May 01, 2014

January 2013: Steph Fernandes

2L Enjoying Balance of an Active Academic Life with Service to the Community

Steph Fernandes, a 2L at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, happens to be blind.“[B]eing blind hasn’t served as a barrier. It has made me flexible, as sometimes issues will arise . . . I have spent the last two summers in D.C. with limited mobility training in the city. Sometimes, that meant getting lost, but every time turned out to result in a great story, and I call them my ‘character building moments.’”

Although being blind itself has not been a barrier to Fernandes, she has encountered other types of obstacles.  Her school district attempted to keep her out of their gifted program. “I found that extremely demoralizing because I realized my straight A’s did not carry the same merit as my sighted peers that completed the exact same worksheets and tests I did.”  She was finally admitted into the program in sixth grade.  After this battle, she resolved to graduate a valedictorian.  She did, but not without having learned a bitter lesson.  “My education had been reduced from a right to a privilege.” 

Although the accommodations she received in high school helped her easily transition into undergraduate life, she had to fight to receive these accommodations when it came time to take the law school admissions test.  To take tests, Fernandes uses JAWS, a screenreader program, and a device called a “notetaker” which is similar to a laptop which allows for the input and recording of Braille notes.  To use this technology, additional time is required.  Fernandes did eventually establish her need for accommodations and successfully completed the law school admissions test, but only after complying with burdensome documentation requirements and being relocated to a test facility far from public transportation.

Her experience with accommodations in law school is in sharp contrast to her admissions test experience.  “The folks at OSU are phenomenal. All of my books are scanned and emailed to me in Microsoft Word docs.” The school also provides her the extra time she requires for testing. 

Fernandes finds time to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, including a program that helps foreign LLM students acclimate to the United States, and the Dispute Resolution for Youth program, which had her working with third graders.  She is also a Staff Editor of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. Added to this busy schedule in January of 2013 will be her externship with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Division of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Branch, where she will be pursuing her passion for working on behalf of children.

Even with such a full academic and professional calendar, Fernandes maintains balance, making her work in her community and with her church as much a priority as her studies.  She plays flute for a choir and volunteers at a food pantry.  “It’s easy to become so involved in law school that [you] forget about communities outside of the law library.” She also makes sure to have dinners with friends in and out of law school, and to keep in regular contact with her “Vo,” or grandmother.