June 8, 2023
Congratulations to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights (CDR) on its 50th Anniversary! I served as Chair of the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (now the CDR) from 2007 to 2010. The extraordinary Commissioners, the leadership of Director John Parry, and the talented staff made the Commission a vital part of the ABA. During my tenure, the CDR sponsored the Second National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities, strengthened ties with the other ABA entities dedicated to diversity, and initiated an ABA policy resolution urging entities that administer law school admission tests to provide appropriate accommodations for test-takers with disabilities and not flag their scores.
Second National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities
This conference was hosted by ABA President H. Thomas (Tommy) Wells, Jr. in June 2009 and was co-sponsored by the CDR, the ABA Office of the President, the Association of Corporate Counsel, and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Disabled lawyers and law students, disability advocates, law schools, law firms, and corporations gathered to address the barriers disabled lawyers encounter in entering the profession, discuss ways to eliminate these barriers, and recommend best practices for creating an inclusive and accessible workplace. At the conference’s conclusion, the participants unanimously launched the ABA Disability Diversity in the Legal Profession: A Pledge for Change, urging legal employers (law firms, law schools, bar associations, judges, courts, disability organizations, corporations) to sign it and therefore affirm their commitment to recruit, hire, retain, and promote disabled lawyers in the profession.
ABA Presidents William Newkom and Tommy Wells made diversity a focus of their presidencies. In 2008, President Newkom sponsored a workshop in Chicago that brought together the leadership and staff of the ABA entities dedicated to diversity – the Commission on Racial & Ethnic Diversity; the Commission on Women in the Profession; the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (now CDR); and the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – to discuss strategies to increase diversity in the ABA and in the legal profession. The following year, the ABA adopted four goals for the organization, one of which, Goal III, was “To Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity.” That same year, President Wells convened a three-day national Diversity Summit, Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps?” which examined the state of diversity in the profession. The workshop and Summit strengthened ties between the ABA diversity entities, and inspired efforts to eliminate bias and enhance diversity throughout the ABA and the legal profession. An early example of their collaboration was their sponsorship of the ABA Resolution urging elimination of barriers “to civil marriage between two persons of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry,” which the ABA House of Delegates passed in August 2009.
In 2007, the Commission decided to begin work on a policy resolution urging entities that administer law school admission tests to provide appropriate accommodations for test-takers with disabilities, and barring the flagging of scores for test takers who had received accommodations. Members of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSWD), which was founded in 2007 with the assistance of the Commission and the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice (CRSJ), shared the challenges that they were encountering in seeking reasonable accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The proposed resolution was surprisingly controversial. Ultimately, the resolution ultimately passed the ABA House of Delegates on February 6, 2012, as longtime CDR member Charles Brown and I watched from the gallery.
It was a great honor to be Chair of the Commission from 2007 to 2010. The Commission has made invaluable contributions towards the advancement and protection of the rights of individuals with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what it will do in the future.
Alex J. Hurder
ABA Commission on Disability Rights