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Honoring Toby Olson

Every year Northwest Access Fund recognizes those in our community that have made a significant contribution to the lives of people with disabilities. In December of 2018, Washington state lost one of its strongest advocates for disability rights–Toby Olson.

At Northwest Access Fund’s Anniversary and Awards Celebration on October 1, 2019 at UW’s Urban Horticultural Center, we presented a Northwest Access Award to Toby’s widow, Rhonda Brown, and son, Averill Olson, honoring Toby Olson and his life’s work.

Toby Olson was the Executive Secretary of the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE) and over his 31 years of service was instrumental with passing around 40 laws and crafting hundreds of policy proposals and initiatives that sought to expand and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in housing, employment, and civil rights. Toby secured critical funding to develop programs and services for people with disabilities that expanded employment opportunities, increased individual’s knowledge of rights and fostered advocacy. Northwest Access Fund was the recipient of two Disability Employment Initiative subgrants that Toby secured for Washington, allowing our organization to provide matching grants and financial coaching services to jobseekers with disabilities.

He was instrumental in crafting hundreds of policy proposals and initiatives and obtained critical grant funding for programs to increase individuals’ knowledge of rights and to foster advocacy skills – the most recent of which was the RETAIN grant.

Toby served on Northwest Access Fund’s Board of Directors from 2013 to 2015, helping our organization grow to meet more of our community’s needs.

We wanted to honor his work on Northwest Access Fund’s Board, and also his work with GCDE and across Washington State and beyond. Toby was so instrumental in securing positive changes for the disability community on so many fronts – housing, employment, and civil rights – and, he was instrumental in helping to grow Northwest Access Fund.

Picture of Toby Olson sitting in a chair on a sunny day with trees in the background