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December 01, 2010

December 2010: Professor Hope Lewis

For law professor with vision impairment, global thinking is critical to the legal profession.

“Even before I had a disability, I saw disability rights as a universal human rights issue,” reflected Professor of International Law Hope Lewis, “When considering human rights, disability rights must be included if ‘human rights’ are to be holistic concepts.” Thinking in broader terms not only helps Hope with her own disability, but it is an integral aspect of her position as Professor of International Law and Chair of the Committee on Global Law Programs at Northeastern University School of Law.

Hope, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has been legally blind since 1995. She can read some standard-sized text with the aid of corrective and magnifying lenses, but uses bold, large-print notes for teaching and giving conference talks. For the voluminous materials most law professors must read, she also uses computer speech software, specially adapted hand-held devices, and a scanner. As an expert in public international law and international human rights, Hope serves on the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law and the Board of Governors of the Society of American Law Teachers. Previously, she was the Founding Faculty Director of Northeastern’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and was a Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research.

In her co-authored textbook, Human Rights and the Global Marketplace: Economic, Social, and Cultural Dimensions, Hope makes the argument that human rights—particularly economic and social rights—are not solely affected by state despotism, as has been traditionally thought. Instead, human rights, through globalization, are more broadly about the struggle between those who have power and those who do not. Disability rights falls well within this characterization, according to Hope: “Disability discrimination is still a global problem and is evidenced by the large number of persons with disabilities who are able to and want to work, yet remain unemployed.”

Yet for Hope, expanding awareness of disability rights is not an exercise reserved for academia. After she began to loose her vision, she familiarized herself with the possibilities for lawyers with vision impairments while also educating others about those possibilities and rights. “At first I had to help build awareness about what was required to accommodate my disability,” she stated, “and with the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, I was able to obtain accommodations and go on to continue my work, achieve tenure and promotion, as well as co-author a textbook.” Hope also wants “mainstream” society to be proactive about disability rights: “In addition to technical compliance with the law, employers and providers of public accommodations should talk with vendors, colleagues, disability professionals—and most importantly, people with disabilities themselves—about ways to make work and social environments accessible and inclusive for all.”