An Open DOR Conversation with Deputy Director Ana Acton

DOR’s New Deputy Director Ana Acton is ready to get to work and advance the rights of people with disabilities throughout the state.

Ana Acton, former executive director at FREED Center for Independent Living was recently appointed Deputy Director of the Independent Living and Community Access Division for the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) by Governor Newsom.

Acton is not new to the DOR team, having worked at the Department from 2010-2012 as the Chief of the Independent Living and Assistive Technology Section. She started in her new position as the Deputy Director in June and spoke with DOR Communications and Public Information Officer Cynthia Butler about what brought her back to the Department and why she feels that this is an exciting time to be at DOR.

CB:  Ana, you are well known in the independent living community not only as a leader but as an advocate. What sparked your interest in working with people with disabilities?

AA: My interest started when I joined the disability community as a freshman in high school after being in a car accident that left me a paraplegic. My personal experience with disability fueled my passion for disability rights and equity issues. I believe that personal experience and peer delivered services are highly effective, especially when coupled with a person-centered, whole-person, service delivery model. This is the best way to support the physical and emotional needs of individuals.

CB: After high school, what did you do? 

AA: I attended Sierra College and graduated with an AA degree in Liberal Studies. I transferred to CSU Chico and majored in Liberal Studies with a concentration in environmental studies. I did not graduate with a BA as I wanted to get into the workplace and get off disability benefits. After my accident, my family was told that I would never work again and that I would need 24-hour care for the rest of my life. Being a typical teenager, I felt I had to prove the world wrong as quickly as possible. When you acquire a significant disability, the world looks at you differently.

CB: When did you start working with the independent living community?

AA: I started working in independent living in 2004 when the FREED Center for Independent Living hired me as their Systems Change Advocate. In that role I worked on community organizing and made sure that policies at the federal, state, and local level were responsive to the needs of people with disabilities.  

I liked working at FREED because it was one of the few places that saw my value as a person with a disability. Other potential employers saw my disability as a burden or problem, FREED saw me as an asset.    

CB: You are a DOR boomerang, having worked here almost a decade ago. What do you love most about the Department of Rehabilitation?

AA: I love DOR’s mission and vision! It speaks to my soul that independent living and employment services go together to provide opportunity for individuals to live, work, and play in the setting of their choice.

CB: What attracted you to your new role at DOR?

AA: My current position builds off my personal experience as a person with a disability and passion for supporting individuals in the community. I feel like my entire life experience both personally and professionally, has helped prepare me for this moment!  

CB: As the new Deputy Director, what are some of the immediate things you want to focus on?

AA: I want to get to know all the wonderful people who work here. I want to make sure that DOR remains relevant going forward. While the last year has been difficult in so many ways, it also has highlighted the need for community-based services and racial, ethnic, and disability justice.

When major historical events happen, like a world pandemic, we know that things will never be the same as before. As a community and Department, we had to adapt quickly, and we were able to do things that we never thought were possible before. While it can be difficult to adapt to the new world, it also provides opportunities to re-think how we do things and the role that we play as a department.

Over this next year, we will have to find our new “norm” including how services are delivered and what services we provide to get the outcomes that we want. It really is an exciting time.

CB: What do you love most about what you do?

AA: I love that we support individuals from a person-centered, consumer controlled, service delivery model where individuals are the ones who make their own choices about independent living and work. In this model we work in partnership with the individual based on their desires, strengths, preferences, goals.

CB: What do you do when you are not working?

AA: I live on an organic farm and have lots of farm creatures to care for and play with. I enjoy the outdoors and like to roll on trails. I like to see new places and basically love anything with wheels. I love canning, crafts, and most importantly, being with my family!