Toby Olson, disability community leader, passes away
Contact: Ann Hartman, ESD Communications, 360-902-9476
OLYMPIA - Toby Olson, Executive Secretary of Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, passed away suddenly on Sunday, Dec. 16.
Housed at the Employment Security Department (ESD), the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment promotes equality, opportunity, independence and full participation in life for people with disabilities. Gov. Booth Gardner appointed Olson to his position in 1987.
“This is a great loss for our ESD family, for the disability community and for our state,” said ESD Commissioner Suzan “Suzi” LeVine. “Toby was a kind man and an incredible asset to Washington. He gave deeply of himself to the state’s Disability Inclusion Network as well as many other state and national councils and committees.”
In his 31 years of state service, Olson wrote, co-authored, and secured passage and enactment of more than 40 state laws expanding the rights and opportunities for people with disabilities in such areas as employment, civil rights, education, housing, transportation and healthcare.
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.
Olson spent his career encouraging public dialogue and actively challenging the preconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities in an effort to evoke change.
He is survived by his wife, Rhonda Brown, a review judge for the Employment Security Department’s Commissioner’s Review Office, and son, Averill.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, in the auditorium of Building 2 on the Tacoma Community College campus in Tacoma.