8 Things I learned from WSBA’s Disability and Ableism Program

diversity and tolerance on multicolor background
diversity and tolerance on multicolor background
My key takeaways from Beyond the Dialogue: Disability and Ableism within the Legal Profession.

diversity and tolerance on multicolor backgroundIn October, as part of Disability Awareness Month, the WSBA Diversity Program partnered with the Washington Attorneys with Disabilities Association to present a program entitled Beyond the Dialogue: Disability and Ableism within the Legal Profession.

If you missed it, you can still watch it here.

Here are my eight key takeaways:

  1. Ableism. Defined by Miriam Webster as “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities,” ableism functions like and alongside every other form of oppression. It creates a narrow ideal of what is normal and good and fuels a system of privilege and marginalization.
  2. Ableism often is internalized as self-judgment. People with disabilities often blame themselves for not being able to function and perform in the same ways that able-bodied people do. People sometimes hide disabilities due to shame or push their bodies to the point of pain and suffer health consequences rather than admit that an accommodation would be helpful.
  3. Accommodations are often free, or inexpensive. According to the Job Accommodation Network, studies show more than half of all accommodations cost nothing. Firms and other legal employers often cite fears of costs of accommodations, a myth perpetuated by conversations and hiring practices within the profession.
  4. 21% of WSBA members identify as having a disability or impairment, according to the 2012 WSBA Membership study. The majority of them are older than 60.
  5. Our experiences of disability are impacted by our intersecting relationships to privilege and marginalization aside from our ability status. For example, legal professionals with racial privilege may feel more entitled to ask for accommodations, while those of color may be judged more harshly for having a disability. A female or gender non-conforming professional may not want to come out for fear of adding to discrimination and otherness that is already experienced.
  6. Legal professionals with disabilities often experience bias and isolation at work. Events like this help create community and a sense of commonality, even though everyone’s experience is different.
  7. Including law practitioners with disabilities goes beyond providing accommodations. It involves the same things that inclusion of all underrepresented groups need – mentorship opportunities, sponsorship, a great first case, social events and invitations, opportunities for leadership.
  8. Dismantling ableism is good for everyone! Legal professionals have high rates of depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. It stands to reason that we would all benefit from more reasonable expectations, collaborative and inclusive work environments, and support for a balanced work life.

For more information about disability and ableism in the legal profession please contact diversity@wsba.org.

5 thoughts on “8 Things I learned from WSBA’s Disability and Ableism Program

  1. Dana Barnett

    Hi Sara, Thanks for your comment! I am happy to talk about it more with you, but my first thoughts are that you could advocate for your workplace to learn more about ableism and access how it might play out in your culture and policies. You could also look at some best practices for making a workplace inclusive. Panelist, Marie Quasius, gave some great examples of practices at her firm that distribute workload in a way that reduces competition and pressure. Another suggestion would be to try to be honest and open about your own struggles and vulnerabilities as they arise. Most of us are trying to pass as an able-bodied “norm” that is really not the reality for almost any of us, and when we are honest about that we create a more welcoming culture for others to share what they need.

  2. Edward Hiskes

    I have hearing problems also. What kind of equipment do you want, and what does it cost? It seems to me that a few wireless microphones and digital signal processing equipment would handle most of the problems. You could just have your own set to bring to a trial and place around the room. I can’t imagine the cost should be that much, compared to everything else you are spending to stay in business. I also have an electrical engineering degree, to I am interested in the technical solutions that might be set up.

  3. Sara Niegowski

    Awesome post. I am constantly learning to expand my awareness and perspective, which now includes ableism. Thank you. If colleagues may be trying to mask a disability because of fear, do you have any tips for personally creating opportunities to support them … when I may not necessarily know who they are?

  4. markpattersonlaw

    I am a lawyer with a hearing disability.

    Unfortunately, the county budget does not adequately compensate with their devices to address the issue I have, however during a recent trial my client, also with a hearing loss, did use the provided device and it improved his comprehension of what was transpiring immensely.

    Unfortunately, the lawyer cannot be tied to a stationary device he used either. Trial is a dynamic space and I have found owning the cutting edge of technology makes the difference as to whether I have a trial practice or not.

    From the beginning of this hearing loss, I am proud to say both the bench and bar have been most accommodating, often the Court in Snohomish County beginning the hearing inquiring whether I can hear.

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