. So let’s say for example, Mike, I don’t know if this has happened to you probably has where, where I’ve crossed the street with my cane, you know, I cross at the green light. And then somebody literally comes up and says, Wow, the way you cross that street, you’re so inspiring. Well, I mean, I’m, I’m a full fledged adult, you know, I don’t know what is inspiring about crossing the street. Like if, if a person without a disability could do that, why is it inspiring for me to cross the street, but let’s say for example, there’s a fellow person with a disability, right? Like, like a gentleman in California, who just got a got the MacArthur Fellowship, I think it’s like half a million dollars or something, he’s totally blind. That totally inspires me, not because he’s blind, but because doggone he, he just got a MacArthur Fellowship. He’s a, he’s a Mensa member, he has in his IQ and intelligence are off the charts. And he continues to do well, with with his life that inspires me whether he’s blind or not, that inspires me. And that’s the kind of thing that we have to be on the lookout for. Because what happens is, if we’re not careful about that, then the message in finding blind people inspiring or any other person is really inspiring is that if the thing is, well, at least I don’t have to go through that, or my life could be worse, or Wow, they made it in spite of how awful that disability is to have etc. As opposed to well, you know what, they work hard, they really busted their tail and they got it all done. That’s inspiring, because anyone who works hard should be an inspiration to anybody, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
Michael Hingson 16:44
That’s right, exactly the way it should be in blind people who do the average sorts of things, do it daily, are good at it and are successful, to me are just as inspiring as sighted people who do it because of the fact that they have found an equilibrium and they are able to, to maintain and move forward. Tell me do you do you think overall, thinking back on the your parents had a positive attitude about blindness? They did.
Ollie Cantos 17:11
Because they didn’t phrase it that way that they didn’t want me originally to associate with with blindness, because they were afraid of what other people would think, because they originally didn’t want me to use a cane. Because they said first of all, you can see a little bit. And second, if people think of you as blind they won’t give you the kind of opportunities and they will expect of you what we expect to view. So so it was sort of a different take on a blindness philosophy thing. And then once I started using a cane, it was it really was met with some major resistance by my parents at first. And then when they realized how much more confident I became because I was taught by my mentors how to use a cane, then I was better and then then they accepted it and now it’s nothing I mean, now it’s it’s a matter of course of course you’re when you’re blind, you use a cane. So they underwent an evolution of sorts themselves as as well.
Michael Hingson 18:04
And as you visit them of course, you still have to do the chores, right? Because now you’re the son and you got to support them in the manner they want to become accustomed right?
Ollie Cantos 18:13
That’s right, I still have to do the chores I still have to you know like like right now with this podcast that I’m with I’m this is all being recorded while I’m at my sister’s house, but my parents and I are here with my shirt with my sister and her family as our house is being renovated and so it’s just nice to be with them whenever we go back to our place because we’ve had that same house that I grew up in for 46 years we’ve had that house whenever I go back Zack only can you take out the trash clean the pool work on this do that clean this up it’s the same you know because I’m always my we’re all for all of us we’re always our parents children when whether we’re adults or not. And so I love the fact that that they stuck with me and that they they do demand high and the awesome thing is they demand they demand Hi of my children to
Michael Hingson 19:04
Mom, I can’t clean the pool. It’s frozen over California. Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s true when you’re in California, it’s a different story. But you know, it’s it’s interesting to, to hear your stories, how similar in a lot of ways they are to mine, but in some ways different. My parents never cared about the fact that I was blind. They just said you can do whatever he wants. He’s going to be able to do things like everyone else, and there was never a discussion about it. I actually got a guide dog before I got a cane, because there was nobody around teaching cane travel but we met someone who used a cane. You You’ve I think met her no of her sharing gold who lived near where we lived. movement right when I was growing up, and so I met guide dogs as it were through her and ended up getting a guide dog going into high school. But my parents actually initiated that recognizing that we needed to do something to and enhance my ability, as opposed to just walking to school or walking around a school. And being able to hear it in a in a much smaller environment than a high school would be. And it was the right time.
Ollie Cantos 20:21
Yeah, absolutely. Sharon gold was a force of nature. I still miss her to this day. And she spent 20 years of her life working full time building the National Federation of Vita, California, she has touched the lives of countless people who have gone on to touch the lives of others, because she, she basically built a leadership factory, and I continue to revere her to this day, even though she has left us, I strive always to to emulate the qualities of life of Sharon gold, that’s for sure. And
Michael Hingson 20:51
you can’t do better than that. Right? That’s right. So what, um, you know, an interesting thought that that comes to mind is we’ve talked about people with disabilities and, and the fact that we need to educate people in society, what role whether you’re a person with a disability or not, but if you’re especially familiar with disabilities, what role should we have in dealing with people who are blind or have disabilities in society?
Ollie Cantos 21:23
Well, that’s a really good question. Because the fact is that we all have a role to play when it comes to making a difference. The fact is that when it comes to the disability community, there are more than 61 million persons with disabilities, including children and adults in this country. And because of that, that means disability touches the lives of all of us. And because it touches the lives of each and every one of us, that means that we need to really be mindful, because 90% of all disabilities are invisible to the naked eye. People may have depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dyslexia, other forms of learning disability, as well as dysgraphia, dyscalculia. They can, they can have an intellectual disability, they just all sorts of things that you don’t see, they can have epilepsy, etc. And so therefore, what is really important for all of us, is always to be open to what it means to have a disability. There are some of us who, let’s say, you’ve had our disability our whole life, and to us, it’s just a characteristic. And, and even even within that, there could be some changes, like in my case, I was used to what I could see as limited as limited as it was. And then when I was hit by a car, and then the lens detached and then now I see even less, I had to go through a major adjustment period, even as someone who lived with my blindness my whole life, and people say, Well blind, well, you can see, well, just to clarify, blindness is blindness, including people who have some residual vision, but my my degree of residual vision dramatically dropped. And it’s, it’s beyond repair at this point. And I had to go through, and I’m still going through some adjustments with that. And, and it’s something that so when I’m talking about this, I’m saying that as not as a part of a theoretical construct, but as somebody who myself am going through a lot of changes that that that have occurred, because it’s not that the disability is the problem. It’s it’s that this is this level is of disability was just something to which I wasn’t not accustom. So it doesn’t mean that that various of us who either acquire a disability or who acquire a disability to a greater degree of significance, can’t live full and productive lives. But there is an adjustment period that’s required. And there there are additional challenges with that, does that mean that we have lives of unhappiness and struggle and, and necessarily having loads of depression? No. But what it does mean is, is that we have got to recognize that we are all on this journey. There’s actually Mike another example, where, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved in this in the Civil Rights world within the disability and other contexts for for three decades, roughly about four or five years ago or so. The boys that I Leo, Nick and Steven, my sons, we spontaneously decided to take a trip to New York. And while we were up there, one morning, we were at breakfast, and then and then somebody, somebody dropped a utensil. And so I say well, hey guys, whichever one of you dropped, that you should pick it up, you know, and my thought was, hey, well, just because they’re blind, they should leave it for other people to pick up. But here’s the catch. What happened at once I said that somebody to the table to my right, sheepishly tapped my shoulder and said, Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt but actually That was not your one of your sons. That was me. So here I was thinking, Yeah, I know about civil rights and about equality of opportunity and how we have to really think well, people disabilities, what was it? What was my assumption? In all transparency, I assumed that it was one of my son’s drama. I completely assumed so what I’m all for that, but it’s, we all have growth to do.
Michael Hingson 25:22
Go back to your other example, though, you’re crossing the street, you get to the other side, and somebody comes up to you and says, Oh, that you’re just amazing. You cross that street all by yourself and how independent you are. What should your job be? Or how do you react? Or how do you think we should react? When that kind of thing happens?
Ollie Cantos 25:41
Well, I think it’s an opportunity to be to educate people, if we get mad at them and get mad and say, What do you mean, you know, or if somebody offers offers help, and we say, I don’t need help, I’m fine. You know, like that. I mean, then, then all they’re gonna walk away is stuff think, dang, those people disabilities are pretty bitter, aren’t they? And the thing is, by nature, all of us, we, we tend to, to, to judge, either people or classifications of people, based on the negative characteristic that sets that person apart as different from ourselves. So in this instance, if if they have that sort of negative interaction with us, they’ve never interacted with a blind person before they’ll say one thing, you know, you’re I’m trying to help somebody, and then they bite my head off. I’m just trying to help, you know. So I think that it’s an opportunity for us to educate people about who we are and what we can do and say, Well, gosh, thank you for offering to help me cross the street, but I’m okay. But But how are you doing? You know, that focus on on that on them? Or if people say, Well, gosh, you know, you’re so inspiring for, for what you did, and and then the stuff that I like to say is, well, you know, all of us are inspiring to each other. And to the extent that you optimize your life, you would inspire me. And then that’s it. You know, because, because I’m sure everybody has a life story that can inspire me, you know, as the way we can inspire them, but it has nothing to do with disability.
Michael Hingson 27:04
No, one of the things I love to say to people, when they come up and do that is, you know, I gotta tell you that you inspire me all the more, because you are getting around without a guide dog or a cane, isn’t that amazing?
Ollie Cantos 27:21
That’s the best.
Michael Hingson 27:22
And then I then use that to go and say, I’m not trying to be sarcastic, or anything but but the reality is, it’s just another way or we each have other ways of doing the same thing. And although there are more of you than there are of I and I understand and appreciate the inspiration, but the reality is, it’s no different. And it would be so much nicer if people would recognize that, that just because I happen to be blind, and you’re not the fact that we both can do the same thing. And that’s what’s really important. Sometimes you get into really good discussions about that. But yeah, I love I love to say that, well, I’m just amazed that you get around without a dog or a cane, and you do so well. But I but I do make sure I mitigate that immediately and say I’m not trying to be sarcastic. There’s a reason I say that. Let me explain. And most people stay around and listen, which is which is pretty good.
Ollie Cantos 28:22
I absolutely love that. And you know, actually, this reminds me of another illustration where, you know, some people say, Well, why do we have to make our these businesses open to people who use wheelchairs? Or why do we have to, you know, like, sometimes businesses are other people, they say, Why do I have to spend this money to make places accessible, you know, like, they get all mad. And then I actually, this is borrowing from what a talk I I heard from the late Susan Daniels once where let’s say for example, people say, hey, you know, we have to make all these places wheelchair accessible? Well, you know, whenever it think about how much the the world spends on chairs, chairs, literally, they’re everywhere. They’re chairs everywhere. But what the wheelchair users do they bring their own. Imagine how much money would be saved if businesses wouldn’t have to pay for all of those chairs. Because imagine if more people use chairs in the business, he wouldn’t have to pay for them because people brought their own. Well, what about another possibility? I love this what Susan said, as well, what about oh, actually, Dr. Jurgen said this where where you know if we really want it to be good, good with everything. Well, what about accommodating sighted people? Well, they say what do you mean? Well, if we instead with all of our office buildings and houses and everywhere, what if instead of having windows for people to see out? Why don’t we just why don’t we have no windows? Because it actually optimizes energy efficiency. It keeps the houses cool or warm or whichever, but instead to accommodate people who can see there are windows everywhere. That’s it. People can look out they can feel the sun, all that kind of stuff for us, we’re fine with this, if you know we’re fine if there isn’t any of that stuff. So it’s all a matter of perspective for one person might, what might seem like, oh, well, you’re accommodating their people. Well, what about them? You know, we accommodate them. There was literally a time in Moscow when the fire alarm went off, or no fire it was the power went off to in one of the buildings there. And I literally had somebody hold me by the shoulder, so I could guide them out, because I was fine with using my cane to walk out of the building. So I would say, Okay, put your hand on my shoulder, and I’ll lead you out. And they were completely frank. They’re like, I don’t know how to get out of here. I’m like, well, I’ll help you out. And so now all of a sudden things were turned because that’s our world, right? Yeah.
Michael Hingson 30:48
Well, there’s so many examples of that. And look, what, what is it? That’s so different about providing coffee machines, in buildings for employees and accompany or electric lights? They’re all reasonable accommodations. And one of the things I love to say, when I speak to, to audiences, is, let’s really get the whole concept of reasonable accommodation down to the basics. Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb as a reasonable accommodation for light dependent people. And that’s all it is. Yeah. And, you know, it, we we make a lot of accommodations for people. So why should it be different, just because some of us are in a legitimate minority. And the problem is, people haven’t made the transition. And it is something that that we need to really address a lot more than we do as a society overall. And hopefully, we’ll make some strides in that regard over time, but it is one of the biggest issues that we we face. I want to switch gears a little bit. You’ve talked about your sons, tell me about them. Tell us all about them?
Ollie Cantos 32:01
Well, I just absolutely love my sons, Leo, Nick, and Steven. They weren’t originally my son’s, though. I actually learned about them because a man, a fellow member of my faith community heard about them, because his coworker had a sister who worked as a school secretary at the elementary school where they were. And so he didn’t know them, either. But he heard that there are these three blind troupe of boys. And he, he literally came to me and called me one day. And and he had this on his mind, but he kept putting it off putting it off. So one night, he woke me up, and he’s like, Hey, Ollie, I need to I need to talk talk, oh, I just need to touch base with you. And I’m like, Oh, really? What’s up? He said, Well, I haven’t been able to sleep. And because he just woke me up. I said, Well, let me help you with that. Good night’s talk to you tomorrow. He’s like, don’t hang up, don’t hang up. And and so so he said, there are these boys that I’ve, I just feel like I need to introduce you to them. Because, you know, in light of your having worked at the White House and your being attorney, et cetera. I just feel like you’d be a good role model for them. And I don’t know them. But I’m wondering if you would mind letting me set this up between you guys. And the family or whoever said that way, you could just be of support and mentoring them? I said, Yeah, sure what, I’ll be happy to do that. And that’s fine. And that’s how it all started. But quickly, it became apparent that, that we we felt closer to one another than just mentor mentee. And they they just do we just had such a closeness. So a really long story short, I ended up adopting them as my own name and everything, you know, and they were, they were isolated. They were originally from Colombia. And then they came to this country. And he came to United States when they were three years old. And then they were isolated in their house from age three to 10, where they would only go outside to go to the church and go to school. That was it. They stayed in the house sat on the couch the rest of the time. Here I was I came along I got them out of the house, and got them to to expose be exposed to skills. But what happened was philosophically they went from being victims of bullying, to having no and and having little to no self esteem, to then really believing in themselves, getting involved with extracurricular activities, doing a lot, a lot of stuff with local nonprofits and eventually becoming Eagle Scouts. And so if they’re the same kids, but the only difference was belief was poured into them along with a positive philosophy about blindness or disability more generally. And that positive belief is what carried the day. It did not create an over there was not an overnight success. That happened. It happened gradually. There were a lot of stops, stops and starts a lot of disappointing moments. But eventually they just they just kept Got it. And now they’re, they’re all in college and doing great. So I mean, I just love my sons. And we’re the four of us. It’s the four of us against the world, basically,
Michael Hingson 35:09
what happened? What happened to their parents? Well,
Ollie Cantos 35:13
the mother had a hard time taking care of them. And the father left to go back to Colombia and said he never came back. And so the abandonment issues with in that regard to, and ironically, after, you know, as the boys grew up, they dedicated their time, and we dedicate our family, we dedicate our time to talking about adoption, and also talking about how important it is for kids of all ages to be involved in their communities. From literally, when they were age 10 and 11 years old, we rang the bell up the you know, the goodwill Bell, you know, the bell, red, I think it’s red, a red thing. I don’t know what the container is where you put money. And we literally rang the bell there to raise money for Goodwill, which provided school supplies for kids from low income families. We did that because we wanted to make a difference. And then we just kept going from there just doing more and more stuff. And then now, they are just, they’ve continued to be active and involved. And they’ve they’ve touted the message of how we as people with disabilities of every age, we’re an untapped resource. And we should be, we should really work hard. And so that’s why they become even now they’ve all worked. They all work before age 18 for pay, and now Leo himself, he’s been working for five years, he gets paid like, you know, he’s young, but he gets paid 2257 An hour right now, and keeps keeps doing better, and keeps getting accolades from the very top of his company, and just lots of stuff. And Nick, Nick wants to go into real estate, and he’s getting ready to take your real estate exam. Stephen is wanting to support organizations by writing grants to help build up resources. All of them have have done different things. And it’s all because of the role of attitude and high expectations. And then now they’re passing that along to other people. So it’s just really fun to watch.
Michael Hingson 37:10
Well, I’m going to tell you right now, it will be necessary and helpful. I think if we do another podcast sometime in the relatively near future and bring them on with you. We have lots to talk about being an Eagle Scout myself and vigil in the Order of the Arrow. There’s nothing
Ollie Cantos 37:25
like wow. Oh, wow. That is so cool.
Michael Hingson 37:30
We’ll have to we’ll have to come now. Did you do anything in scouting?
Ollie Cantos 37:33
I tried when I was in sixth grade, I asked to be involved with scouts and the Scoutmaster said, Hey, buddy, I know, I know you want to do this stuff, but it’s kind of not safe. And we don’t really know how we support and everything but thanks for wanting to be involved. And then that was it. I had
Michael Hingson 37:50
a Scoutmaster. I was in Cub Scout some, but really got involved when I went into the Boy Scouts. And I had a Scoutmaster and worked with a number of leaders who were really like my parents, I guess is the best way to put it, then care about being blind. I remember when I went to my first order of the arrow function, as you know, and started down that path. And part of the the thing is that you can’t talk for 24 hours, you you follow directions, you do stuff but you don’t talk. And it’s a time of contemplation. But I remember one of the the leaders, the the actually the person who was coordinating that particular event, said, Come on, let’s go talk. And I remember saying to him, but but I’m not supposed to talk he says okay, I’m giving you permission, but I remember Mr. Ness talking about the fact that it was great that I was was there, and they want to make sure that I get to participate in in every way and that it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us. But he was really pleased that I stepped up and decided to try to join the Order of the Arrow and then eventually of course went off and and went through the whole program and became vigil and and got to know him all the way through and all number of our scout leaders were were the same and they all had that attitude, which was such a blessing. Wow, that they didn’t put limitations.
Ollie Cantos 39:28
That’s how it should be and and so that’s the same with with my son to their scouting. I was tradition whenever it was a first of something I would go but after that, other than that they went on their own with with the leaders and they built their own friendships and everything and I got out of the way, you know, yeah, the thing as a parent as I did not want I’m still I’m not the type of parent to hover. I feel like they should make their mistakes. And they should learn and get guidance, of course, but if they make A mistake and it’s a wrong mistake. And that leads to consequences. They have to feel that, you know, like, like they want. I bought one of them a cell phone, a brand new self iPhone, he lost it. So I’m like, Well, that’s it. That’s it, you’re gonna have to find a way to earn the money to get that back. Yeah, you know, and then he had to find a way to work and he got it back eventually.
Michael Hingson 40:19
Well, and the point is that you are there. And I would intuit that. They know they can come and talk to you about anything and that you will be helpful and advice. But you don’t. You don’t hover a helicopter. Ah,
Ollie Cantos 40:36
the only time I like to hover is if I’m in a helicopter, which I love.
Michael Hingson 40:39
Oh, there you know, there there is. I have not I have flown an airplane but I’ve not flown a helicopter. Yeah. Oh, it’s it’s a whole different feeling. It’s I’ve been in a helicopter, but I’ve never flown one.
Ollie Cantos 40:51
Oh, I I’m not planning on flying one myself. Oh, so okay.
Michael Hingson 40:55
Yeah, I don’t know that. I want to do that. I have flown an airplane. I’ve been in a couple of different aircraft where I sat in the copilot seat. And the pilot said you want to try it? I said, Sure. You know, we’re not near anymore.
Ollie Cantos 41:10
Yeah, one of my friends have been to that too. It’s a blast. Oh, it’s so much fun. But I didn’t want to do it for long.
Michael Hingson 41:17
Yeah, well, we actually doubled the last time I did it. No, no, not the last time. The second time the last time I did it, we decided that we would try to imitate the aircraft they called the vomit comment where we got weightless and was a prop plane. So we couldn’t go up nearly as high. But we actually did do a little bit of a parabola and parabola and had about 10 or 12 seconds of weightlessness. It was a lot of fun. And, and I actually did that and did it more by field than anything else. But we made sure we stayed way above the ground.
Ollie Cantos 41:48
Okay, well, that’s that’s good. And obviously, it turned out well, that we
Michael Hingson 41:51
were still here, which is, which is really good. You know, it’s, it’s important, I think, to talk about all this, that we’re that we’re dealing with about blindness and so on. It’s, I think, extremely necessary for people to understand that we’re people like everyone else. And I can tell you right now, I know we’re not going to finish this today. And I’m going to definitely want you back to to continue the discussions. But what I would like to do a little bit, is get into some of the things that you’ve done, since you got your law degree, you’ve been involved in a number of government activities, and so on. Tell us a little bit about that. And some of the adventures, if you will, that you’ve had along the way. Well,
Ollie Cantos 42:33
I’m originally I had no intention of doing work in the disability rights world, I had other thoughts about what I wanted to do. I wanted to go into family law. But that was just too gut wrenching, and I just I went home crying every day. So I’m like, I just can’t do this. And then eventually, I got involved with the disability rights world by working in California, at the Disability Rights Legal Center for three years and built a program there that drew the attention of folks in Washington and I got recruited to become general counsel and Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities that had a membership at the time of 70,000. And so Andy Imperato changed my life by bringing me there. And I directed what’s called Disability Mentoring Day, and at the time that I took it over it, it had participation of 1600 students, within three years, with no funding increase, I increased it to 10,000 mentees and 10,000 mentors, and involved people of not only the United States, but in 19 foreign countries all around the world. And so that can some other attention. And then I eventually I became a next I became a special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the US Department of Justice, and special counsel. And I also worked for work at the White House as Associate Director for domestic policy covering disability issues. That was a blast. Oh my gosh, it was so much fun, a lot of work a lot of fun. Then eventually I came back from that went back to Justice Department. And somewhere in between there. I also had appointments to the as Vice Chair of the President’s Committee for people with intellectual disabilities, and then later I served as a member of the committee to and then I then went to the Department of Education. And I’ve been there as special assistant in the office of the assistant secretary for civil rights. So I’ve been around this all this for 17 years. And I’ve built relationships with with literally 1000s of nonprofit leaders across the country. And I’ve been literally by this point to 41 states or 42 states by this point and gotten to speak to more than 58,000 people all across the country and I just really have loved it. And that’s in addition to the businesses that we have, as well as other things. So so we have a really, really, really full life with a lot going on.
Michael Hingson 44:59
How about decided to run for Congress yet? Hmm.
Ollie Cantos 45:03
running for office is coming.
Michael Hingson 45:06
That would be an interesting experience. It’s, you know, Washington has its own challenge, of course, especially right now, what do you think? And I’m not talking about taking political sides. But in a sense, it’s probably relevant to ask, given how people view disabilities and so on, but what, what do you think about the whole fact that there is such a schism and no room for discussion or really interaction anymore in the Washington in the whole political arena? And again, I don’t it’s not an issue of sides, but it’s just all around us now.
Ollie Cantos 45:43
Yeah. And there’s actually a phenomenon behind all that. It is the social media of what Facebook and Twitter or Facebook did is, they added the like button, I think it was back in 2009. And so what ended up happening is it started to, to, to drive people wanting to get likes. And so what ended up happening is it created over time, a polarization effect, where people would just start start taking positions in anybody who felt adverse to those positions, they would block them, etc. Something happened to me relatively recently, where I just stayed in opinion to try to be helpful, and somebody threatened to block me. And I just thought, well, heck, forget this, I’m just gonna just do it myself. If you’re gonna throw acid on me, forget it, you know, yeah. And it’s tough. And the thing is, I’m very bipartisan, and I, I really believe that that the secret secret to our power as a community is to really find ways truly to come together, not just in by talking about it, but by finding things that we can do in collaboration with one another. If we even focus just on that alone, that’s more than enough work that we have lifetimes to get done. And if we were to focus on those areas of commonality, we really could find a way to move forward together. And I found that to be the case. And so, you know, I really choose to be not only bipartisan, but but very proudly. So where just because somebody has a political affiliation different from mine, doesn’t mean that they’re the enemy, or it doesn’t mean that they’re, they have all bad ideas or not. I mean, it’s more of a whole comp, construct of how there’s an idea, then there’s another idea, then together dialectically, then it creates something brand new, then that’s the becomes the new idea, and we just repeat the process. And I and collaboration has been at the heart of how I’ve operated my personal life, professional life every part of my life. And it’s just been the biggest blessing to really just to respect people for whatever differences and not to attack them for having differences. And then to find ways that we could work together and to build on that
Michael Hingson 47:49
we, we just don’t know the art of conversation anymore, which is a real challenge. And it’s extremely unfortunate that we have forgotten or choose not to remember how to talk to other people and have respectful disagreements. I just before we started this podcast, I’m shifting gears, again, just a little bit as part of this discussion. But I had a conversation with the homeowners association where I live. And I called to say, your internet, your website is inaccessible. And what’s one of the things that’s occurring is that there is a move on a good one to purchase. The country club that the association with the Association does not own it, it’s owned by a private company, but they want to sell it there outside concerns, who want to buy the property, and so on and tear it down and build more homes. They also get the water rights to Spring Valley lake where we live, which none of us want. And then there are a lot of us in the association who want the association to buy it. And the association is actually working toward that. They put out a website that has a survey that’s been dealt with. And now there is a way that you can go on the website and solicit or request a a proxy ballot or a ballot to vote, and it’s not accessible. So I called and talked to the general manager, and he said, Well, I’m going to have to call our attorney, because you said we’re violating the law. And he said, What law are we violating? I said, you are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, aren’t you? And he really isn’t. But you’re violating the law. I’m not talking about suing you. I’m just wanting you to make the website accessible. But even there, the defenses go up. And it’s so very difficult to get anybody to communicate about anything. And it’s not magical and the most logical and sensible thing in the world to want to make your website accessible. But the big defense that he used is I’ve been here 14 years. Nobody’s ever complained about it before. What and I said, Why should that matter?
Ollie Cantos 50:10
Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Like businesses complaints, say, I’ve never had a wheelchair user try to come into my restaurant. Well, did it occur to them that because that accessible?
Michael Hingson 50:19
Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s really unfortunate. But it’s all part of the educational system. And we do need to be part of the solution. Not be part of the problem.
Ollie Cantos 50:32
Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And And that actually brings to mind all of these different efforts, that that the accessiBe has been engaging in the especially from everything that I’ve read and seen and from having a spent time with your with the team and everything. So many things are happening at a proactive level, I mean, the way that accessiBe makes its services available to nonprofits for free, the way that that companies have jumped on board with with really pushing for, for access, accessibility in a way that never has been done in mass, the way it’s being done. Now, the partnership opportunities that are between accessibility and different stakeholders, and how there’s always an effort to engage in dialogue. And though and the way that the company grows as as, as it learns, the community, and so forth, I mean, I just love that. I mean, that to me, whenever we look at efforts for all of us, as we grow, we just need to keep working on getting better and better and better and better every day, every day. If we ever think that we know it all that we don’t that that’s proof that we don’t if ever, we ever think that. And so I really I just really think that the efforts of accessibility to continually to grow, just like is just as is true with other companies who strive to grow, that if there’s always that commitment to ongoing improvement, then that’s that’s truly how the disability community will benefit. It’s how businesses will benefit and how it’s a win win for all of us. Speaking of unity, so we’ve been talking about that, because then everybody can gain better access. That means that people can purchase products and services that companies offer, it means that nonprofits can be more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the same access to information, it means that it helps them to advance compliance with the law, but even beyond compliance, just the spirit of inclusion. And so I mean, this world is changing, and it’s changing really fast. And in a good way, it seems,
Michael Hingson 52:33
you know, we could go on forever. But I’m going to go ahead and suggest that we stop because we have now been talking for an hour. But why would or can you believe it? No. But I would like to have you back on again soon. Because I’d like to continue exactly where we left off. And there’s so much more to talk about, and so many stories to tell. So would you be willing to come back? Sure. I’d be happy to Great, then. But I will ask this though, if, if people want to reach out to you and communicate with you. How do they do that? Oh, thank
Ollie Cantos 53:08
you. If people in the United States send a text to 3131 31. And in the body of the put the message type in my nickname, Oli o l l IE and send it that’ll be a way that you will have, you’ll be able to reach me every way social media, telephone, email, and so forth. So I really would love to get to hear from you. And as your listeners reach out because of this podcast, I love for them to let me know that that they heard of that they’re reaching out because of having heard of, of this conversation here. And and I just I will do whatever I can to be a support to whoever needs it.
Michael Hingson 53:49
Well, and of course that leads right into for those who are listening, we hope that you’ll go to wherever you’re getting the podcast, and rate us and give us a five star rating. And you will tell other people about it. We will have Ollie back on again soon. I promise. We’ll work on schedules and see how quickly we can get it done since I know he’s around for a little while before he leaves California. And he admitted he’s on vacation. So you haven’t heard the last of me in the next couple of days. But I want to thank everyone for listening to unstoppable mindset and clearly, only as is unstoppable as it gets. And I’m really also looking forward to meeting your three boys. I think that’ll be a hoot. Oh, that’ll
Ollie Cantos 54:33
be a blast. Thank you, Mike.
Michael Hingson 54:35
Well, thank you and hope, I hope Ollie, thank you very much for being here. Hope he’s on my mind helped me whether there was another person we interviewed, you know, Hoby No, he’s a blind chemist. Wow. And and, again, a really dynamic and incredibly powerful individual and a lot of good stories. But only thank you very much for being with us. Thank you all for listening and tune again next week for another edition of unstoppable mindset. And who knows if we get it done in time. Maybe it’ll be early. Thank you all for listening
Michael Hingson 55:15
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.