For much of my life, I never considered whether my disability should be framed as a “strength” or a “weakness.” Then again, it was fairly easy for me to track the moments it felt like a weakness: when my body could no longer keep up with playing sports and running around with my friends; when I had a surgery my senior year of high school and had to constantly rely on others; when I could not access the library or cafeteria in college because the school refused to clear the sidewalks of snow and ice; when I suffered a concussion in college by falling on my way to a final exam; when I had to navigate how to carry my law school textbooks, laptop, and notebooks while maintaining a professional image; when I had a hip reconstruction in law school and my mother drove me to a clerkship the summer of 2L year; when I asked a professor what I should do when a witness asks why my hands function differently or why I walk the way I do; and when I dealt with unexplainable aches and pains but carried on for fear of being judged or misunderstood. I viewed these circumstances as simply a “me” problem. It was the hand I was dealt, and I worked extremely hard to downplay my differences and persist in these challenges.
In law school, “diversity” and “inclusion” were everywhere, but rarely were disabilities mentioned. I asked my peers why disabilities were never a part of that equation, but no one had an answer. As I looked around, I realized I was the only law student with a disability. Yet, my perspectives and experiences as an individual with a disability were not part of any diversity and inclusion conversation. There were student bar associations, state bar associations, federal bar associations, and affinity groups, but none for attorneys with disabilities. Although I had moments where I was the “token” diverse law student with a disability, I was more commonly recognized for my diversity as a female law student and attorney. While I went to seminars, conferences, and happy hours championing my success as a female attorney, I encountered comments about how my disability was “blurry” and questions as to whether my disability would inhibit my ability to bill hours. Nevertheless, as law students and newer attorneys often do, I continued to “fake it,” and assumed my disability should be viewed as nothing more than a “me” problem and dealt with in silence.