March 17, 2021

Law Student Spotlight: Ryan Wullschleger

Ryan Wullschleger, a student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Ryan Wullschleger, a student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law

What is your disability? How does it affect you as a law student (and future lawyer)?

In 2010, an onset of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada Syndrome, a rare auto-immune disease, caused me to lose my vision and become legally blind. As a person with a newly developed disability, I see the world in a different light than my peers. In the classroom, this disparity is reflected in how I approach legal analysis, as I have had to reorient myself to find more creative solutions and complete daily tasks. Justice Sotomayor once said, “A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand.” Although my new life has become increasingly challenging, it is through facing these challenges that I have developed a unique perspective that informs my voice in the classroom and will make me an asset in my professional career.

What accommodations do you use in law school?

Each semester I request that I be given PowerPoint slides prior to class, as well as additional time for exams. The former accommodation allows me to magnify the presentation on my computer and keep pace with the class. In addition, I have calibrated my laptop in such a way that allows for an optimal viewing experience.

Interestingly, with the switch to remote education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my learning experience is less difficult because everything is done through computers, and my computer is set for my needs.

Do you disclose your disability to colleagues or potential employers? Why or why not?

Although my decision to disclose my disability is often dependent on the circumstances, I nonetheless find my disability to be part of what makes me the person I am. My disability does not inhibit my ability to complete tasks, and I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns that my colleagues and employers may have. 

Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability have an impact on your decision?

Becoming a lawyer has always been a dream of mine due to the nature of legal work. I have a passion for problem solving and devising creative solutions. The work that lawyers do in all practice areas is indispensable to our society. Although my disability is part of who I am, it does not define me. My decision was solely based on my passion for the legal field, and my disability did not deter my pursuit.

Have you decided what type of legal work you will do after graduation? If so, how did you decide?

I am most interested in estate and employment law. These areas typically involve lots of transactional work and problem solving with clients, which I enjoy doing. That said, there are several other fields that pique my interest such as criminal and business law, and I can see myself venturing into these fields if the opportunity arises.

What advice would you give to law students with a disability?

My first piece of advice is to have a group of individuals who you can depend on, whether it be friends, family, and/or staff at your school. Law school is incredibly rigorous, and there will surely be moments where you need guidance and support. My family has supported me throughout my career. The students and faculty at Thomas Jefferson Law School have also supported me, allowing me to succeed both academically and personally. Consulting with your school’s disability coordinator to discuss your unique needs is extremely beneficial because each person requires different accommodations.

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 believe there is always room for improvement. Simply allowing people with disabilities the opportunity to be interns and work is a step forward. More law firms and bar organizations should institute these programs. In San Diego, I am a member of the SD County Bar Association’s Student Diversity Fellowship, which placed me as an intern with t the prestigious law firm Cozen O’Connor, and allowed me to be mentored by some excellent lawyers.

You recently received a grant to make a podcast. What will the podcast focus on, and what inspired you to produce it?

Yes! I am excited to create a podcast with the National Lawyers Guild. The podcast is centered around ways that people in the community can get involved in local politics and use their voice to defend their rights. I am passionate about helping my community and others around me, and this podcast is a great way to reach a young audience. If anyone is interested, please follow our Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/cttvpodcast/

You are working with an agency that has never had a blind employee before. What is it like to lead the effort to make them more accessible, and do you think there is anything in that experience that would be useful for other students and young lawyers to know?

Although each person has their own level of comfort with seeking accommodations, I have learned that coworkers often may not know how to help. If you find yourself in need of help, speak up rather than stress out or spend too much time trying to figure out something on your own. Asking for help due to your disability does not reflect negatively on your ability to succeed in that office. Communication is an important skill to have, as you must advocate for yourself in an office.

What are your plans for the foreseeable future?

This summer I will intern with the Federal Aviation Administration’s employment office. In this position, I will work full time remotely. I hope to get some hiking in as well. I live near Sequoia National Park.