8 Things I learned from WSBA’s Disability and Ableism Program
In 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.