For Immediate Release
Contact: David Card
Washington, DC – Disability and civil rights leader Marlene Sallo begins today as the new executive director of the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). NDRN’s President J.J. Rico announced the appointment in August after a unanimous vote by the Board of Directors.
NDRN is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.
“We are thrilled to have Marlene onboard as NDRN’s new executive director,” said Rico. “Marlene has dedicated her career to advancing the rights of the disability community. Her extensive knowledge of the Protection and Advocacy system and the federal government made her the ideal candidate to lead NDRN into the future.”
Marlene will succeed Curt Decker who retired in July after almost 40 years at the helm of NDRN.
“As the founding executive director, Curt created an extraordinary organization, developing a small non-profit association into an influential and nationally recognized disability and civil rights powerhouse,” continued Rico. “As the first woman, first Latina, and first person with a disability to head NDRN, we believe Marlene is the right person to lead our network at this transformational time in the disability rights movement. We have great confidence she will take NDRN to new heights.”
Ms. Sallo was executive director of the Massachusetts Disability Law Center, the P&A for Massachusetts, and a member agency of NDRN. In what she calls her “most meaningful work,” she also spent many years working on child welfare and special education issues as an attorney with Disability Rights Florida, another P&A and NDRN member agency. She was appointed by President Obama to serve as the staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2013 and later in positions at the Department of Justice. Most recently, Sallo served as Director of Preventing Targeted Violence at the McCain Institute for International Leadership.
“People with disabilities face many challenges in our country,” said Sallo. “A pandemic that endangers the health and safety of us all but particularly people with disabilities, cuts in services, the lack of community-based care and support, and persistent, damaging stigma and low expectations are a constant threat to our vision of a society where people with disabilities have equality of opportunity and can participate fully in community life by exercising choice and self-determination.
“The P&A’s vital role in advocating with and on behalf of people with disabilities has never been more important,” said Sallo. “Now, more than ever, NDRN must elevate the voices of the people we serve, amplify the important work conducted by the P&As, and fight to strengthen the laws and policies that protect the rights of people with disabilities.
“It is an honor and a privilege to have been selected for this position. I very much look forward to working with NDRN’s talented staff, our dedicated Board of Directors, and all the disability rights champions who make up our Network.”
Patty Anderson, NDRN Vice President and Deputy Director of Disability Rights Texas
Marlene Sallo is an exceptional choice to lead the nation’s premier disability rights organization. She possesses both the vision necessary to take our network to new heights and the practical skills required to get us there. I know she will be a strong advocate for P&As from every state and territory and that she will never waver from our guiding principle to keep people with disabilities at the center of everything we do.
Archie Jennings, Esq., NDRN Secretary and Director of Advocacy, Disability Rights Law Center of the Virgin Islands
To paraphrase the source of my passion for law and justice, human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable as clouds… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. With the selection of Marlene Sallo as the new leader for NDRN, the P&A system is assured that for persons with a disability, the path laid out for 30-plus years will remain the guiding light towards the goals spoken of by Martin Luther King a generation ago.
Marlene Sallo Biography
Marlene Sallo [pronounced mar-lay-nuh sigh-yo] is an experienced attorney and advocate who has dedicated her entire career to advancing the rights of people with disabilities and defending the civil and human rights of all Americans. Named one of USA Today’s Women of the Year in 2022, Sallo has an extensive background in legal services, federal relations, non-profit management, and advocacy on social and racial justice.
Sallo is the first woman, first Latina, and first person with a disability to lead NDRN. She has been a featured speaker and published several articles on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She believes that amplifying where disability intersects with other identities such as LGBTQIA+, non-native English speakers, and Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color is critical component of successful advocacy.
Before joining NDRN, Sallo served as Director of Preventing Targeted Violence at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. There she oversaw international programs encompassing trainings, grants, technical assistance, and information resources to address targeted hate-based violence and domestic terrorism.
Sallo served for almost four years as executive director of the Massachusetts Disability Law Center (DLC), the federally designated Protection and Advocacy agency for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As executive director, she managed the day-to-day and long-term operations of the legal services agency serving over 786,000 diverse Massachusetts residents with disabilities through impact litigation, coalition building, and legislative advocacy.
DLC was not her first experience with the P&A network. Earlier in her career, Sallo was an education attorney with Disability Rights Florida, providing protection and advocacy to students with disabilities and children in the state’s child welfare system. She describes her time working with children in Florida as the “most meaningful” of her career.
Sallo was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2013. She later worked for the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service as chief of staff and senior counsel.
Sallo has a B.A. from Manhattanville College and a J.D. from Florida State University.