The American Bar Association honored Matthew W. Dietz, founding member and current litigation director for Disability Independence Group, Inc., in Miami, with its Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights.
The ABA Commission on Disability Rights selected Dietz for his leadership and advocacy in both fostering the inclusion of lawyers with disabilities in the legal profession, and ensuring that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against on the basis of their disabilities and have full and equal access to all aspects of society including education, healthcare, housing, justice system and employment.
Created in 1999, the award honors the work of Paul G. Hearne, a lawyer with congenital connective tissue disorder who was a leader in the disability rights movement. The award, co-sponsored by Starbucks Coffee Co., was presented at the commission’s Reception for Lawyers with Disabilities during the 2019 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The reception was sponsored by Accenture and Microsoft.
A civil rights litigator with a focus on disability rights since 1998, Dietz has handled hundreds of cases throughout his career. He co-founded Disability Independence Group (DIG) in 2002 to promote recognition and recruitment of persons with disabilities in the legal profession. He advocated for disability to be included in the Florida Bar’s definition of “diversity,” and organized a survey and focus groups of attorneys to increase the bar’s inclusiveness regarding lawyers with disabilities.
In 2014, DIG expanded its efforts beyond the legal profession. The lessons learned through litigation to ensure equal access for persons with disabilities are used in a holistic approach to develop educational tools for them on their legal rights. The tools, which empower persons with disabilities to become self-advocates, include a video series on the right to fair housing for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, a training manual for law enforcement on interacting with persons with disabilities and a webinar series that addresses the intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault and disability, among others.
“Matthew’s tireless efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities are recognized, welcomed and included in the legal profession, and have full and equal access to all that society has to offer exemplifies the values espoused by Paul Hearne,” said Robert T. Gonzales, chair of the Commission on Disability Rights. “Matthew’s pioneering work has empowered and benefited countless individuals with disabilities, and will continue to do so in the future. Our profession owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Matthew for all that he has accomplished.”