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May 2009: Lou Ann Blake, J.D.

Lawyer with retinitis pigmentosa finds second calling in the legal profession to advance passion for civil rights.

Prior to law school Lou Ann Blake, J.D. was an environmental engineer for almost twenty years, focusing on environmental protection, but then decided on a career change. She decided to attend law school to use the law to promote her love for disability rights.

Lou Ann left her profession as an environmental engineer after she found that her workplace was not properly accommodating her disability. She has retinitis pigmentosa, and her vision has gradually deteriorated over the years. She uses screen magnification software and closed circuit TV to accommodate her impairment. She attended law school at Widener University Law School ( Wilmington, DE), where she was on law review.

She currently is the coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind’s Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. After two successful symposia, this conference is becoming one of the nation’s preeminent gatherings of disability law scholars and disability rights advocates. This year’s conference, entitled “New Perspectives on Disability Law: Advancing the Right to Live in the World,” was held at the NFB with much praise from its participants. Lou Ann oversees most of the conference’s planning and execution (along with a steering committee) by preparing the agenda, inviting the speakers, and overseeing advertising and fundraising. Her training from law school helps her research emerging legal topics for panelists to consider and gives her a historical perspective about the civil rights movement.

When asked why she changed career paths after so many years, Lou Ann points to her passion for civil and disability rights. “The law provides an opportunity to meld a personal passion, disability rights, with a new tool, the legal system, in order to help build consensus in the disability community and enable those with disabilities to participate in society,” she said. The Symposium and its contributions to the field of disability law compliment the personal satisfaction she derives from her new career. “I greatly enjoy building relationships within the disability community for the Symposium so that positive change in the law can be made,” she reflects. “It is also satisfying that we are educating people on the message of [the symposium’s namesake and founder of the NFB] Dr. tenBroek. His revolutionary treatment of the Fourteenth Amendment, and founding principals of disability law jurisprudence are often overlooked in the legal community. The Symposium, in addition to aiding those with disabilities, helps show how important he was to the blind and disability communities.”