May 07, 2015

Sean E. Pevsner

Sean Pevsner has been proving people wrong for 41 years. He was born clinically dead, and the anesthesiologist administered CPR for 45 minutes before Pevsner breathed on his own. Experts predicted that, due to his severe cerebral palsy, he would not live beyond his thirties.

Those same experts said that Pevsner, who cannot write and moves his head to operate his motorized wheelchair, could not attend a regular school. Yet he took mainstream classes such as Latin, English literature and calculus, earning A’s and B’s. Although Arlington Independent School District officials projected that he would graduate at the age of 22, Pevsner graduated at the age of 19 in the top 20 percent of his high school class. Despite his educational achievements, people continued to underestimate Pevsner’s abilities, not believing that he could attend a major university. At that point, his self-advocacy skills went into overdrive whenever people used the word “can’t” in the same sentence as his name.

Pevsner majored in Greek and Latin at the University of Texas–Austin. While there, he was honored with the WJ Battle Award for excellence in Greek and Latin translation. Pevsner graduated in 1998, receiving several more awards for his advocacy and contributions to the university. For example, he founded Groups United Against Rights Discrimination, a student civil rights organization, which among other things, worked to ensure make the campus and university services more accessible to people with disabilities.    

Propelled by his academic success and internal motivation, Pevsner went on to graduate from University of Texas Law School and gained admittance to Texas State Bar. Through a fellowship sponsored by Equal Justice Works, he worked with Disability Rights Texas, a non-profit organization that protects the civil and human rights of Texans with disabilities, advocating for their right to have equal access to education, employment, and community services.

While at Disability Rights Texas, Pevsner created the Flexible Interactive Process Manual to assist employers and employees with disabilities to have a productive working relationship. Part of the manual focused on educating people with disabilities about their rights in the workplace and the importance of self-advocacy. He assisted students with disabilities in taking advantage of the full benefits of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during their secondary education, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for higher education.

Pevsner is now a partner in his own firm, Whitburn & Pevsner, PLLC, where he has developed a vibrant special education practice and has worked on other aspects of education law, as well as guardianship and other probate proceedings. His advice to law students with disabilities: “If you want to practice in other areas of the law besides disability law, go full-tilt towards that goal. We should show our fellow citizens that we can do other work outside the disability field.” He also advises students to not blindly follow leaders in the disability rights movement, but rather to analyze the issues and be a leader.