January 01, 2008

January 2008: Gary C. Norman, Esq.

Blind lawyer finds reaching out to community key to disability rights movement.

For the last five years, Gary C. Norman, Esq. has worked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Office of the Attorney Advisor.  While at CMS, Mr. Norman has provided legal counsel and written administrative decisions on a variety of health care reimbursement appeals under the Medicare program.  He has also been a mediator for federal workplace disputes, a Presidential Management Fellow and, most recently, an American Marshall Memorial Fellow, a collaborative effort between the United States and Europe to exchange leaders from both continents.  He is the first blind attorney to ever be accepted to this prestigious fellowship operated by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.  He will travel to several cities in Europe in 2008 as part of this program.

While these accomplishments are notable, Mr. Norman’s out-of-work efforts, as a blind lawyer, deserve special mention.  Both as an active participant in his community, and as a member of the disability rights movement, Gary has shown how important it is for lawyers with disabilities to demonstrate skills and talents that may not be used in the workplace.  Since the age of ten, Norman has had retinitis pigmentosa from which he is now blind.  He attended the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. Partnered with a guide dog named Langer, he uses a Braille printer, a part-time assistant, and screen reading programs to accommodate his disability.

Mr. Norman has been very involved in his community.  As a Maryland State Bar Association Leadership Academy Fellow for 2006-2007, he designed and implemented a public service project dealing with youth violence.  He also raised funds for efforts related to this fellowship.  Currently, he is President and CEO of the Maryland Area Guide Dog Users, Inc. whose purpose is to advocate, through education and lobbying efforts, for those in the state who use guide dogs.

Gary recognizes that both legal and non-legal skills should be used by disabled lawyers to better their community: “Contributing to the community with legal and non-legal skills is an integral part of the profession.”  This dualistic approach is evident in his work for the Special Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities and Emergency Preparedness for the Maryland Department of Disabilities.  He currently sits on this committee and provides counsel, time, and energy to advocate for access to state emergency services for persons with disabilities, especially, in the areas of access to emergency warning systems.

Norman also sees a need to advance the disability rights movement.  With a revolution in technology, he notes that disabled lawyers today have new tools at their disposal to make sure society is progressing in the right direction of enhanced civil rights for all Americans – those with or without disabilities.  Respecting access to the legal profession for people with disabilities, He observes positive advocacy and education being done by bar associations, law schools, and organizations, such as, the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys, to address access barriers; but he believes there is still work to be done.  He hopes to be a leader in making sure that happens.

When asked how he hopes to produce results in the disability rights movement, Norman notes that community outreach is key: “Those with disabilities need to partner up with other minority groups so as to maximize resources and community organizing skills.”

“The ability to reach out within the community not only benefits those who have disabilities, but also lawyers, with or without disabilities, who participate,” said Norman.  “By contributing to the disabled community for the greater good, not only are my skills enhanced,” says Norman, “they are broadened.”  His future goal is to expand his commitment to public service into the legislative arena by running for political office, possibly for the Maryland House of Delegates.