Archive for July, 2010

Report from the tenBroek Symposium

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The following is an article by guest blogger Kathryn Carroll on the tenBroek Symposium. A NALSWD member  who earned her B.A. at American University and will be a 1L at St. John’s College of Law this fall, Kathryn wrote about the symposium for Student Slate, an online publication of the National Association of Blind Students, and has generously offered to let us post her article.

Third Annual tenBroek Law Symposium:

Addressing Issues in Disability Rights

-by Kathryn Carroll

Thanks to all involved, the third annual tenBroek law symposium on April 15-16 at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore was a wonderful success. It brought together lawyers, activists and other professionals from government agencies, disability rights organizations, law clinics, universities, and law firms. As a prospective law student, I was able to learn a lot about the legal issues present in the pan-disability rights movement. The symposium was ideal for networking and getting information about law school from current law students. It was easy to discern which universities had strong disability law programs; Syracuse University College of Law and American University Washington College of Law both had strong showings among the attendees.

The symposium consisted of sessions featuring speakers on an array of broad topics with time for Q&A as well as small workshops on more specific topics relating to disability and law. I got the feeling that the attendance was higher than in the past, as the time allotted to the small workshops was rarely sufficient to hear from all voices and cover all aspects of the agenda.

With the first address of the symposium, Tony Coelho, Chairman of the Board of the American Association of People with Disabilities, set an enthusiastic tone for the rest of the symposium. Mr. Coelho shared his personal experience as a person with epilepsy. His story gave me appreciation for the battles that have been fought on behalf of disability rights in the past. It reminded me that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was not always around for our protection. Mr. Coelho gave an overview of developments in the disability rights field and expressed his wish that the U.S. Senate ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The U.S. is one of the eighty-five signatories of the Convention, but Congress has yet to ratify it. Mr Coelho also expressed satisfaction that the ADA has been amended to include people with conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. At the same time, Mr. Coelho expressed disappointment that federal employment of people with disabilities has decreased. Additional issues he mentioned included the push to put people with disabilities in a position to go to law school and be appointed as federal judges. While celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ADA, Mr. Coelho reminded the audience of the work still ahead of us: “We should applaud ourselves, but only for a few seconds,” he said.

In the spirit of increasing legal appointments of people with disabilities and educating judges without disabilities on disability issues, Chief Judge Richard Brown of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals spoke about legal theory. He operates on what is called the “critical legal studies” approach, which emphasizes the importance of the particular people we employ as our lawyers and judges. Their opinions and education come into play when they represent clients, hear cases, and write opinions. Therefore, Judge Brown argued, we should increase our involvement in determining “bench appointments” and making sure that employment cases get heard in state courts. We can do this by submitting questionnaires to and interviewing candidates for appointments to the bench in order to gauge their opinions on disability, and writing press releases informing the public about the people who may be interpreting law its behalf. I found this address to be the most intriguing. It was stunning to hear how influential politics are in the formation of law. What’s more, attorneys and activists can actually influence the direction of law by strategically ensuring the hearing of certain cases in court and the appointments of the judges who hear them! This was covered in more depth in one of the workshops I attended; it was exciting to hear how the involved the work of attorneys gets beyond the courtroom.

The highlight of the symposium was the keynote address by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Assistant Attorney General Perez gave a lively address chronicling the recent events in disability-related court cases across the country. Many cases he mentioned involved the closure of institutions and support for people with disabilities living in the community. Perez thanked the community of disability rights activists, whom he sometimes referred to as “serial activists” for the hard work they do. The closure of segregating institutions is a necessity for equality of the disabled, and more work remains.

Many of the people present at the symposium readily agreed that we as disability activists need to educate others about disability. However, there are many controversial issues in disability rights. Attorney David Ferleger, for instance, argued in a panel discussion that the real obstacle person with disabilities face in our society is exclusion. The lack of opportunity for acquiring multiple human relationships is the key cause of disadvantage. For instance, the physical isolation of people with disabilities in institutions, nursing homes, mental hospitals, residential settings and separate schools limits human relationships in the community and hinders people from developing their world through participation. This argument is one used by proponents of the social model of disability, as opposed to other views such as the medical model. Mr. Ferleger took the unconventional view that the focus of improving disability rights should be on these interpersonal relationships, with the ultimate goal that the ADA is repealed.

The symposium closed with another controversial subject: bioethics. We heard from Adrienne Asch, Director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University, and Dan Brock, Director of the Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School. Mr. Brock argued that there is a moral decision to terminate a pregnancy which would result in the birth of a severely disabled person. Ms. Asch argued to the contrary. This topic raises the question about the morality of abortion, of course, but also questions like: “For whose benefit would the abortion be performed, the parents, the child, or the society?” and “What should our response be to multiple and severe disabilities?”

The symposium could have been extended another day, as there were so many topics to cover. Somewhat disappointing was the lack of any dialogue on the international component of disability rights. Apart from Mr. Coelho’s mention of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there was no talk on the CRPD. While we certainly are cognizant of the obstacles to equality here in the United States, it is important to remember that the plight of persons with disabilities in the developing world is far worse.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the NFB, proclaimed this year’s symposium was very successful. Many people left the symposium with a greater understanding of disability and law. We shared strategies for improving the practice of law as well as for educating others. Importantly, the symposium gave people the opportunity to meet others with expertise in areas in which they were unfamiliar. As a future lawyer, I am confident in saying that attending tenBroek symposium really helped me develop my understanding of, and interest in, disability law.

For more information on the annual tenBroek Law Symposium, go to

For more information on the National Federation of the Blind, go to

For more information on the National Association of Blind Students, go to

Disabled Prospective Law Student on PBS Newshour

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Amelia Wallrich is an undergraduate at the University of Illinois who uses a motorized wheelchair for a physical disability.  She plans to attend law school but was turned down for her requested accommodations by the LSAT. Recently, on the occasion of the twenty-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Amelia spoke about her situation in an interview with Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour.

(interview transcript toward bottom of link)

Ruling in Maryland Bar Accommodations Lawsuit

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

From a well-informed source, NALSWD has just learned of a disappointing outcome in the case of three blind law school graduates sitting for the bar in Maryland who sued the National Conference of Board Examiners (NCBE) in a Baltimore federal court over accommodations on the multi-state portion of the bar exam. The plaintiffs had been denied the use of screen access software by the NCBE and were suing for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (read more about the case in the AmLaw Daily and on our blog The three blind students were supported by the Department of Justice, who filed an amicus brief on their behalf.

While the verdict has not been widely reported yet, apparently the judge just denied the preliminary injunction of the blind students despite the Department of Justice’s efforts, having been swayed by the NCBE’s argument that their standard and, in this case, technologically out-of-date accommodations satisfied the statute. Perhaps most disappointing was the fact that judge expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs, saying he “hoped” that the NCBE would provide the requested screen-reader accommodations despite his ruling, which seems highly unlikely, to say the least.

If we learn more details, we will provide updates on this regrettable ruling.

Joe Hodnicki on Legal Publishers Failing to Provide Access

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Joe Hodnicki is the director of the Butler County Law Library in Ohio. He’s also a friend of NALSWD who’s advocating for legal publishers to do a much better job providing accessible research tools for the disability community. If you’re interested, check out his thoughts on the subject and/or leave a comment on his post.

Mentors for Law Students with Learning Disabilities

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

For any law students or pre-law students with a learning disability or other invisible disability, NALSWD has lined up several current professionals with similar disabilities who are interested in acting as mentors.  Please e-mail us at for info.

Happy July 4th!