May 30, 2023
I congratulate the Commission on Disability Rights (CDR) on its 50th anniversary. As Chair of the Commission from Bar Years 2014-16, I was proud to work with the Commissioners and staff, led by CDR’s amazing Director Amy Allbright, to advance justice and equitable treatment for people with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities, and to promote their full participation in the legal profession.
Major initiatives on which we worked during my time as chair included:
- A resolution enacted in August 2015 urging (1) state and territorial bar licensing entities to eliminate questions regarding mental health history, diagnoses, or treatment when determining character and fitness for the purpose of bar admission, and (2) questions focus instead on conduct or behavior that impairs an applicant’s ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner;
- A resolution enacted in August 2014 urging U.S. ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print-Disabled; and
- A resolution enacted in August 2014 seeking to ensure that the electoral process and voting methods are accessible to persons with disabilities, and that polling places are free of physical, technological, and administrative barriers.
Throughout my tenure, we also worked on two policies that were ultimately presented to the House of Delegates and adopted in August 2017. The first urged states and territories to amend their guardianship statutes to require consideration of supported decision-making as a less restrictive alternative before guardianship is imposed. The resolution also urged courts to consider such less restrictive alternatives. The second resolution urged enactment of legislation to prevent the denial or restriction of custody, visitation and access, or the termination of parental rights, based on a parent’s disability, unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the disability is causally related to a harm or an imminent risk of harm to the child that cannot be alleviated with appropriate interventions.
Another important dimension of our work involved accessibility and inclusion in the profession and within the ABA itself. Among these:
- Our effort to persuade the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to support a nondiscrimination standard that is fully inclusive (including with respect to disability).
- Our request to the ABA Executive Director that he appoint a task force to examine and address accessibility issues affecting ABA members and staff. The result was a comprehensive report with recommendations addressing the accessibility of ABA meetings and events, publications, online resources, and communication systems.
- Our successful campaign urging the Task Force on Governance, as part of its decennial review, to propose the creation of dedicated seats on the Board of Governors and the Nominating Committee for persons with disabilities, together with seats set aside for women and minority members.
These and similar initiatives undertaken by CDR over the past five decades have had a measurable impact both within the ABA and beyond, and I am proud to have been associated with them. I look forward to seeing what CDR accomplishes in the years to come!
Mark David Agrast
ABA Commission on Disability Rights