What is your disability? How does it affect you as a lawyer?
I have bipolar disorder. Personally, it hasn’t impacted my work that much, beyond the basic fact that I have sometimes needed accommodations to carry out my work. We have this belief that mental health somehow impacts our capacity to work in both legal and policy fields, when in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth.
What accommodations do you use in the workplace? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges from your employers, colleagues, or schools in obtaining accommodations?
I have received accommodations in both my current and prior workplaces around the need for a flexible schedule that can account for frequent doctor’s visits, among other things. I have been very privileged to work in civil rights and social justice spaces, so most of the times my need for flexibility related to my disabilities has been met. I am very open and comfortable talking with my bosses about accommodations.
Do you disclose your disability to employers or colleagues? Why or why not?
I have disclosed. To be honest, as a disability advocate, I am about as open about my disability as I can possibly be. There is an extent to which it is already obvious that I have one. My first job out of law school was in the federal government, and I was a Schedule A hire. Now I engage in disability justice work at the National LGBTQ, among other things I do there.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability have an impact on your decision?
I went to law school because of my prior progressive activism work in the trans community. I came out as trans in my teens, and left wing political activism already ran in my family. For me, political work was my default, and I already envisioned myself doing progressive advocacy work after law school.
What type of legal work do you do, and how did you decide on a field?
I don’t practice law in the traditional sense. I do policy work. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the traditional “requires a bar admission” attorney work, such as litigation or direct services, so I sat for the bar thinking about that possibility. I eventually settled on policy work in large part because I found that it made the greatest change – by changing the rules of the game, we benefit more people than by representing individuals.
What advice would you give to fellow lawyers or law students with disabilities?
My advice is to not be ashamed of being disabled. Impostor syndrome is real – the feeling (not helped by the people who will tell you as well) that you do not belong in law school, or in law, or in policy. And do not underestimate or sell yourself short. Apply for the job, or the scholarship.
How do you think the legal profession is doing in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for persons with disabilities? What could be improved?
I think there is still a LOT of work left to be done, including, in all places affecting the disability side of the profession. Too many of the people doing disability rights work do not have disabilities., The movement needs to be led by and for people with disabilities.
You have also done a great deal of work on gun violence prevention. What progress have you seen made with regard to how disabilities are viewed in those types of discussions, and what do you think the next steps are to further improve it?
I believe that the movement on gun violence prevention has space for improvement when it comes to disability. Unfortunately, some elements of the movement have fallen prey to the red herrings placed by the opposition, which focuses on mental health and other similar disabilities instead of the real problem at hand—the mass proliferation of guns. I also encourage the movement to tackle on police perpetrated gun violence and police militarization. Not only do weapons of war not belong in the streets, but they also do not belong in the hands of civilian police departments.
As an openly trans woman who works on LGBTQ issues, have you found any intersections between that work and your disability advocacy?
There are many. I see the various progressive justice movements not as clearly or neatly divided separate affairs. I think we need to see them instead as a single big ball of wibbly wobbly, activisty-wimey… stuff. They’re all part of a bigger whole. People with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the trans community, and the disability movement needs to become more diverse if it wants to stay current.
How can diverse people within the disability sphere be better included in the discussion around disability issues, and what can otherwise non-diverse allies (both with and without disabilities) do to further that inclusion?
I think that white and non-queer allies need to understand and appreciate that they cannot just wait till we come forward, but need to take proactive steps to make their events inclusive. We cannot keep having all-white panels in disability conferences, or have disabled voices relegated to the “personal story” section of the conference.
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the American Bar Association or the ABA Commission on Disability Rights.