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December 01, 2012

December 2012: Stephen Rosenbaum

A Disability Lawyer with a Personal Connection to Disability

Stephen Rosenbaum, a graduate of University of California, Berkeley School of Law, has spent most of his career advocating for persons with disabilities—at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Disability Rights California and in private practice. He has litigated a range of cases, from class actions challenging the use of pepper spray on special education students with behavioral problems, to employment lawsuits involving the unfair treatment of employees with psychiatric disabilities, to cases challenging discrimination against immigrants with disabilities. Rosenbaum has also held workshops for Spanish-speaking parents, school professionals, lawyers and administrative law judges on special education law and has represented parents of students with disabilities in numerous school mediations.

Although Rosenbaum had been practicing for about 15 years before specializing in disability law, he had first-hand experience with disability as the parent of a child (David) with a disability. David died in early 2012. Rosenbaum acknowledges the difficulties in serving both roles. “Not everyone can live 24/7 with a disability focus.”

And, although his personal involvement with disability certainly has informed his advocacy, Rosenbaum notes that he has to “guard against the presumption that every access, right or service issue I encounter as an attorney has a remedy that mirrors the experience with my own son.” Rosenbaum says, “I don’t pretend to speak for persons with disabilities or for all parents of disabled children.” He points out that “there is undoubtedly a tension—a healthy tension—between the perspective of a disabled youth or adult and that of a parent.” As the father of a child with a disability, he struggled with making the “right” choices, as he so well described in his article, entitled “Representing David: When Best Practices Aren’t and Natural Supports Really Are,” Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy (Winter 2007, University of California, Davis).

Currently, Rosenbaum is a visiting senior lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law, teaching seminars in human rights and comparative law. A lecturer at Stanford Law and Berkeley Law, he has taught courses in disability rights, mental health law, civil rights litigation and cultural competency. He has also written extensively about disability law, education, lay advocacy and human rights. When not teaching, Rosenbaum is Of Counsel with the Law Offices of Michael S. Sorgen, a plaintiffs’ civil rights firm.

While serving as Legal Education Advisor with the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative in Egypt in 2011-12, Rosenbaum guest taught classes at the Qatar University College of Law on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This past term, he asked his students to assume different roles in a simulation exercise involving U.S. Senate ratification of the CPRD and, in another exercise, to consider the viability of a regional disability rights adjudicatory tribunal for Asia. And, as a State Department Speaker Specialist, Rosenbaum has met with leaders of disability organizations during his trips to French-speaking Africa.