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March 21, 2014 President’s Message
ACBA forms Committee on Law and Disability

by Nancy L. Heilman

The ACBA took a new step forward in December when its Board of Governors approved the formation of the Committee on Law and Disability.

The committee’s mission statement reads as follows:

“The Committee on Law and Disability is committed to providing disability-related education, advocacy, and professional services to members of the legal profession, consumers of legal services, and the general public; promoting and supporting accessibility and fair and equal treatment of persons with disabilities; and furthering the inclusion and professional development of disabled attorneys and law students by creating programs and resources to support their professional needs.”

The committee held its first official meeting on Jan. 14 under the leadership of Chair Paul R. Sullivan Jr. Jennifer Modell will serve as vice chair. ACBA liaisons to the committee are President Nancy L. Heilman, Executive Director David A. Blaner, and Director of Diversity and Gender Equality Alysia M. Keating. Regular meetings will be held the first Monday of each month in the James I. Smith III Boardroom. The Committee will welcome additional members.

The committee formed four subcommittees: Advocacy & Legislation; Programming; Outreach; and Accessibility. At its meeting on Feb. 3, the committee examined the focus of each subcommittee for the remainder of this fiscal year.

The Advocacy & Legislation Subcommittee discussed proposed mental health budgets, the March 31, 2014 deadline for comments on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 proposed implementation, as well as the recent legislation introduced by Representative Tim Murphy on mental health and recovery.

The Programming Subcommittee will pursue disability awareness through lunch ’n learn educational sessions open to the general membership and CLE sponsorship. A longer term goal involves a web page link to information about specific disability issues.

The Outreach Subcommittee’s immediate goal is to gather information by means of a survey to be distributed to the legal community to help determine how best to serve the needs of disabled attorneys and law students. As an outcome of the survey, it is anticipated that a mentoring program will be developed for law students and attorneys with disabilities.

The Accessibility Subcommittee discussed working with the judges and court personnel to provide accessibility in the courts in terms of accessible entrance/exit, visual and auditory accommodations, and consideration of privacy issues during voir dire.

Blaner suggested that this subcommittee also examine whether the ACBA adequately addresses the needs of persons with disabilities with respect to its offices, conference and entertainment facilities, website, and written materials disseminated in connection with its programming. All subcommittee members were encouraged to submit articles on relevant topics for publication in the Lawyers Journal and to participate in KD & You and the Law on April 15.

Although the ACBA is not the first bar association to form such a committee, it is among the few and the committee focus is broader than most. I ask that all ACBA members give the work of the committee their support so that we can be forerunners in meeting the needs of legal professionals with disabilities in our community.