The ABA GPSolo Division is proud to announce the launch of the Scott LaBarre Disability Law Committee. GPSolo Chair Scott LaBarre passed away on December 10, 2022. Scott was an international advocate for individuals with disabilities. He was responsible for sweeping changes that have improved the lives of individuals with disabilities throughout the world and in our profession. This committee is one of several ways GPSolo will continue Scott’s transformative work.
A Commitment to Disability Law and Individuals with Disabilities
This first-of-its-kind committee will serve three purposes: (1) to ensure that attorneys have the resources and support that will allow them to efficiently and successfully practice law; (2) to educate attorneys and the public on the laws protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities; and (3) to encourage law and policy changes where appropriate to advance the needs and interests of individuals with disabilities.
The committee will be led by Florida attorneys Randi Brent Starrett and Haley Moss. Starrett, who will serve as the inaugural chairperson, has been involved in the ABA for more than 30 years and is a frequent writer and lecturer on a variety of topics. She spends significant time advocating for lawyers and other individuals with disabilities. Starrett will also serve on the ABA Law Practice Management Executive Council during the upcoming year.
Moss, who will serve as vice chair of the committee, is a nationally recognized leader in disability inclusion, autism, and neurodiversity in the workplace. Moss was the 2021 recipient of the GPSolo Division Making a Difference by Breaking Barriers Award, which honors an attorney who brakes barriers for gender, color, disabilities, or sexual orientation. She is a former GPSolo Diversity Fellow and author of several books. Her list of published books includes Great Minds Think Differently: Neurodiversity for Lawyers and Other Professionals (ABA, 2021); The Young Autistic Adult’s Independence Handbook (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2021), A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014), and Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences (AAPC Publishing, 2010). Moss also co-hosts the Spectrumly Speaking podcast, dedicated to women on the autism spectrum.
The committee begins operation at an exciting time. This year, the ABA Commission on Disability Rights celebrates its 50th anniversary. GPSolo envisions that the Scott LaBarre Disability Law Committee will supplement the great work the Commission on Disability Rights does to promote the ABA’s commitment to justice and the rule of law for people with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession.
GPSolo’s commitments to disability law and individuals with disabilities runs deeper than just the new committee. We will encourage all our committees to be more diverse and inclusive, to more intentionally engage lawyers with disabilities, and to more aggressively promote advances in disability law. This issue of GPSolo magazine is devoted to disability law. Also, just a few weeks ago, the GPSolo Division Diversity Board sponsored an Activate Diversity Program: “Beyond the ADA: Access to the Forefront.”
Disability in the Law
The last 30 years have seen many advances in disability law, in large part due to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With that said, the reality is there is still much work that needs to be completed.
Stereotypes and biases against individuals with disabilities still linger. Some folks, including employers and associates, have not made the shift from focusing on what individuals with disabilities can’t do to focusing more appropriately on the many things they can do. These individuals face challenges specific to the manifestations of their disabilities, but given the opportunity to succeed, they are more than capable of exceeding expectations.
Approximately 11.4 million adults (or 1 in 25 adults) in the United States suffer from serious mental illness. (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Servs. Admin. Ctr. for Behavioral Health Stat. & Quality, 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Aug. 26, 2019).) Severe mental impairments (anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and schizophrenia) and cognitive disorders (dementia, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease) affect individuals in a variety of ways that may significantly impact their abilities to assist in the representation of their best interests.
GPSolo looks forward to organizing discussions on how the legal profession can better accommodate clients, law students, lawyers, and others with mental impairments.
Title II of the ADA and many state rules require courts to accommodate individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mental impairments and cognitive disabilities. Potential accommodations include allowing testimony by phone or video, allowing support animals, granting frequent breaks, adjusting court schedules to comply with medication schedules, appointing guardians ad litem or court-appointed counsel, and reassigning and reconfiguring courtrooms or hearing spaces.
Litigation is stressful to most individuals and may be exponentially more stressful to individuals suffering from mental impairments and cognitive disorders. Individuals with these conditions may experience difficulties adapting to increased anxiety; recalling important information; understanding, remembering, or following through on instructions; storing and processing information; maintaining attention; avoiding distractions; and communicating effectively.
The core requirements of due process are notice and an opportunity to be heard before an impartial tribunal. Due process requires that the hearing opportunity be tailored to the capacities and circumstances of those to be heard. (Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 268–69 (1970).) Notice and opportunity to be heard are of decreased value to litigants suffering from mental impairments and cognitive disorders if, because of their conditions, they are less able to fully appreciate the seriousness of the legal proceeding or are limited in their ability to assist in the representation of their interests.
As Justice Thurgood Marshall once advised, “Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.” (Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 77 (1985).)
Students with disabilities face challenges accessing law school facilities and services and procuring reasonable accommodations that will allow them to succeed. GPSolo will collaborate with groups such as the National Disabled Law Students Association, the Law School Disability Advocacy Coalition, and others to support law students as they begin the journey to enter the legal profession.
GPSolo will serve as a clearinghouse of information and advocacy center for solo and small firm practitioners seeking advice on navigating the vast area of disability law.
The Scott LaBarre Disability Law Committee is just the beginning of better things to come, but with Starrett and Moss in the lead, rest assured we are off to a good start.