June 01, 2008

June 2008: Josh Mendelsohn, Esq.

Tech-savvy deaf lawyer finds being comfortable with work environment and technology key to success.

During a typical work day, a lawyer needs to interact with others in order to perform his or her duties. Such interaction may come in the form of group meetings, or using the internet to find information. Regardless, a lawyer should be able to properly converse with those around him or her. Josh Mendelsohn, Esq. has found that being comfortable in the work place, both with colleagues and with advancements in technology, is important for lawyers today.

Josh, who has been profoundly deaf since birth, is a Supervisory Attorney for the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. He has been practicing civil rights law for thirteen years after attending UCLA School of Law. As a Supervisory Attorney, Josh handles a team of approximately twenty attorneys and investigators who look into allegations of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For his work at DOJ, Josh was given the John Marshall Award for Alternate Dispute Resolution in 2006, one of the Department’s top honors for an attorney. He lives in the Washington, DC metropolitan-area with his partner and two deaf daughters who are currently enrolled in the Maryland School for the Deaf.

Being comfortable with your colleagues at work is of great importance to Josh. He finds that the most enjoyable aspect of his job is working with the attorneys and investigators. “We’re like one great family,” he says, “we are laid back and collegial, but we also come together to get the job done.” The environment Josh tries to create is very conducive to getting results for the Justice Department. “Several of my team members have disabilities. Therefore, an open and welcoming work environment for those who have disabilities is key, and it’s also part of the everyday work-life,” Mendelsohn observes. “By simply exposing others to those with disabilities, there is a relaxed work atmosphere that breeds cooperation. When we are all relaxed is actually when we are at our best.”

Josh also sees a need for lawyers today to be comfortable with advancements in technology. Josh is no stranger to technology himself. A self-described tech geek, Josh has a blog (http://www.proud-geek.com) that talks about new technology. Some of the posts are even related to accessibility. “In order to get an edge in the workplace, you need to keep up with technology and how to use it. You need to know what software and websites are the best—especially in regards to accessibility,” Josh says, “You need to be comfortable with being able to access things such as personal digital assistants, advanced search engine features, and online communities. These tools can be invaluable to lawyers who need to find certain information, or simply stay current on the latest legal news and trends.”

Personally, Josh makes great use of technology to accommodate his own disability. Besides using interpreters, Josh relies heavily on his personal digital assistant, or PDA, and e-mail. He uses written and video electronic communication so much so that he hardly uses a TTY anymore.

Yet Josh also sees new technology as a double-edged sword: “As great as technology can be in helping those with disabilities access the world around them, it can also strip a person of a defining characteristic that happens to be a disability.” As an example, Josh points to cochlear implants, devices that can help one who is deaf have a sense of sound. “Cochlear implants, by taking away one’s deafness, may remove them from deaf culture. Because the deaf community revolves around American Sign Language, one could be viewed as an outsider to this community by no longer using this form of communication. Simply put, we don’t want the great strides we are making in science and technology to take over a defining characteristic of an individual.” At the same time, it is up to each individual to decide what characteristics should define who they are.