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Photograph of Ariel Simms

Ariel Simms Scholar-in-Residence Philosophy and Religion

JD Harvard Law School

BA Saginaw Valley State University

Ariel Simms (they/them or she/hers) is the President and Chief Executive Officer of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. A queer and multiply disabled social justice advocate, leader, and educator, Ariel has worked to promote equity, justice, and meaningful inclusion of marginalized communities throughout their career. A life-long member of the disability community, Ariel grew into their first disabilities in childhood, while also supporting disabled family members. Ariel understands firsthand the challenges faced by those whose disabilities are not always readily apparent.
Ariel started their professional career in the disability field as a mental health counselor in the state of Michigan. They worked with individuals who lived at society’s margins — those with psychosocial disabilities who were often people of color and LGBTQIA+ — in a hospital psychiatric unit. This experience led Ariel to pursue a legal education, in which they would gain necessary tools to educate, advocate, and inform public policy concerning disability and human rights. Since then, Ariel has worked on disability advocacy in the United States and internationally, in a variety of areas, including supported decision-making/legal capacity, health care, access to justice, education, employment, and self-advocacy.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, Ariel led The Arc of the United States’ equity work as the Director of Access, Equity, & Inclusion, working to ensure The Arc’s advocacy was intersectional and responsive to the needs of multiply marginalized communities. Ariel also led Chapter Growth & Affiliate Relations, bringing on new and supporting existing chapters of The Arc and nonprofit associate members across the country. The Arc is one of the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organizations that advocates with and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In addition to their role with RespectAbility, Ariel is a Scholar in Residence with the Philosophy & Religion Department of American University, where Ariel teaches Human Rights & Disability and Disability Law & Ethics. Ariel also serves on the Board of Directors for the Disability Rights Bar Association. Ariel holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School.
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