Archive for September, 2010

Get Involved with NALSWD Fundraising

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Interested in helping build NALSWD? Want to practice the art of persuasion in a meaningful way? Just want a socially responsible way to procrastinate?

Then fundraising for NALSWD is for you!

NALSWD is currently fund raising in an effort to establish a scholarship program for law students with disabilities, and it will begin fundraising for its 2010 conference in the near future, so we would definitely love your assistance. Whatever time you have, we can use you and we’ll show you what to do!

If you would like to fundraise for NALSWD and help build additional opportunities for law students with disabilities, please contact Michael Nunez ()

Interview with Amelia Wallrich

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Earlier this week, Greg Oguss, NALSWD’s Chief Information Officer, interviewed Amelia Wallrich, a University of Illinois student who is having trouble getting LSAT accommodations from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). Recently, Amelia appeared on the PBS Newshour to discuss disability rights. In the process, she has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for the cause of fair access for people with disabilities. Here’s her conversation with NALSWD:

Greg:  Amelia, I know you’re planning on going to law school but have faced a struggle getting LSAC to grant you the accommodations that you requested for the LSAT. Can you share some of the specifics with us? What have you asked for and what has their response been?

Amelia: I started the process towards the end of January for the February LSAT. It turns out I was past the deadline so I shifted everything for the June LSAT, which was better because I hadn’t realized just how long it would take.  For the June LSAT, I requested double extended time for all portions of the exams. I have limited movement in my fingers, wrists, elbows, etc. so I write much more slowly.  The extended time has been the accommodation I have always used to (for lack of a better word) “compensate” on standardized tests. I submitted IEPs, ACT/ AP accommodations, doctor’s notes, basically everything short of a blood test lol, stating this was the best accommodation for me. Instead, LSAC approved me for a scribe, 15 extra minutes for diagramming and double time on the writing section. I have never used a scribe for any type of testing and really had no idea how I would do, or if it would enhance my disability on the LSAT instead of mitigating it. I wrote them several emails but only received one line answers in response. In the end, I decided to appeal the accommodations a little over a month before the June LSAT by submitting another doctor’s evaluation. A few days before the test they told me I was still going to have to use a scribe. Using the scribe in June was a complete disaster.  It was an added distraction to the test-taking process, made worse by the fact the scribe was completely unprofessional. The result was the lowest test score I had ever received (gauging by my practice tests). I have decided to re-take the LSAT in October and am appealing the decision again.  I am still requesting extended time with the caveat that it be double time if I have to use the regular Scantron or 50% extra time if I’m permitted to use the alternate answer sheet.

Greg: That sounds incredibly unfair. Speaking from personal experience, I know how uncommunicative LSAC can be when you’re trying to meet their demands with respect to requesting accommodations. It seems like schools are much more responsive, in general, than LSAC or the Bar.

Amelia:  Yeah, I totally agree.  That’s been the biggest frustration.  The fact that no one will ever talk to me, and the lack of transparency in general.  I’m trying extremely hard not to have to take it with a scribe again. Ideally, they will see the light and approve my appeal and just give me the extended time.  I am planning for the worst case scenario though, and I may decide just to forgo the scribe.  I am not sure if I am allowed to pick which approved accommodations I can use. If I forgo the scribe, does that mean I have to also forgo the extended time on the writing section?  But I am really opposed to having to use the scribe again.  It made me do so much worse.

Greg:  That’s a really interesting point. It seems like it can be very limiting having to abide only by their decision responding to specific accommodations you ask for vs. being able to choose between several options, which seems more equitable. On a related note, I saw your appearance on the PBS Newshour segment ons disability rights. I was wondering if this appearance might have a positive effect on your efforts to get LSAT accommodations…though it sounds like it hasn’t yet, at any rate. I was also wondering how the appearance came about?

Amelia:  Over the summer, through the American Association of People with Disabilities, I was placed as a Congressional intern in Senator Durbin’s office.  Andy Imparato (the head of AAPD and the other guy in the PBS interview) was asked by Judy Woodruff to talk about the anniversary of the ADA. Andy suggested it would be good idea to have a young person’s perspective on the anniversary — someone who had grown up with all its benefits. My name came up as someone from the internship class who could speak well on the topic.  It was a great opportunity.  I hadn’t expected her to bring up the LSAT. I had mentioned it in the pre-interview as an example of barriers we still face.  I was glad I had the chance to talk about it. I was trying hard to sound balanced about it and not too confrontational in the hopes someone from LSAC would see it  and recognize I’m a student just like everyone else and that I’m not trying to get an unfair advantage. I’m just trying to showcase my abilities like every able-bodied student taking the test.  But I’m not sure they even saw it, so who knows if it will really have any effect on their process. The point of bringing up the LSAT in the interview was not to point out the LSAC people as “bad guys” or horrible able-ists. I really just wanted them to know there is a serious problem with their accommodations process that they should work with the disability community to resolve. I genuinely believe they have the intention of giving students with disabilities fair access. Their attempts right now are just completely ineffective.

Greg:  For what it’s worth, you did come across as very balanced as opposed to…ideological, I guess. I agree that LSAC probably has good intentions, though there’s a real disconnect nonetheless. Switching topics slightly, what was it like interning for Senator Durbin in DC? Could you say something about the attitude of the people you worked with toward accommodations and/or people with disabilities?

Amelia:  It was a great experience.  I learned more in DC than I ever could have learned in a classroom. The staff was great.  They’ve had people with disabilities working in Senator Durbin’s offices before so I never felt out of place because of my disability.  They made sure I had all necessary accommodations and were very welcoming and accepting of the disability community in general.

Greg: That is great to hear. I have to ask you another question — probably the question that law students get sick of more than any other — but I have to ask it nonetheless — what kind of law are you interested in practicing? And what made you interested in law?

Amelia: As cliched as it sounds, law school and being a lawyer have always been in my plans.  I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life.  Even when I’ve thought about different ideal jobs, it always comes back to needing a law degree to get them.  In terms of type of law, my typical answer has been international disability rights law.  But I’ve been re-evaluating that a lot since this summer. I want to advocate for the disability community, but several community leaders I met this summer explained you do not have to be in the disability rights field to be an advocate for the disability community.  Their advice was to pick what you love and be really successful and you’ll help the disability community in that way. Don’t narrow yourself.  So I’m trying to take that advice to heart, keep my options open, and not make a final decision until I’ve learned about a few other areas of law as well.

Greg: That’s good advice. Law students are notorious for always wanting to “keep their options open,” but probably for good reason. I have one final question. Will you help NALSWD with advocacy efforts once you’re in law school? You’re an amazing spokesperson!

Amelia:  Definitely!!  I’ve been keeping up with the blog, seems like a great organization.  I had the chance to hang out a bit with Beth Kolbe this summer in DC (editor’s note: NALSWD’s current Vice President and a 2L at Stanford Law). She encouraged me to get involved once I’m in law school…

Greg: Good, because we’re looking forward to having you involved! I really hope LSAC decides to give you a fair chance on the LSAT. I know you would make a great law student and a great lawyer. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today and good luck!

Amelia:  Thank you for taking the time! I really appreciate it.