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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo July/August 2023: Disabilities in Law and in Law Practice

Practicing Law as an Attorney with a Disability: The Hill Was Not Too Steep to Climb

Joy Moonan


  • The author relates her journey during law school and as a practicing lawyer with a disability.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helped ensure the author received accommodations in public school. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act enabled her to create an individualized education program (IEP) necessary for her to succeed.
  • Her fight for proper accommodations in college and law school occasionally involved the aid of organizations such as Disability Rights Texas.
  • As a practicing lawyer, the author has used assistive technology and tools to help her surmount the “hills” associated with her disability.
Practicing Law as an Attorney with a Disability: The Hill Was Not Too Steep to Climb
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Jump to:

In 2015, I started what would be a seven-year law school journey. I was a first-generation American student and the only person in my family who had completed high school and college. I was born three months prematurely with cerebral palsy, which is a condition that affects movement, coordination, and muscle tone. My condition impacts my mobility, and I use a power wheelchair to get around.

Disability and My Education

The law has always been a part of my life because I was born after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. This piece of legislation impacted me greatly as a child because it gave me protections at school. Without these protections, I don’t think I would have become the lawyer that I am today. My experience is unique because my twin is not disabled. As I was growing up, it was hard for me not to notice the difference in treatment we experienced in accessing the same level and quality of education.

For example, my sister was able to ride the bus to school without any questions or paperwork. I needed a bus equipped with a wheelchair lift, so I rode the bus for Special Education kids. This was made possible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which enabled a formal plan between my school and me so that I could get an education. ARD (admission, review, and dismissal) meetings and the resulting IEP (individualized education program) tailored certain aspects of my education so that I could succeed despite the barriers my disability presented. Every year, I had to demonstrate my eligibility as a student with a disability along with supporting medical documentation so that I could have access to a wheelchair-accessible desk, a bus with a lift, test accommodations, and more. I was the only person with a physical disability in mainstream courses, and I worked hard to ensure my success in honors and Advanced Placement courses. I have always struggled with writing by hand because my muscle tone and spasticity would often flare up, making me fatigued. I was a slow writer, and the neatness of my handwriting would decline as I took notes during class. Whenever I wrote, I would use shorthand in the hopes of lessening the amount of writing I had to do. I had difficulty managing my notes while simultaneously keeping up with the ongoing lesson. Taking notes from my classes’ required readings was a strenuous task, and I always had to plan well ahead to finish my notes before or at the deadline.

As I grew and developed into a young adult, I noticed that my disability itself was changing. Entering college with a disability was very different than high school—it was easier in some ways and harder in others. ARD meetings and IEPs no longer existed, and accommodation requests were required on a semester basis. Extensive medical documentation, my educational records, a disability evaluation from a neuropsychologist, and an assessment from an educational psychologist were needed to secure many of the same accommodations I had utilized throughout high school. I could not have achieved this if not for the assistance of Vocational Rehabilitation Services through the state, which I began working with at 16 years old.

Working with my Vocational Rehabilitation counselors, including Diane Henning, Paul Moon, and Audra Ressel, was fundamental in ensuring that I had my setup prepared in time for the first day of classes every semester. They helped me get acclimated to the Denton, Texas, area while I pursued a criminal justice degree at the University of North Texas. Their extensive knowledge of university policy and procedure helped in getting things done quicker than I probably could have done myself. The personal and professional guidance I got from them was invaluable at a time when I was still discovering what I wanted to do with my life.

I received an accommodation to take notes on a computer, and as my classes became more advanced, I found myself taking an average of 2,000 pages of notes per semester across my course load. Essays and thesis dissertations complete with cited research filled my days. I remember being buried in books, web pages, and various journals in the library space I made my home. I never felt comfortable asking for a deadline extension because I knew the general mentality around accommodations and the secrecy the stigma created. I spent countless hours working on memorization and repetition of key concepts. Following a course syllabus was essential to making sure that I completed readings and assignments on time, which I calendared as soon as possible. Syncing my calendar on my phone helped me plan out my time for various commitments. I did not like cramming too many tasks into my day, and I always built flexibility into my week for editing my writing.

Using a recorder allowed me to play back my classes so that I could refer to an earlier part of a lecture. As I had done throughout high school, I sacrificed sleep because it took me longer than other people to do things. Tasks such as getting my backpack together, dressing, and showering would take hours. Still, I needed assistance with meal preparation, tying my shoes, and doing my hair. I would wake up at five o’clock in the morning before my attendant arrived to help me with the tasks I couldn’t independently complete. I had to scout out routes to and from each class every semester—taking note of the sidewalks, ramps, and curb cuts so that I could get to class using my wheelchair. My university did have a campus bus, but it was often crowded. Seats on the bus could be flipped up, creating a space for my wheelchair, but overcrowding meant that there rarely was a bus that could readily accommodate me. Seating was on a first come, first served basis, and waiting for a bus that had the space to accommodate me took more time than simply using my chair. Google Maps helped me develop a rough idea of a path with its terrain view and pedestrian routing option.

I tracked the weather throughout the day, and I would schedule my transportation around the weather conditions, which meant that I often arrived early to my intended destination. Rainy weather posed a challenge because water and electronics do not mix, especially considering the sensitivity of my wheelchair joystick remote. I protected the remote by wrapping a grocery bag around it to make sure that water could not seep inside. Muddy areas were always annoying, as my wheelchair tires would leave a trail of mud wherever I went. Fallen tree branches, heavy brush, piles of litter, deep puddles, and uneven patches of pavement would interfere with the pedestrian aspect of my commute. Sidewalks in my area are not routinely maintained, so large craters would develop over time. The depth of a crater could vary, and wet conditions can easily create mud. Mushy mud and craters filled with water can be like quicksand for tires. Once traction is lost, it can be difficult to get the torque needed to get out without additional assistance.

Sometimes, I had no choice but to use the roadways like a car because the sidewalks were not usable. I always kept a watchful eye on my wheelchair’s battery level and was never without my phone, just in case something happened. I was fortunate that my sister also decided to attend the same university, and I could always call or text her if anything happened. The code that I developed with my friends in college involved texting one another to say that we had safely arrived back home; it was standard in a college town with weekly crime alerts. A new building or location that I was unfamiliar with also had to be scouted to make sure I knew where the access buttons were, along with what floor and where the nearest accessible bathroom or elevator was. I made sure to call ahead and ask about the information I needed relative to my accessibility needs, and I relied on input from others who were familiar with that location before going there myself. I avoided access buttons that didn’t work and used the ones that did. Areas with high foot traffic also helped because I could ask someone nearby to help open a door if I couldn’t open it myself. If I needed to be somewhere that was above the ground floor, I noted the location of the elevator on my phone, along with information about where I could find the emergency evacuation equipment in case it was needed. I convinced school officials in and outside the Office of Disability to create an Accessibility Report that relayed information about scheduled elevator outages and construction that could interfere with a travel route. Students could sign up and receive emails to plan accordingly.

My efforts and disability advocacy around campus led to my appointment on the school’s ADA committee, where I represented more than 2,000 students with various disabilities. I developed legislative and institutional policies that made the school more inclusive regarding disability needs. The policy initiatives I developed with the committee and as a senator in student government helped set the foundations for my eventual law school career, although I didn’t know it at the time.

I began speaking out after another student struck me with his pickup truck while I was on campus. I was crossing the street at an intersection when the distracted driver failed to yield. My wheelchair was totaled upon impact, and I spent a year trying to get a replacement chair. I had lost consciousness after the impact, and when I came to, I couldn’t recall where I was or what had happened. I came to with the driver and a woman standing over me—coincidentally, she was a nurse who had been driving by at the time I was struck. I couldn’t find my phone because it had been thrown somewhere.

The police station was about two buildings down, and an officer on foot had been passing through. The woman and I approached him for help, but he walked off because he was off the clock, he said. Eventually, the driver found my phone, and I called my sister, along with 911. I was in a lot of pain, and I knew my back wasn’t all right.

I had to get a lawyer involved because the driver kept changing his version of events. I am thankful that the driver was insured because months of extensive physical therapy were needed. The consultation with the attorney took about an hour while she answered my questions and explained how her fee was to be earned. I remember being deeply embarrassed about needing an attorney, let alone having to hire one. It felt unnatural to go to a system or institution to resolve an unambiguous issue, especially given how public the accident had been. I still had to go to classes in the first few weeks after the accident, and numerous people would stop me and ask about it. People contacted me over social media and volunteered to give witness statements. I ended up meeting with the university police chief to help improve officer responses after the report of an emergency event.

This experience exposed me to the mediation process, which was frustrating yet fascinating at the same time. I was aware that if mediation was unsuccessful, then I would be personally responsible for everything. I was shocked to discover that the two-mile ambulance ride I had taken to the hospital was billed out with three zeroes.

My attorney explained that inflated costs were common, and our mediation was spent with her on the phone wrangling to get the insurance company to pay more. The mediator was like a human telephone, relaying various offers from the insurance company. It felt like a ping-pong match because my attorney would have to reject each offer individually. After every rejected offer, the insurance company would increase their offer by a few hundred dollars. After two hours of this, my attorney proposed a minimum starting amount.

I also began lobbying city and school officials for greater safety measures to protect pedestrians on campus after I discovered that multiple bicyclists and pedestrians had also been struck on that same street. The street connected with the highway, and there was no clear signage warning drivers to slow down. I felt that better signage informing drivers that they were now entering campus would encourage them to be more mindful. I wanted a marked crosswalk and signage, but the city and school each said it wasn’t their responsibility—the boundary between the city and the school ran down the middle of that street, so the two sides were under different jurisdictions. Graduation came and went without any meaningful changes from the school or city, but these experiences did shape my desire to help others.

Navigating Law School

The difficulty of navigating law school as someone with a disability was compounded by the fact that I attended a new law school that tried to cater to aspiring attorneys by offering a nontraditional approach to legal education. I knew that I likely couldn’t move to another state because my support network and family were all based in Dallas. The location, affordability, and ability to be a part of something new were what attracted me to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law.

I attended interest meetings and other events when I first heard rumors about a public law school being built in the area. I held off on applying for what would have been the inaugural class at the urging of my professors, family, and friends. At the time, my school did not have a pre-law program, and the department was more oriented toward police work. My department had one professor who was a non-practicing lawyer, and the two other lawyers I encountered also did not practice and were in another department. I met with each lawyer to get different perspectives. Each person stressed the importance of the LSAT and its link to scholarship opportunities. Not much was said about law school itself, and looking back, it’s probably because the LSAT is such a major juncture point for so many people. Trying to get people to open up about their law school experience was difficult—I could sense discomfort around this topic, and the vagueness around it struck me as odd, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I pressed on because, unlike my classmates, becoming a police officer or firefighter was out of the question for me. Also, I like theory concerning public policy, and I feel strongly about human rights. I wanted to be entrenched in international affairs and diplomacy. Most importantly, I wanted to use my mind and intelligence to develop or negotiate legal proposals as I had done during my time in student government.

I was assured by officials that I would be able to receive accommodations no matter where I ended up for law school; what ultimately persuaded me to attend law school in Dallas was the location. My parents and sister all had jobs that were tied to the area, and if I attended school elsewhere, they couldn’t move to be near me. Given how much they supported me, I knew that starting over in a new city wasn’t feasible. I still had the support of my Vocational Rehabilitation team, and together we developed a plan to ensure that I would graduate from law school.

Our school needed to demonstrate to the Texas Legislature and other key stakeholders that we really could succeed as a nontraditional law school. We signed our names as part of the historic experimental group, the second set of aspiring law students that formed the school at that time. We were all very aware that the University of North Texas’s status as a law school and our ability to take the Texas bar exam as it then existed were not absolute. Without official recognition, our school and its students could not pursue lives as working lawyers. The high stakes created a lot of pressure on each person who attended my school. My family made sure to mention it to everyone we informally knew—from the grocery store cashier who had been there since I was a child to the coffee shop staff who knew me as a regular visitor. Being vague and simply saying that I was in school just wasn’t enough because someone was sure to chime in with, “No, she’s in law school!” If I was asked about where I worked, I kept it vague by saying that I was a secretary or paralegal. Sure enough, a family member would add, “But she’s gonna be a lawyer,” and then further conversations would ensue about law school, how this person needed a lawyer, or some story about a sticky legal situation that had happened to him or her. Questions about law and pop culture nearly always came up about cases that had been highly publicized. Truth be told, I didn’t watch any news and knew very little about modern happenings as they were occurring because I was so focused on the LSAT.

All the planning in the world couldn’t prepare me for law school or the culture that existed at the time. Every lawyer I interacted with served as a model of what a lawyer should and shouldn’t be, both personally and professionally—even the “bad” ones. When I encountered systemic disability discrimination, I wanted to fight against it. I thought I could change the system by going to the people who implemented the system, but I was bounced around from one person to the next no matter how high up the chain I went. Or I got emails simply dismissing what I had said entirely. Meetings, forums, and emails that were both public and private were fruitless.

Things reached a tipping point after a professor publicly disclosed the nature of my accommodations. I don’t know whether there was a full or partial disclosure—I was never able to learn exactly what happened. I’m not sure why this happened or what led up to the disclosure.

Prior to the disclosure, I missed roughly five days of school after I had been hospitalized from a virus that was circulating in my community. On the day of the incident, I had gone to the emergency room because I was having complications after my hospitalization. I was racked with guilt about the class I was missing and those I had already missed because of my health. I remember rushing into the elevator where I ran into this professor—I was still wearing my emergency room wristband as the professor stepped inside before the elevator continued its course. I vaguely remember greeting the professor before rushing into an explanation about my absence that day. The professor stood there in silence before turning and getting off the elevator the second it opened. I only learned of the disclosure because students told me about it in bits and pieces. To say that I was utterly humiliated captures only some of what I felt when I found out about the incident.

My Fight for Proper Accommodations

Written policies justifying my experiences as a 1L couldn’t be produced no matter how many times I asked. The policies that did exist were vague, and those in power decided to fill in the gaps with the mentality of “whatever I say is the rule” and sentiments like “law school isn’t fair.” Trust in the school and its officials was severely lacking—our honor code governing student conduct at the time was a joke. Those with power, including students, dangled the threat of an honor code violation constantly in what I thought was an abusive manner. Senior leadership at the time preached civility, kindness, and servant leadership, but frequent violations of the code among both leadership and students allowed questionable antics to become almost standard.

When the American Bar Association’s Accreditation Committee asked for student input, I gave them my truth and my documentation. Again, I felt dismissed—a public report concerning the Committee’s findings noted my experience, but action had yet to be taken in full. As the only student in a wheelchair, my identity was easily discernable among the student body because I had been fiercely passionate about disability issues in and out of the classroom. Prospective and current students came to me for advice after my accommodations had been disclosed—the incident had spread to law-oriented clubs at undergraduate universities that had been home to some of the students before attending law school.

My resulting anger and frustration led me to search for a lawyer who would at least listen to me, if not help me. Time after time and incident after incident had me at a breaking point. Lawyers after lawyer declined to hear my story once they heard the names attached or associated with my experience. A school official had been pressuring me to drop out voluntarily because, in his/her experience, graduation was a “hill that was just too steep to climb.” S/he insinuated that if I couldn’t graduate from school, passing the bar would be a miracle. I knew in my heart that all I needed was one person to believe me—my story sounded so far-fetched. Before I could even get my story out in full, I would be met with responses such as, “Civil rights violations don’t happen anymore—we’ve got a Black president!” Except, in my case, it had happened. I was fortunate enough to connect with a lawyer who also used a wheelchair. I brought him everything I had, and he agreed to represent me. The fact that he heard me and could relate to some of my struggles as a person with a disability were so meaningful. Well-meaning family members and others I knew were concerned about the impact of my decision, but I never wanted to withdraw my complaint.

I ended up getting in touch with Disability Rights Texas, which assumed an advisory role in their agreement to take on my case. The organization worked with my lawyer and me to file a formal complaint with the Texas Office of Civil Rights. After a lengthy investigation, the Office of Civil Rights found the school in violation. With the proper accommodations implemented on a systematic level, I began receiving the accommodations I should have had from the start. I continued to apply myself in my studies, and my 2L and 3L experiences reflected the spirit of the ADA and other laws in academic settings. Class-wide concerns about grading came up every semester, and students did cite the fact that accommodations were in place in contesting grade outcomes and such through petitions, discussions, and other means. Some professors took the approach of publishing these concerns along with their responses to them, while others opted for a class announcement to address these concerns. I responded to ableist arguments by detailing the requirements underlying the accommodation process. Educating on the letter and spirit of the ADA and other laws also helped refute (un)conscious biases that others may have felt about accommodated students. A professor that I had emailed asked me to share with the class part of the response I sent him, and after it was shared, multiple students with hidden disabilities reached out to thank me. The fact that my advocacy impacted others who may not have been “out” about their disability just reaffirmed my main reason for wanting to become a lawyer in the first place.

I had a tradition of rereading a saved copy of the personal statement I had submitted as part of my law school admission packet at the start of every semester. Whenever I would find my determination beginning to dry up, I would pull out my personal statement and read it. The support from family, friends, and others in my community who knew me helped more than I could ever say. Also, the school official’s words to me about the hill I was facing further fueled my motivation up to graduation and throughout my preparation for the bar exam. I graduated in May 2021 and passed the 2022 bar on one attempt. Students who had heard about my experience and others I had met along the way began reaching out to me from different parts of the country. Applicants taking the bar exam for the first time or reattempting it sought me out for advice, as did aspiring law students. If a person was comfortable talking about their specific circumstances, I would offer more tailored advice. If not, I offered simple dos and don’ts, along with other best practices. Today, incoming students don’t have to deal with the hurdles that I did, and there is a greater actionable commitment to those with disabilities at the law school. I don’t think I ever would have become a lawyer without help from the ADA and those who supported me.

Practicing Law with a Disability: Tools and Strategies

Technological Tools

Assistive technology and tools help me surmount the “hills” associated with my disability as a practicing lawyer. Since joining the bar, I have used assistive technology that enables me to practice remotely. I find that remote work is more feasible than working on-site because I can more easily manage my needs for help in an environment that is more adaptive to these needs. As a full-time wheelchair user, I need adequate space to conduct pressure relief in my wheelchair throughout the day. My chair has add-ons that allow me to tilt and recline back to relieve pressure from sitting. The bathroom is another place where I can conduct more extensive pressure relief. For example, my bathroom has handrails that help reduce falling and enable me to stand so that I can shift my weight when getting into a standing position. The handrails are necessary because they provide me with the support I need to stand independently.

My hand dexterity means I am prone to dropping things, such as my phone. My reacher helps me pick things up off the floor that aren’t too big or too small. Writing and reading take up a large part of my workday; therefore, I needed a lightweight computer such as the Microsoft Surface. Microsoft’s tablet computer line has been my top technology tool since college. It handles my software needs without the extra bulk and weight of a standard laptop or desktop. Using a mouse with touch features helps increase my productivity and efficiency. The detachable keyboard is great for when I need to read something, whether I am working at my height-adjustable desk or doing research at a coffee shop. The ability to pinch and zoom text or create a style template for oral presentations is great for presenting ideas whether I am the lead speaker or meeting attendee. Built-in software and browser enhancements help when reading or typing text. Given my vision issues, I use text enlargement and double-spacing so that things are easier to read. Frequent breaks and over-the-counter eye drops help reduce the strain of so much reading. My glasses have a blue-light filter that also helps.

Virtual conferencing technology such as Zoom allows me to meet with people despite distance barriers. This technology enables me to serve clients across Texas with Disability Rights Texas, the organization where I volunteer. My phone is a great tool for video chats because I have a cell phone holder that props it up so I can stay on-screen. While meetings are ongoing, I use my computer to take notes and refer to documents that we use as part of the meeting. While it’s true that I could use my tablet computer to run and use Zoom, I prefer this setup because it helps me stay focused and organized. I have a digital file management system that I can quickly utilize without having to manually search for what I need. My paperless approach to working is useful because, nowadays, digital submissions have become the standard. I use split screen features on both my phone and my computer when I am on the go. My stationary setup utilizes dual monitors so that I can easily transfer synthesized information into a document as needed. For example, I might have the web page I am using for research on one screen and a Microsoft Word document on the other screen.

The heavy typing I do all day long tends to take a toll on my hands and wrist because I type with one hand for the most part. I can use my other hand to press the shift, tab, or caps lock buttons. The downside to all this typing is that my hands and forearms can become inflamed, which means I have to take breaks to stretch or put on an ice pack.

Sometimes, it can be days before I am able to comfortably type again. When this happens, I’ll switch to Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a software program that converts my speech into text. The software can be cumbersome because the environment must be quiet enough to ensure that the microphone doesn’t pick up any unintentional speech, such as when a passerby comes around while I am dictating. The presence of this accidental speech creates additional editing that I must do when I finish my voice input. Accounting for noise can be tough, especially because conditions can change depending on what’s going on. For example, construction work taking place outside can seep through the walls or windows. Too much sustained noise simulation also makes me more tired in general, especially when I am working on tasks that require focused attention.

Travel and Meeting with Clients

Meeting up with people has always been a struggle because finding a space that meets the client’s privacy needs and my accessibility needs isn’t as easy as it seems. I serve clients who are mostly low-income or minimum-wage earners, and many already struggle because of their own health care costs. Therefore, passing on the costs of a private and accessible conference room to a client would be financially burdensome. Additionally, I am unable to drive. Lyft or Uber can’t be spontaneously ordered because most cars can’t accommodate a power chair. When I do travel, I have to arrange transport in advance using Paratransit. Paratransit does not take me directly to and from my destination, as it is a rideshare program. Therefore, my travel times can vary. (Although I do have access to an accessible van, I can’t always arrange a ride.)

When it comes to meetings and travel, my philosophy favors an early rather than late arrival. If I arrive early, any extra time can be used in responding to emails or returning calls with my phone. Depending on travel conditions that day and available Paratransit times, I sometimes have an hour or more until the face-to-face meeting starts. The digitalization of much of my work and my portable setup means that I can work anywhere that has a wheelchair-friendly table. Because I have lived in my area for most of my life, I am very familiar with the local restaurants and coffee shops. I know which places have public WiFi. If I am out in the community and working on the go, I am always conscious of what I am doing and who is around me. In a public place with WiFi, I’m mindful to work only on low-sensitivity tasks, such as briefing research I compile in support of a legal proposition.

Clients don’t always reside in a metropolitan area, and not every client is capable of meeting in person because of transportation issues. I am especially sensitive to the fact that many clients are immunocompromised as part of their disability or an underlying condition. Some clients require an interpreter or translator to facilitate communication. Fortunately, I can communicate with Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals through text or email.

Wheelchair Maintenance

Because my wheelchair is my mobility lifeline, I am mindful of the regular maintenance that is required. Wheelchair construction varies widely in terms of both durability and materials used. Suspension systems, batteries, and wiring are susceptible to corrosion, which impairs electrical connectivity. Wheelchair parts, screws, and tires are all propriety, so these things must come directly from the manufacturer. A wheelchair is very similar to a car. Once something goes wrong, things tend to go downhill quickly. Therefore, familiarity and regular inspections of key wheelchair components help me detect signs of wear. Regular cleaning of the smaller wheels in the front, or caster wheels, is needed because these wheels easily pick up hair. Too much hair and other buildup can cause the bearings to break. In terms of the seating system, cushioning and support can wear out over time. My body needs contoured support, so a seating mold is used to create the seating shape that conforms to my body; this requires an evaluation from a seating specialist.

Replacing any components, screws, or parts can be a lengthy process that begins with a durable medical equipment provider. First, a wheelchair repair technician has to come out to diagnose the issue. Remote diagnostics can be completed if the issue does not relate to any electrical components. If it does involve electrical components, the repair technician must use special tools to read and diagnose any inner workings having to do with wires, circuit connections, etc. Then, a doctor must sign off on the repair request in justifying the materials needed to complete the repair. The medical documentation then must be submitted back to the durable medical provider, which sends out an itemized request to the wheelchair manufacturer for the necessary materials. Each of these steps requires additional time for receipt and processing before the materials are shipped to the durable medical provider. Insurance restrictions may be overcome through prior authorization requests, which is why repair requests must be called in as soon as possible. For example, many insurance providers will only authorize and pay for a new wheelchair battery every five years. Therefore, communication with a primary care provider is critical so that documentation is detailed and thorough. Insurers have every incentive to deny a claim, and insufficient or lackluster documentation is sure to result in rejection. The wheelchair repair process, in total, can take anywhere from three to nine months, depending on how quickly a repair technician and the doctor can complete the required paperwork. Once the durable medical provider has the necessary parts, the provider will schedule a time to conduct the repair.

Finding Your Own Tools and Strategies

Every person with a disability is different, and what works for me may not work for you or someone else. The key is experimenting to find what setups and tools enable your success as you go about your lawyering. Look at your average day and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can achieve in short bursts. Be sure to take breaks and listen to your body’s needs. If you’re looking at ways to keep up with disability technology and accessories, check out the Abilities Expo. It is an annual showcase that highlights adaptive technology and products. Durable medical equipment providers and other vendors are on-site with products that you can demo to see what works for you. If you are newly disabled, ask your doctor to connect you with a physical or occupational therapist who can work with you regarding your needs. Also, be sure to look into your state’s vocational rehabilitation department, which can set up an evaluation with an assistive technology specialist who can recommend tools that may make your life easier.

Moving Forward

We cannot forget that law schools and the legal profession as a whole are built around people. People make mistakes, but improvement and innovation cannot be forsaken simply because of tradition or the status quo. We must really dig deep to see what is happening at the law school level to foster civility and cooperation. Schools should highlight the importance of collaboration and teamwork. In the world of law practice, collegiality should extend not just to one’s co-workers but also to opposing counsel in any case. I say this because all lawyers swear to uphold the Constitution, and our loyalty to that document should supersede any personal goals—be they a matter of reputation or income. Some people are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. Our status as lawyers should not become a personality trait, nor should it be placed above our humanity.

Lawyers are tasked with representing a specific side or position; however, I believe that effective advocacy comes from a joint effort. There is no one stance that is universal or absolute, as law school teaches (or at least mine did). Ethics should not be a one-and-done course nor confined to a model code or exam. We must incorporate social change and justice at every level possible in advancing our society and the clients we, as lawyers, will eventually serve. The motto of my familial homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, applies here just as well: Together we aspire; together we achieve.