Author: legallyabled

Legal mentorship program for law students with disabilities

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC
Disability Rights Attorney, Disability Assessment Specialist & Counselor

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT BELOW! 🗣🙌🏼

Imagine being in a highly-competitive field where ONE-THIRD OF ONE PERCENT of people are like you. That leaves more than 99% of people who inadvertently place hurdles in your path, discriminate against you and those like you, and create inaccessible work environments. To be a disabled lawyer is to be a lawyer on an island.

This is a problem. Law firms don’t see that disabled lawyers have the most important skills in quickly adapting to unpredictable challenges, reliability, resilience, hard work, assessing client needs, and innovation. Clients don’t know to trust in the abilities of lawyers with disabilities because many have never seen one before.

Think about the disabled lawyers (and paralegals and other legal professionals) who not only face all of that from a disability standpoint, but are also discriminated against based on their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or socioeconomic status.

Imagine knowing you are smart, capable, driven, and worthy of a seat at the table—but you’re assumed the opposite of all those things simply because you look differently…even though you passed the same bar exam as everyone else.

ANNOUNCEMENT – Through LegallyAbled.com I am starting a mentorship program for law students with disabilities. Maybe you are thinking about going to law school, maybe you’re about to take the bar exam—wherever you are in the process, you can apply. I can help you apply for accommodations for the LSAT, law school, and the bar. I can help you find employment (my masters and counseling certification is in disability counseling, and I’ve helped many find employment). I can help you assess whether law school is right for you, and if it is, help you find and apply to the right law school.

I will be accepting 3-5 people in this mentee class. If you’re interested, email legallyabled@gmail.com! It’s completely free.

Disability and Police Brutality: Methods for Protecting Yourself

I recently wrote a piece on the dangerous effects of police brutality against members of the disability community. As a disability rehabilitation counselor and disability rights attorney, I’ve implemented and shared methods for protecting yourself from the police with my counseling and legal clients. Now, it is more evident than ever that I need to share these strategies with as many people as I can. Click the link here to read more.

Thanks,

Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disclaimer: any advice not given in a personalized consultation setting should not be construed or received as legal advice. To receive legal feedback, seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in your need, in your geographic area. This post is educational in nature.

The ADA: We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

The ADA: We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

On July 26, 1990 President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. This Act addresses discrimination against people with disabilities with broad-sweeping protections. If you have a physical, mental, cognitive, hearing, visual, or other condition that significantly interferes with one or more major life activities (eating, sleeping, grooming, cooking, etc.); have been diagnosed or recorded as having such a condition; or if you are regarded by others as having a disability this law protects you.

It establishes that people with disabilities must not face discrimination in public, private, transportation, education–pretty much anywhere. And yet, since this law was enacted, people with disabilities have had little luck holding the Act’s violators accountable.

One reason for this, is that the legal battle for fighting disability discrimination in court is tumultuous and COSTLY. With a large portion of the disability community unemployed or underemployed, often because of discrimination in hiring practices, how are people with disabilities to afford lengthy legal battles?

Another issue with enforcing the ADA is that most employers, politicians, parents, friends, and other community members never made the effort to understand the protections afforded in this important piece of law. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to enforcing laws, but the lack of general understanding about the ADA outside of the disability community leads to burnout among the disability community’s members, who have to explain and be experts in protecting their rights, AND holding people in positions of power accountable.

This leads to the third issue–many people with disabilities lack a thorough knowledge of their disability rights. The ADA is certainly the most discussed disability rights law, but it is just one of quite a few laws protecting people with disabilities. Even so, after the general purpose of the law, many people don’t know the Act’s specific provisions. If you don’t know the provisions, how can you know every instance those rights are violated? Disability rights attorneys like myself, and educators (special educators and general educators) need to operate on an accessible level, educating the disability community from a young age on how its members are entitled to protections under the law to account for systemic ableism and discrimination that threatens their livelihood, and sometimes–their lives.

However, even when disability rights attorneys know and help those with disabilities, too many attorneys have no training in adapting the legal process to the needs of their clients with disabilities. The legal system is largely inaccessible, and lawyers rarely have the special education and disability rehabilitation counseling work background I have. They don’t change how the documents look so that their clients with visual disabilities can read them. They don’t adapt their questions in legal consultations to account for communication differences. They don’t know, what they don’t know, but that’s never an excuse. Lawyers, of all specialties, need to approach each client with individual assessments of how the legal system can be adapted to involve them in their cases.

Let’s say that the person knows his rights, has a job or can afford an attorney, that attorney is knowledgeable in serving people with disabilities, that attorney adapts the legal process to the client’s needs, and there is a clear violation of the ADA. Depending on where the discrimination takes place, it can be extremely challenging holding the guilty party accountable.

Too frequently, the person in charge of implementing punishment or holding wrong-doers accountable has no background in assessing circumstances for a person with a disability. The state’s department of civil rights takes on too few cases, shows difficulty in upholding disability rights and holding discriminators accountable, and routinely ignores complaints against people who work for community agencies, professional groups, employers, etc. If the department of civil rights isn’t the person who holds the guilty discriminator accountable, even the courts have difficulty in deciding how severe the punishments should be. They assess the remedies under the law incorrectly, because they wrongly assume people with disabilities wouldn’t make as much money in their jobs or would have a more restricted working past or future. This is important, because punishments under the law take into account loss of work and pay when determining how much money someone should receive once they win the lawsuit. If the judge or jury decides you deserve less, especially because they are unaware of their biases against people with disabilities, plaintiffs are at-risk of being under rewarded and remedied even if they win their cases.

Additionally, for workplace discrimination issues, the lawmakers who enacted the ADA decided that small workplaces can be excused for discriminating against the disability community. If the number of employees is small, employers may be able to discriminate without consequence. There are holes in the ADA that must be addressed.

The ADA was certainly a start–but 30 years later, we can do better. We shouldn’t settle for a law written decades prior, when we can address disability equality needs today. Travel, schools, leaders, and so many more aspects of our lives today have changed. Our laws (and the enforcement of the laws) must reflect that.

Especially when the pandemic brings with it discussions of lessening accommodations in schools (it can’t under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Rehab Act, and ADA–but it can evolve to create different “reasonable” accommodations under the ADA in pandemic times). Especially when marriage equality is not a concrete right for people with disabilities who rely on government benefits for healthcare and financial assistance (there may be legal options depending on the person, but in a wide variety of cases people with disabilities can lose vital benefits if they’re married and their spouse makes more than $2,000 a month–another reason why the lawyer you choose is so important. They may be able to use certain trusts for this not to be an issue). Especially when employers are still discriminating against people with disabilities in interviews and workplaces. Especially when police are still using excessive force and wrongfully arresting people with disabilities because they misunderstand disability symptoms and instead see those symptoms as evidence of criminal behavior or motives. Especially when prosecutors are still uneducated on interviewing people with disabilities (a community more likely to be attacked by violent or economic criminals). Especially when prosecutors are more likely to not bring cases against criminals who target people with disabilities because they see a person with a disability as an “unreliable witness.” Especially when juries are still susceptible to imposing their disability biases when deciding the fate of a defendant with a disability.

Celebrate the ADA. It was, and still is, a monumental law. But it shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all-law for communities that continue to evolve. Disability discrimination still happens every day. We can and must do better.

Fire All LAPD Responsible for Disability Rights Violations

Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC
Disability Rights Attorney, Disability Assessment Specialist and Counselor, and Advocate

Over the weekend, another startling video emerged of Joshua, a Black protester with a disability in Los Angeles, being brutally physically attacked and forcibly removed from his wheelchair by LAPD (available on my Instagram: @ashleybjacobson, originally seen on the Instagram account: @misanharriman).

Joshua had his disability rights violated by over ten LAPD officers.  In the process, officers are seen throwing his expensive wheelchair violently against the ground, immediately damaging the chair, causing the wheels to fall off, bending and and scratching the chair itself.

Let me be clear, as a disability rights lawyer and advocate living with physical disability–People with disabilities are entitled to disability rights even when they are stopped, questioned, investigated, detained, searched, arrested, incarcerated, and prosecuted in court by police and state attorneys.

The disability community is the largest minority group in the world.  We are strong when we demand change together.  As such, I have compiled a few action steps we can all take to hold all officers (and their leaders who perpetuate a culture of ableism) accountable.

1) Report the incident in several ways.  I’ll start with the wording itself.  If you are unsure how to write the email, here is a template I made.  I indicate several areas where you can choose or change the language based on your preferences or the message you want to convey, because otherwise officials will filter all messages with the same copied text to their email junk folder or trash bin–one way they get around reading such complaints.  Try switching things up instead of just choosing the first choice every time–we are trying to avoid everyone sending the same email.

If you are unable to use the template or want help writing an email, please email me at legallyabled@gmail.com and I will type up the email language for you, email it to you, and then all you have to do is copy and paste it to your email when you send it to the individuals I list below.

Here is the template (you can choose which sentences and wordings you’d like to use):

My name is [enter your name here].  I am a person [choose one or more: living with disability / caring for a person with a disability / who has a loved one with a disability].  During a peaceful [choose one: protest / demonstration / march / assembly], over ten Los Angeles police officers were caught on film violating the disability rights of a man named Joshua.  He is [choose one: entitled to / afforded] these rights under several disability rights laws in the United States, including the Americans with Disabilities Act [optional: ADA] and Rehabilitation Act [optional to add here: of 1973].  Joshua was, [optional: and all people with disabilities are,] entitled to disability rights when [choose one or more: stopped, detained, questioned, investigated, arrested, booked, or incarcerated].

Disability rights leaders and experts [choose one or more: warn / know / caution / advise], any and all officers who violated Joshua’s rights [optional: and the rights of others in the disability community] are financial liabilities to your department, city, and state as [choose one: qualified immunity / typical legal deference given to police] does not prevent such officers from being successfully sued under disability rights laws as recently [choose one: affirmed / decided / held] by the courts.

I demand that all officers be [choose one or more: immediately / swiftly / quickly] identified, fired with loss of any pension, and fined for [choose one or more: replacing / repairing / fixing / resolving any issues with] Joshua’s wheelchair.

[Optional: Any action or inaction by leaders pertaining to this massive rights violation will result in the loss of votes and public support by the largest minority in your jurisdiction—the disability community.]

[Optional:  Choosing to ignore this issue makes you complicit.]

2) After you’ve written or received the text to send with your complaint, follow one or more of the methods below by filing a complaint with the police:

“Any person who believes they were wrongfully accused of a crime, unjustly injured, or
experienced misconduct on the part of an officer can make a complaint with the Department’s Internal Affairs Group hotline at 1-800-339-6868. For complaints specifically related to the protests you can email ProtestResponse2020@lapd.online . Individuals can also make a complaint through the Office of the Inspector General at 213 893 6400 or [email] to:oigcompl@lapd.online if email is preferred.

How to File a Complaint
If you would like to file a complaint about an employee of the Los Angeles Police Department, please follow the instructions below.
All complaints of misconduct are accepted, including those made anonymously. You may use one of the complaint forms that can be found in multiple languages at the bottom of this page, though the form is not required. Complaints may be filed with either the OIG or LAPD.

To file a complaint with the OIG, you may:
• Visit our office in person. We are in the World Trade Center, in Downtown Los
Angeles. Address: 350 S. Figueroa Street; Suite 1002; Los Angeles, CA 90071
• Call the OIG.
Phone: (213) 893-6400
TTY: (213) 482-7002
• Send us a Fax.
Fax numbers: (213) 687-7473; (213) 687-7487; or (213) 687-7493
• Email us at oigcompl@lapd.online
• Send us a message via our mobile application, which is available via both Apple
Store and Google Play.
• Mail us a letter at the office address designated above.
• Request to speak with OIG staff at a public meeting of the Los Angeles Board
of Police Commissioners.
• Send us a message via our Facebook page.
• Send us a message via our Twitter profile.
• Comment on our Google Business profile.
To file a complaint with LAPD, you may:
• Call the LAPD’s complaint hotline: 1-800-339-6868TDD 213-978-3500 or send
email to LAPDCMS@LAPD.ONLINE
• Ask to speak to a supervisor at any LAPD station.
• Visit the Internal Affairs website or click on the Complaint Form links below.
• Visit any LAPD Community Police Station and speak directly with an LAPD
supervisor, regardless of where the incident occurred.
Additional Complaint Process Information:
You may also contact your local council district office to file a complaint. Complaints of
misconduct are investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs Group. The Office of the Inspector General can oversee and review all complaint investigations.”

ALSO email the California representatives in Congress.  Email the mayors and Governor. Email the LA City Council.  If you are a voter in their district, let them know.  They work for you.  Make them listen to you.  Show them you’ll remember at the next election if they ignore this.

You can bet I will be doing all of the above.  We need to make meaningful noise here.  Without our advocacy, they will assume we deserve this abuse in the future–even though it clearly is shown to violate disability rights laws.  

3) Find ways to speak out on your own social media pages about Joshua’s mistreatment (and mistreatment of other people in our community).  I have been sharing resources, videos, and action steps.  You can use those, and you have my permission to share them.

4)  Keep an eye out for the verified and legitimate gofundme accounts of protesters with disabilities.  They need help paying for bail, equipment repair, and medical bills following protests.  Some may ask, “Why go to the protests if it’s so risky?”  People who want to create change and support the equality of Black people, including Black people with disabilities–can do so in a variety of ways.  Think of how brave it is though, for those who choose to go to the inaccessible protests.  This is not the only way to help, but it should be just as much an option for a person with a disability as it is for an able-bodied citizen.  I’ll share info on my social media pages (@ashleybjacobson on Instagram, @legallyabled on Twitter) when I find them.

If you need help with anything, let me know.  Email me at legallyabled@gmail.com.  Message me on Instagram.  Comment on any posts with questions.  I’d hate for you not to act because something is in your way.  Let me know if I can help remove any barriers in your advocacy process.

 

 

 

Fire Columbus Police Officer Involved in Abuse of Protester with a Disability

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By Ashley Jacobson

On June 21, 2020 there was a man living with physical disability who attended a peaceful protest in Columbus, Ohio.  Events took a scary turn when this man had his prosthetic limbs forcibly removed from his legs by police, who continued to attack him violently.

The following is a screen-reader accessible version of the email I sent to the named individuals:

“June 22, 2020

From the office of Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

To Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, ADA Compliance Officer Zane D. Jones, the City of Columbus, members of the City Council for Columbus, and the Columbus Division of Police:

On June 21, 2020 a man with physical disability had his prosthetic limbs forcibly removed and was physically attacked by Columbus police during a protest.  I am a disability rights attorney who also holds a master’s degree and nationwide certification in counseling and assessing the needs of individuals with disabilities.  Any involved officers’ actions are clear violations of constitutional and disability rights.  This not only endangers people with disabilities in your jurisdiction but also implicates related departments and officers who are presently at-risk of private lawsuits and losing federal funding.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is applicable to all individuals who meet one of the following criteria: 1. The individual has an impairment (physical or mental) that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2. The individual has a history or record of such an impairment; or 3. The individual is perceived by others as having such an impairment.  42 U.S.C. §12102.  The individual victimized by police on June 21, 2020 is covered under the federally-mandated protections of the ADA as an individual with limb amputations.

The ADA provides a “clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. §12101(b)(1).  Title II of the ADA provides that “no individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of…activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by any such entity.”  42 USC §12132.  The involved man with a disability was subject to discrimination by a public entity.

The Department of Justice states on its own ADA website that “Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by law enforcement agencies” (read here).  This specifically includes language stating that disability discrimination cannot occur by law enforcement when “interrogating witnesses,” “arresting, booking, and holding suspects,” “enforcing laws,” and “other duties.”

Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities under “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Columbus Division of Police receives federal financial assistance.  Section 2000d-7 of Title 42 provides that a “State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973” (read here).  Pub L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 394 (Sept. 6, 1973). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals importantly held that private suits in circumstances of such disability discrimination are not barred (read ruling here).  Therefore, the individuals and departments involved in this atrocity of disability discrimination in Columbus can be held accountable and liable under the law.

The targeting of individuals with disabilities by the Columbus Division of Police are far too familiar to the disability community.  In the CDP’s own report on use of force from 2018, published in 2019, it was reported that the use of force on individuals with impairments or emotional disturbances accounted for 46.67% of all reported recipients of excessive force (read here). These numbers, as police lack qualified expertise to properly diagnose and assess crisis needs of individuals with disabilities, are likely low when taking into account all the individuals arrested by police who are wrongfully arrested based on misidentifying symptoms of disability as criminal behavior.

Any future similar violations towards people with disabilities will be done with continued clear knowledge of its illegality and will indicate the complicity of all who obstruct harsh and swift accountability against the individuals involved.  The disability community is the largest minority in your jurisdiction and the United States.  They are voters and consumers.  There will be unending consequences to ignoring their cries for enforcement of their legal rights.

 

Sincerely,

Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disability Counselor, Assessment & Accommodations Specialist (nationwide CRC)

Disability Rights Attorney (state of Michigan) & Disability Advocate

legallyabled@gmail.com”

 

There are other steps you can take to join the fight to hold police accountable in Columbus.  

1) Sign the petition found here (also found at the following link: http://chng.it/pnNX9JQy) and share the petition on your social media.

2) Send your own email, make your own call, and/or send your own letter.  Here are some great people to contact:

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther: City Hall 2nd Floor, 90 West Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43215; Office phone: 614-645-7671; Email 311@columbus.gov; Twitter: @mayorginther; Instagram: @mayor_ginther

ADA Coordinator Zane D. Jones: ADA Compliance Office c/o Zane D. Jones, 77 N. Front St. Columbus, OH 43215; Email: zdjones@columbus.gov

City of Columbus General council contact: Instagram: @columbuscitycouncil, Twitter: @columbuscouncil

Shannon G. Hardin: Council President—Instagram: @sg_hardin, Twitter: @sg_hardin

Michael Brown: Chief of Staff

Zachary Davidson: Legislative Aide– Office: 614.645.5291; Email: ZGDavidson@Columbus.gov

Linda Capobianco: Legislative Assistant– Office: 614.645.2726; Email: LMCapobianco@columbus.gov

Elizabeth Brown: Council President Pro Tempore—Instagram: @lizclarkebrown, Twitter: @lizclarkebrown, second Twitter: @lizforus

Kelsey Ellingsen: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-7163, Email: KAEllingsen@columbus.gov

James Carmean: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-724-4649; Email: JWCarmean@columbus.gov

Mitchell J. Brown: Council Member–only available through Denise Friend-Foster and Grant Ames

Denise Friend-Foster: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-724-4686, Email: DFriendFoster@columbus.gov

Grant Ames: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-4605, Email: GMAmes@columbus.gov

Rob Dorans: Council Member—Instagram: @robdorans, Twitter: @robdorans

Kevin McCain: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-5829, Email: KBMccain@columbus.gov

Hannah Miller: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-5568, Email: HNMiller@columbus.gov

Shayla Favor: Council Member—Instagram: @shaylafavor, Twitter: @sdfavor

Tyneisha Harden: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-3680, Email: TYHarden@columbus.gov

Charles Newman: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-3680, Email: CENewman@columbus.gov

Emmanuel Remy: Council Member—Instagram: @emmanuel_v_remy

Jeffrey Carter: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-3559, email: jdcarter@columbus.gov

Lucille Frank: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-724-4432, Email: LJFrank@columbus.gov

Priscilla Tyson: Council Member—contacted through legislative aide Nicole Harper and legislative assistant Carl Williams

Nicole Harper: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-2932, Email: NNHarper@columbus.gov

Carl Williams: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-0854, Email: cgwilliams@columbus.gov

Columbus Division of Police: 

Instagram: Columbus_police_

Twitter: @columbuspolice

Deputy Chief Bash

Columbus Division of Police
Deputy Chief Bash
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone: 614-645-4105

Internal Affairs Bureau Citizen Complaints

CONTACT US: To file a complaint (or concern) against Division personnel, please call (614) 645-4880. To file a compliment, contact us at (614) 645-4580. Or, to reach the main Internal Affairs office, please call (614) 645-4745.
You may also reach us via email aIABDeskSgt@columbuspolice.org

Columbus Division of Police

Internal Affairs Bureau Citizen Complaints
Columbus, OH
Map and directions 

Office phone : 614-645-4880

Internal Affairs Bureau

Columbus Division of Police
Internal Affairs Bureau
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4745

Human Resources Administration
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4803

Professional Standards Bureau
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4602

Columbus Division of Police
Discipline/Grievance Liaison
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-7132

 

Video of the event referenced above can be found by clicking here.

 

 

White People:

  1. Listen and defer to the judgment of those affected by police brutality and other forms of racism.
  2. Accept the accounts of victims as true, without playing “devil’s advocate.”
  3. Acknowledge that human beings are flawed and do things all the time that their loved ones would never expect. You may have a family member, friend, significant other who is a police officer and you want to defend that person. I urge you to recognize that people have many sides you never see, and may react completely differently when their adrenaline is going, when they’re behind closed doors, or when they are surrounded by bad influences. No human is totally immune from incorrectly assessing a situation and responding in ways rooted in societal conditioning—especially when that person has not recognized that every person has underlying biases that require compensatory actions to not inflict on those the person is biased against.  ALSO, if your loved one is an officer who doesn’t inflict brutality on black people you should still be an ally for change here—your loved one should want to get rid of every officer who inflicts and ignores brutality. Lastly, your approval isn’t required to make this cause legitimate.
  4. Educate yourself on this issue by doing research, and following people at the forefront of this battle (I’ll tag some in this post). Note—it’s not the job of black people to educate white people on this, we must be proactive in educating ourselves by researching unbiased sites/books/podcasts about repeatedly substantiated claims of police brutality. The studies showing how prominent of an issue this is are abundantly thorough and easy to find. Read them. There are some great podcasts out there. There are movies and tv shows made by people of color who address this in the most accurate way—watch them.
  5. Support black owned businesses, and financially support (and physically support, in volunteer form when invited) organizations and non-profits that serve the black community.
  6. Don’t ignore this issue after the news cycle has moved on. People of color can’t. Feigning outrage only to abandon the cause later is a chosen action of white privilege.
  7. Identify the moments in your life where your prejudice was showing or felt. Going back to #3, you must understand that people are conditioned to feel or internalize people and situations in certain and complex ways. It is your job to correct the course of these thoughts and choose actions to stop discrimination in its tracks. As a therapist and attorney, I was trained to know that every person has bias. To not admit this is the same as perpetuating racism.
  8. There’s no “but most cops are good” needed in this conversation. This issue is addressing the bad cops, including those who witness police behaving dangerously and brutally and do nothing. To argue this flies in the face of all those affected by police brutality. It also dismisses the voices of black people who had to worry about and deal with this issue their entire lives. As a white person, you may think the police are great because you were treated nicely by them. But people can treat two individuals completely differently. To say cops are nice because they are nice to you is shortsighted. There were people who thought Harvey Weinstein was nice. Many serial killers’ neighbors thought the killers were nice. You can’t know how someone treats others. And also, the focus is on police who commit brutality and act out of racism. The “good cop” argument is irrelevant because from the start this cause has been about ousting the bad cops and identifying how racism is systemic and invasive to this country’s freedom.

The Vulnerables: Disability in a Pandemic

woman in wheelchair in kitchen
Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has sunk its teeth in our daily routines, shaking up our normal practices and forcing us to grapple with its consequences.  In those discussions of the COVID-19’s impact, you’ve likely heard repeatedly that there are some people more at risk to contracting and experiencing severe symptoms of the virus.  Of those at risk, people with disabilities have often been seen and discussed as “vulnerables” who are not worthy of preservation.  As a disability advocate and attorney, I wanted to explain where that notion comes from, while further promoting that it’s not an accurate evaluation of the worthiness of the uniquely-abled (my invented phrase for people with disabilities).

Though disability advocates have fought hard to receive equal treatment as citizens, the plight of those with disabilities is far from over.  It’s cemented in a well-documented battle throughout the history of humankind, which created a world built to exclude.  People with disabilities were isolated, killed, not trusted, malnourished, shamed, ridiculed, and not educated properly for centuries.

Most families have someone in their family tree who experienced this cruel level of stigma based on disability.  I’ve recently learned about a link to this historical discrimination in my own family.

In the 1940s, after barely surviving starvation under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, my grandmother and her 11 siblings and 2 parents made the trip to the United States.  They suffered for years under the Nazi regime, and wanted to return to my great-grandmother’s home country–the US.  It took over a year after the end of World War 2 for my great-grandparents to get passports for all of the children.  They traveled to the U.S. as a family, but were torn apart when there was a problem with one of the children–Nilah, my grandmother’s sister–at Ellis Island.

Nilah had epilepsy and she was not allowed immediate acceptance into the States.

Many readers may know someone (or be someone) with Epilepsy.  If you’re familiar, you’re probably thinking “Why would Epilepsy be a problem when entering the U.S.?”  Well, today, it wouldn’t be.  But after WWII, among the medical community there was a false notion that Epilepsy was contagious, or hereditary, or just plain not what the forefathers would want in this country.  So, upon entering the U.S., my great-grandfather was allowed entrance with 11 of the children, including my grandmother, while my great-grandmother and Nilah were holed up in Ellis Island for months.  They were tested emotionally and physically in isolation, while my great-grandfather looked for work and cared for 11 children with $400 to his name, while living at my great-great grandmother’s home.

Shocking to no one today, Nilah was not contagious, and after several months was allowed to move with her mother to meet the rest of the family in Philadelphia.  But Nilah’s journey with disability wasn’t safe from danger.

Once settled in the U.S., Nilah was taken to a very well-known medical facility and my great-grandparents were told she should receive a lobotomy for her Epilepsy.

In my graduate studies in the disability rehabilitation counseling program at Michigan State University (HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS PROGRAM), I watched in-depth videos and read about lobotomies.  You may have heard of these procedures, which historically damaged the brain using an “ice-pick”-like device (a great story on these linked below).

Though Epilepsy can be a very serious condition, the notion that it would become less serious by damaging Nilah’s brain with a lobotomy seemed unfathomable to my great-grandparents.  The day they turned down the lobotomy gave Nilah the chance to adapt in her own way to the world as a woman with a disability (though I wonder if she ever personally identified herself as part of the disability community or if it was just something she thought was unique to her).  Nilah went on to have a loving life and family of her own.

But Nilah’s lobotomy recommendation by that doctor still doesn’t sit right with me.  Instead of finding ways to healthily incorporate Nilah into the world, or importantly looking at alternatives first, doctors flippantly and far-too-quickly recommended an incredibly dangerous, serious procedure.

But Nilah’s story isn’t unique.  People with disabilities have been put in compromising, dangerous situations forever.  Into the 1970s, people with disabilities who were completely capable of inclusion in typical society were institutionalized–many in horrific environments resulting in abuse.  Willowbrook became infamous for such abuses including lack of nutrition, individuals living in cages, living in feces and human waste, lack of appropriate medical care, overcrowding, under-staffing, and under-valuing people with disabilities including those with Down Syndrome, Epilepsy, Depression, Post-partum Depression, symptoms now-indicating potential Autism diagnoses, and various other conditions fluctuating from mild to severe.

Many of the individuals in institutions like Willowbrook were capable of living among those without disabilities, but were sent to the institutions after their parents were given discriminatory guidance by medical professionals who expected and understood too little.  There was a lawsuit (linked below) which held that the individuals living in Willowbrook had their constitutional rights violated, and the major de-institutionalization movement began to emerge.  This movement led to major disability institutions “transitioning” its occupants into the community.

But de-institutionalization while valid in theory, was ill-equipped in practicality.  There were not sufficient community supports that provided safe housing, education, and jobs for individuals with disabilities who had been segregated from society for most of their lives.  From that point onward, many people with disabilities were forced to live on the street.  Many were put in situations that left them financially and physically vulnerable.  The perceptions of those without disabilities towards people with disabilities was incredibly damaging.  They saw people with disabilities as “dirty, homeless, beggars.”

Then, when wars added returned-soldiers with disabilities to the community, the number of homeless individuals with disabilities grew substantially.  Sitting on the street, with caps in their hands, begging for money and work–the term “handicapped” was popularized though derogatory in origin.

This societal view towards people with disabilities hasn’t caught up with the actual movement and progress spearheaded by those in the disability community.

Through repeated stigma, discrimination, and seclusion people with disabilities communicated their abilities, their willingness to work, their dreams for a more accessible and inclusive future.  Many have proven to be leaders in their communities, and yet, they are still viewed as “vulnerable” and “unworthy burdens” on our system.

This is why, when a pandemic hits, they are seen as less worthy of medical care.  When a “normally healthy” person and a person with a disability both are in the running for the last remaining ventilator, the “healthier” one receives it.  This is why people with disabilities were terrified of the orders coming from states indicating medical protocols deeming us less worthy of that same medical care.  Less worthy, despite being just as influential (if not more influential) as other contributors to our communities.  Less worthy, despite also being spouses, parents, and service-members.

In Michigan, Governor Whitmer participated in a disability teleconference this past week which I observed via Zoom (note, “observed”–because actual people with disabilities were not able to meaningfully participate in the discussion and instead agency leaders communicated what they believe the disability community needs during the coronavirus…but that’s to be discussed later).  In this discussion, Whitmer indicated that an executive order had been signed indicating people with disabilities as worthy of the same medical access and care as those without disabilities (new post in the works on this).  However, it became even more clear to me that the topics we discussed were necessary because stigmas and discrimination against those with disabilities have a long way to eradication.

People with disabilities are still seen as unworthy–still seen as acceptable deaths in a pandemic where the deaths could be avoided.  Protesters of my state, Michigan, were vocal about this.  It’s “only” the vulnerable individuals who will die, and they are likely to die anyway!   Coming from one of those “vulnerables” who serves her community day in and day out, I hear you, and you are wrong.  Most of us aren’t more likely to die than you outside of a pandemic. We are more likely to manage health conditions, lack of access to healthcare, employment, and education.  But more likely to die, more worthy of dying?No.

However, I recognized that stigma the instant it radiated out of your hateful mouths into your megaphones.  It’s not new, its just more brazen.  And I’m here to tell you that the disability community is not going away.  In fact, we may even be more equipped to surviving the perils of this pandemic than you are.  We’ve historically been forced to live for long periods in isolation, on less money for performing the same work as you, with more barriers in our way built by those who dismissed our existence–yet, we’ve remained.

We are not just worthy.  We are just as worthy as you are.

 

 

Resources:

NPR story on lobotomies

NY ARC v. Rockefeller

A Decade with Physical Disability

Over the last 10 years, I accomplished and overcame the following happy, messy, life moments for which I’m truly proud. I hope others with chronic illness and/or disabilities know that your life has just as much potential for love and fulfillment as anyone else’s.

  1. Ran a half marathon, with no running experience prior to signing up
  2. Got very sick out of nowhere, was in the hospital over 100 times in four years
  3. Persisted, finished my undergraduate degree but missed my graduation because I was in the hospital
  4. Ended a bad relationship
  5. Moved, lived alone for grad school in counseling people with disabilities/illness
  6. Was the 4th woman ever to receive an experimental medical device in a study at the University of Michigan in surgery a week before grad school started
  7. Started grad school, but after five weeks had the courage and ability to set my ego aside and take a semester off for health reasons
  8. Returned to grad school the next term after receiving health treatment in Boston
  9. Kissed my now husband on New Year’s Day 2014
  10. Graduated with my masters degree summa cum laude
  11. Got a great job counseling people with disabilities
  12. Became a fiancé in Vegas
  13. Bought our first home
  14. Adopted Sprinkles and Thor 1 week later. They became besties and loved my then 17 year-old dog Lucy
  15. After having a counseling client deal with an incredibly frustrating and discriminatory experience with the law, signed up for the LSAT on a whim
  16. Took the LSAT 4 days before my wedding
  17. 6/11/16 became a wife
  18. Honeymooned in St. Thomas at the Ritz
  19. Got a scholarship to attend WMU Cooley where I could graduate law school in 2 years (rather than the normal 3)
  20. Met the most amazing friends in law school
  21. Lucy passed away at the age of 20, after 12 happy and healthy years with me
  22. Graduated law school in 2 years magna cum laude
  23. Discovered after some heartbreak that what I was initially told by doctors when I first got sick was true, I would not be able to have my own biological children. After some time and with support from my husband, truly and finally accepted this and moved with joy toward the unknown future
  24. Dealt with a family emergency that was difficult on us all
  25. Faced blatant discrimination when taking the Michigan bar exam
  26. Waited for the bar exam results for three months
  27. Spoke with Governor Whitmer’s Office about the discrimination I faced while taking the bar and advocated for other people with disabilities
  28. Found out I passed the bar exam, was sworn in as a lawyer on my 31st birthday
  29. Moved back to the Ann Arbor area for a great job as a lawyer that utilizes my background in disability on a daily basis
  30. Practiced gratitude every day in one or more ways, felt loved and inspired, challenged myself with goals I never thought possible at the start of this decade. Did it all in physical pain, with constant nausea and fatigue but enjoyed it anyway. Prioritized self-care while not settling for anything less than the future I wanted and deserved. Advocated for people with disabilities for over a decade. Felt fulfilled. Still happy.

Michigan Bar Exam Discrimination: My Experience in February 2019

In February 2019 I took the Michigan Bar Exam.  This is not a tale of a disgruntled student who failed.  This is the account of a woman (me), who passed the test despite severe and persistent discrimination.

Below is the letter I sent to the individuals named in an effort to prevent this treatment from ever happening again to the many law students with disabilities.  I will write another post following up on the steps I took after this letter was written and submitted, but for now, please take the time to read about what happened.  This matters–not because it happened to me, but because we have no reason to believe it will ever change without taking a stand.  I didn’t publish this until now for many reasons.  I was emotionally healing from the events.  I was deciding the best way to implement change and considering all of the methods for doing so.  I was trying to find a job and am aware that employers still aren’t completely understanding that people with disabilities are smart and sufficient employees.  Life went on and I immersed myself in all of the opportunities I earned.  Then, this morning it hit me that 2020 is steadfastly approaching, and students are prepping for the February 2020 bar exam now.  Those students deserve equal treatment under the law.  They deserve better treatment than I received.  So, here it is.  Please be kind, because it’s not easy to share.

This is the letter I wrote and submitted, detailing what happened:

“To the Board of Law Examiners, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and any other interested party:

 

My name is Ashley Jacobson.  I graduated law school in two years, at the top of my class, magna cum laude.  I have a master’s degree from the #1 ranked university in rehabilitation counseling (Michigan State University).  Rehabilitation counseling is a field devoted to counseling individuals with disabilities by teaching empowering skills and strategies that enable their highest levels of achievement and independence.  I graduated with an overall 4.0 GPA in undergraduate and graduate school.  I am nationally certified as a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC).  I have worked for a large university and non-profit organizations as a disability and accommodations specialist.  I have started two successful non-profit organizations of my own.  I am also a person living with a physical disability.

On February 26th and 27th of 2019, I sat for the Michigan bar exam in Lansing, MI.  In all of my experience counseling individuals with disabilities, working in the disability field for over a decade, working as an accommodations and disability specialist, I have never witnessed the level of discrimination against a person with a disability equal to what I experienced on the days of the Michigan bar exam.

I was prepared for the test itself.  I studied for 10-12 hours each day leading up to the exam for months.  I made materials my entire 2 years of law school in anticipation of the bar exam.  I had the grades, the abilities, the focus, and the determination to pass this exam on my first attempt—which I did, despite all of the discrimination and hurdles placed in my way by the Board of Law Examiners.  Months before the exam, I submitted all necessary medical documentation and was approved for accommodations.  Attached is the letter I received on November 28, 2018 approving the accommodations as listed below.  To note, accommodations are changes in approach, not changes in standard.  Accommodations are not meant to “level the playing field,” as that phrase is used today.  Accommodations are methods that allow the student to display their abilities without the unnecessary barriers inflicted upon them in average testing conditions.  I received the following accommodations, as approved by the Board of Law Examiners:

  1. A private room, close to a restroom.
  2. 30% additional time for each session of the bar exam.
  3. The excusal from having to use a scantron, with my marking the answers in a way that I am able (circling) and a scribe (the proctor) to fill in the scantron per my marked answers.
  4. The ability to bring in acid-reduced water, medications and medical supplies.

From this point forward, I will list the number of ways I was penalized and discriminated against.  I will then explain in detail how I was penalized on the basis of having a disability and how, as such, my rights as an individual with a disability were infringed upon.

I was discriminated against in the following ways:

  1. As a student with a disability, I was penalized with excessive noise not inflicted upon students without disabilities.
  2. I was penalized by being given the incorrect finishing time for the afternoon portion of the essay section of the exam.
  3. I was penalized for being a student with a disability by the exam administrators, who did not plan for my proctor to act as a scribe in accordance with my accommodations.
  4. I was penalized as a student with a disability by facing a blatantly discriminatory and inappropriate confrontation from an exam administrator at the start of a testing session.

 

First, as a student with a disability, I was penalized with excessive noise not inflicted upon students without disabilities.

On the 26th, the first day of the exam—the essay portion—I arrived early at the Lansing Convention Center.  My classmates and fellow bar exam takers were at one end of the conference center, where it was isolated and quiet.  There were no other events taking place where the students without disabilities were testing.  I found my private room, which did have a restroom in it, at the other end of the conference hall.  I was testing in a room labeled the “First Aid Room,” and the Lansing Conference Center security staff informed me the hall consisted of several First Aid Rooms throughout the facilities.  My First Aid Room, where I was to be testing seven to eight hours each day, was directly next to a professional party for the Farm Bureau’s 100-year anniversary, attended by 400 individuals celebrating with loud music over the speakers, a booth set up outside of my testing room, news interviews right outside of my small room, food and drinks.  Evidence from news coverage and a facility map corroborate my detailed account of the events.

Students without disabilities were not exposed to excessive noise, yet I was interrupted repeatedly because of poor planning on part of the exam administrators that greatly affected my ability to put forth the same effort as those without disabilities.  I was wearing ear plugs, but could still hear full conversations between individuals shouting and partying outside of my room.  My proctor left several times to ask them to be quiet, and when she returned, she said verbatim, “Yeah, they just said it was their 100 years and didn’t really care.  Sorry.”

At the conclusion of the morning testing session, the proctor told me that she could find me another room, but that (as a direct quote) they “would not be able to provide all of [my] accommodations because it probably wouldn’t have a bathroom close by.”  My additional testing time was calculated based on the exam coordinators’ planning for me to have quick access to a restroom, so I was hesitant to move rooms and not receive my accommodations.  Most importantly, I need a restroom close by because of the medical treatment I am undergoing which causes sudden nausea, vomiting, and restroom usage.  Also, once accommodations are approved, they cannot just be taken away.  It was my right to receive these accommodations so as not to be discriminated against under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  However, the bar coordinators thought their poor planning justified removing my accommodations on the day of the biggest exam of my life.  Further, as a member of a protected class I was given disparate treatment based solely on my disability.

I said to the proctor that I needed all of my accommodations, so if that could not be provided in another room, moving to another room was not really an option.

I then attended a lunch held by my law school during the break in between the morning and afternoon testing sessions on the 26th.  At that lunch I explained what happened to my Constitutional Law Professor, Christi Henke, my Intro to Law and Academic Resource Center professor Jeanette Buttrey, and Julie Mullins, who administered my testing accommodations throughout law school.  They were just as shocked and upset as I was.  They stated that the Board of Law Examiners and testing administrators do not have a choice but to provide my approved accommodations which luckily, I knew because of my background and education, and that for the multiple-choice section the next day (if not sooner), I absolutely needed to have them move me somewhere quiet and provide all of my accommodations.

On my way back to my testing room, I stopped at the Farm Bureau’s party booth to ask if they would be there all day.  They were there until 6 p.m., my entire testing day.  They also told me that the conference had been scheduled for several months—the 2020 conference is already scheduled at the facility for next year.  The administrators of the exam saw no issue with putting a person with a disability at a disadvantage, surrounded by excessive noise.  They saw no problem with subjecting me to barriers not placed in the way of students without disabilities.  Regardless, I knew I needed to get through the next session and try my hardest to focus on the task at hand.  I worked too hard to let this completely derail my success, so I tried to “buckle down and push through it.”

Second, I was penalized by being given the incorrect finishing time for the afternoon portion of the essay section of the exam.

At the start of the testing session I put anything I had away as instructed.  My proctor started the session and stated I would be finished at 4:40 p.m.  I said, “Okay, so 4:40 p.m.?”  and the proctor confirmed, “Yes, 4:40.”  I then calculated and organized a specified amount of time for each essay based on the end time given to me by the proctor, and began the last five essays of the day.

The proctor left the room a few times once again, which I assumed was to ask the people outside of my door to be quiet.  Imagine my surprise, at 4:05 pm, when I was given a 15-minute warning and still on essay three out of five.  I stopped and asked, “wait, I only have 15 minutes?”  The proctor said (verbatim), “Oh yeah, so when I left the room it was because I realized they wrote down the wrong time for you to end so I tried to give you a 30-minute warning when I came back in after confirming their mistake but I was worried because I could tell you didn’t hear me because you were trying to tune out noise.”  I had to rush and write down anything I could on the last three essays, until I was abruptly cut short.

The most frustrating thing was looking at those last three essays specifically, knowing I had so much more I could write, knowing the material they were looking for in an answer, and watching those points slip out of my grasp because of the testing administrators’ “mistake.”

I also will add that in my time of working in the disability field, working at MSU in the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, and taking several tests with accommodations, including the MPRE, messing up the time like this does not happen to exam administrators who have prepared even the most minimal amount, because testing times are the easiest element of accommodations to plan.   Giving a student with a disability the incorrect finishing time is not a small mistake—it is a disservice and barrier only faced by students with disabilities who rely on the times given to us.

When I finished, I asked the proctor, “Are they not used to accommodating students with disabilities or something?”  The proctor responded, “Yeah sorry again, the lady who normally does the testing accommodations is retiring so it’s a new person and they’re still figuring everything out.  Hopefully you finished.”  I didn’t.

I told the proctor that I needed to be moved to another room for the multiple-choice section.  I explained my professors’ rationale to the proctor by stating, “Multiple choice questions require an even higher level of focus, because the questions are written with details leading you to the wrong answer, so you have to dissect and identify to pick the correct answer.  I couldn’t risk reading the questions over and over like I was forced to with the essays based on the noise.  I needed to focus.”  The proctor said she would work on finding me a new room.

On February 27th, I returned to the Lansing Convention Center.  On my way in, I saw a dean from my law school, Dean McDaniel.  I explained what occurred the day before, and he said that I should talk to someone about that and that I should let him know if I run into trouble but he was not sure there was anything he could do.  I ran into Julie Mullins.  She walked over with me to my private testing room, where we waited because I had not been told what room I was moved to yet.  When the proctor arrived at my old room (the First Aid Room) at 8:30 a.m., she took me to a large banquet room directly next door to the students without disabilities.  It was private, but the restroom was many times further away from where I was sitting as the restroom was in my old room (I timed it prior to testing: the First Aid Room restroom was five seconds from my seat, the restroom in my second room was three minutes away from my seat—which in multiple choice context is a major issue).  This would not have been such a problem, except for the fact that the additional time I was given in my approved accommodations was calculated based on the examiners knowing I would not have to make that length of a trip to the restroom.  I was not afforded time to make up for this added barrier.

However, I realized that this was the best I was going to get.  Julie Mullins explained to the proctor that we were upset in how I was treated the day before.  The proctor admitted to all of the aforementioned events I specify in this statement, and Julie stated we needed written documentation stating these events occurred.  The proctor stated she did tell the director, so it had been noted, but Julie insisted that I receive written documentation about the noise and being given the incorrect finishing time.  The proctor was defensive in her tone, but agreed to provide the documentation.  I reiterated to the proctor that I understood that any issue I was facing with my accommodations was not her fault, but we do need to address them because it is not allowed to treat students with disabilities in this way.  Julie also made sure to ask that people would not be walking through the room I was in while testing, as walking on those floors was very loud (they were concrete and women in heels could be very distracting), and the proctor said, “They shouldn’t.”  They did.

Throughout my multiple-choice testing sessions (both morning and afternoon), I had several people walk into and through my testing area, some talking loudly, not realizing I was testing in there because they had me behind curtains squaring me off in the middle of the large conference room.  The proctor did her best to jump up and ask people to be quiet when they came in, but it was distracting.  I counted the first seven times this occurred, but after that I lost count because I was trying to focus on complex multiple-choice questions.

Third, I was penalized for being a student with a disability by the exam administrators who did not plan for my proctor to act as a scribe in accordance with my accommodations.

The most egregious discrimination was with regards to my accommodations relating to the scantron.  On the multiple-choice section of the bar exam, students fill in their answers on a traditional scantron sheet, bubbling in their selections.  My physical disability causes severe hand tremors.  It is a systemic response to the symptoms of my autoimmune disease, and anyone who has ever taught me or taken a class with me can attest to this (in addition to my team of doctors at the University of Michigan).  In law school, they did not use scantron sheets so this was not an issue.  For the MPRE they did use scantron sheets, but they provided the accommodation of me marking a page in a different way instead of filling in the bubbles of a scantron answer sheet.

For the bar exam, I was approved for the accommodation of marking the answer in my answer booklet and having the proctor, a scribe, fill it in for me on the scantron.  The best way I can explain this hurdle is that, for a student without a disability, imagine you have to take the biggest exam of your life, eight hours long, but you can only write on the scantron holding the pencil in your mouth and not using your hands.  That is what it feels like when a student with hand tremors is forced to bubble in a scantron—it is an extreme disadvantage.

There was one major problem—the bar exam coordinators completely forgot to plan for my proctor to be my scribe.

At the start of the multiple-choice section, my proctor started explaining the steps for getting started and I inquired as to whether she was supposed to be my scribe or if a scribe was coming.  She said, “You’re supposed to have a scribe?  You can’t fill in the scantron?  I have no info on that.”  She sighed and walked away.  When she returned, she stated, “They said I could just fill it in for you. But you have to bubble in the name and stuff on the scantron.”  As I was bubbling it in, it took me several minutes, holding my writing hand with my non-writing hand to try to steady it enough to mark it correctly.  The proctor stated, “Oh, so you can fill in a scantron.”  My ability to fill in the scantron was not the point—the point was that it took me several times longer than students without disabilities because of my disability.  I pointed that out to her, and we moved on and I started the multiple-choice questions.

At the end of the morning session I handed her my test booklet, in which I circled my answer selections.  The proctor took my test booklet and the scantron.  I asked if I would be able to confirm that she filled in my answers correctly, which of course I explained meant nothing against her, but that human error happens and this exam is a big deal.  She said she would ask.  Ultimately, I was not allowed to confirm that the answers I selected in the booklet were selected on the scantron for me.  I was frustrated because I had no idea if another human, though well-intentioned, could mistakenly mark my scantron.  Students without disabilities know their selected answers are being marked the way they intend on the scantron.  Apparently, students with disabilities have to put their faith in a stranger.

During the lunch break on the second day I made my way to my law school’s luncheon and explained to Julie Mullins that yet again, my accommodations had been improperly planned and executed (or not planned at all) and Julie was just as exasperated as I was.  A representative from my school contacted the head proctor, who explained that my use of a scribe should be continued as follows: I would select my answer, the proctor would fill in the bubbles as I did each question, and if I had time at the end, I could double check the scribe’s bubbling.  This is still discriminatory, as being able to check for another human’s error is something students without disabilities do not have to worry about, but it was uniform with other students needing the same accommodation for the same reasons for the bar exam so I was told that was how I was to conduct the afternoon section.  These instructions lead to the last major way I was penalized solely based upon being a student with a disability.

Fourth, I was penalized as a student with a disability by facing a blatantly discriminatory and inappropriate confrontation from an exam administrator at the start of a testing session.

The events I am about to describe to you (like everything detailed in this letter) are not an exaggeration. This is word-for-word, action-for-action what happened next.  I returned to my testing room after lunch.  The proctor returned and shortly before 2 p.m. we started to prepare for the last testing session.  I asked her if the head proctor had talked to her about the accommodations for the scribe situation and explained what I was told about how I should continue per the steps outlined a couple of paragraphs above.  The proctor sighed, said, “I’ll be back,” and left hurriedly out of the room.

She returned two minutes later with another woman, who had the first name of Maribeth, and was later identified to me by the proctor as Maribeth Preston.  The older woman approached my desk while I was sitting, with her standing above me.  She said, “So this is what’s going to happen.  I’ve been doing this job a long time and I’m in charge.  You’re saying the proctor is supposed to bubble in things as you go.  That’s not how it works.”  I explained, “A representative from my school spoke with the head proctor about this, and said that was how it was supposed to work so that’s the only reason why I asked her (the proctor) about it.”

The woman stated, “I don’t know who they talked to, but clearly you’ve been misinformed.  I’ve worked this job for a long time.  That’s not how accommodations work.  You’re saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I explained about my hand tremors and my accommodations that were approved months ago.  I said, “I submitted paperwork and medical documentation months ago and my accommodations were approved then by the state bar people—” she cut me off, “well, we’re not the state bar people.” I explained, “Well it was the board of law examiners, or whoever, but I went through the proper channels to get accommodations for the bar exam and they were approved.  Since I started this test, I have not received all of my accommodations, and I have been penalized in ways students without disabilities are not.”

She actually rolled her eyes upward and repeated, “So you’re really saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I said once again, “No, I can’t.”  She continued, “You say you got approved for accommodations, do you have the paper with you showing that?”   This stranger, claiming to have worked in this position for years, was making me justify not just my accommodations, but also my disability, on the day of the exam, at the start of a testing session.  What made this more upsetting was that this woman was the same woman who signed the letter approving my accommodations. 

I said, “I was told I could not bring any other paper with me besides my admission certificate, and no I cannot fill in a scantron for the exam, which is why I was approved for the accommodation months ago.”  She said, “Well what you’re asking for, you needed accommodations approved, because everyone is different. And, that’s not how accommodations work.”

I informed her, “I know how accommodations work.  I worked as a disability and accommodations specialist before law school, I have my master’s in disability counseling, I worked in this field in this job and I know not only am I not getting my accommodations but I am also being discriminated against solely because I have a disability and this is unacceptable.”

The woman rolled her eyes upward again and lifted the one corner of her mouth and looked at the proctor.  I continued, “Yesterday I dealt with noise that students with disabilities did not have to deal with, yesterday I was given the incorrect finishing time and then cut off which students with disabilities did not have to deal with, today I was moved to a room further from the bathroom without accounting for the time difference it would take for me to walk there and back, and today I was not provided a scribe until I demanded one and then now I’m being told not only do I not get to use a scribe appropriately but I have to put my faith in a stranger that my scantron is being marked correctly…”

The woman cut me off and said, “Well the proctor doesn’t fill it out.  There’s two people behind the scenes that fill it out and I check it.”  I’d like to note that the attached letter approving my accommodations specifically states that the proctor fills out the scantron.

I stated, “No one explained that to me, but it still doesn’t account for human error.  Students without disabilities don’t have to worry that their answer selections are going to be mismarked by a complete stranger.”  We went back and forth in this same conversational circle for several minutes.

The woman stated with a harsh tone of voice again, “So you’re really saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I realized at this point that I was being judged, and nothing I could say would make this process just.  She continued, “Well, this is how it works, and the proctor will do this the way I am saying, and if you are saying you can’t fill in a scantron—” as tears welled up in my eyes from frustration I cut her off and said, “You could’ve sent the proctor out here to explain to me that this was not how it was going to work, but instead you came out here to argue with me and frankly, your presence here is counterproductive to me doing my best on this exam so I would like you to leave, because now I have to do 100 multiple choice questions.  I am going to take the test now, and I will file complaints and whatever else necessary after the exam is over.  But I need to focus on this test, and you are hindering my ability to do that.”

As I burst into tears, the woman left.  I looked at the clock.  She had come out to talk to me at 2 p.m., it was now 2:19 p.m.  This woman had come to argue with me, for no other purpose than arguing and belittling me, for nearly 20 minutes at the start of my testing session.  Students without disabilities did not have to face rude, humiliating confrontation for nearly 20 minutes at the start of their last testing session, before having to complete 100 multiple choice questions.

The proctor said, “Listen, I get it, if you need to take a few minutes to walk around to refocus you can.”  I went into the hallway, and unfortunately no one from my school was there anymore—the halls were now empty.  I went into the bathroom in the outside hallway, cried for four minutes, looked in the mirror and determined that no matter what, even if it was not my best work, I had to finish.  I worked too hard to give up because of the test administrator’s ignorance, discrimination, and lack of preparation.

I realized this was it, and no matter how many hurdles were in my path I needed to just do the best I could with the circumstances I was given.  What other choice did I have really?  The woman who came out stated that she was the one in charge, so I couldn’t exactly speak to her boss.

I returned to my desk.  I sat down, and finished the exam.  I had a difficult time even reading the pages because I was crying.  But I finished, and only by the grace of God and substantial preparation on my end—I passed.

I paid a lot of money to take this exam.  I put in a lot of time and energy to prepare for it.  With my health issues, I even had to physically train so that I would be able to physically make it through the test.  My disability was something I overcame repeatedly throughout graduate school and law school.  In law school I had three separate surgeries take place the week before or the week of final exams.  I was at the top of my class despite undergoing chemotherapy, despite having my medical device malfunction, despite hospitalizations and surgeries.

I shouldn’t need to justify myself in order to receive a non-discriminatory environment, but nonetheless I feel the need to reiterate that I am a smart woman.  I am not asking for special treatment.  I am asking for the opportunity to showcase my abilities without discriminatory barriers inflicted upon me or any other students with disabilities.  I am asking for the opportunity to display to all of the wonderful professors who assisted me throughout law school, who supported me through each health hurdle, that our hard work together meant something—it meant with their help and my persistence I could be a lawyer.  I made it through this, but too many students with disabilities do not.  They are denied every year for accommodations because without them the Board of Law Examiners says they can function at the average level of people without disabilities.  The point of an accommodation is not to be average.  An accommodation is removing unnecessary barriers so a person can show their true  ability.

The behavior of those “in charge” is an alarming display of how students with disabilities have been treated for a long time in this field.  I am demanding equal protection under the law.  I am demanding not to be discriminated against for having a disability.  I am demanding compliance with the ADA, not just for me but for all students with disabilities in the future.

I have worked as a disability advocate for years, and even my law school is well aware of my advocacy for students with disabilities while in law school.  I have seen my counseling clients mistreated, but never have I witnessed a test administrator mock in disbelief a person’s disability.  The tone of voice, the repeated questioning of my disability, the lack of preparation in planning the execution of accommodations, and the unwillingness to conform with the law was flagrant and unacceptable.  I was not able to do my best work because of these hurdles.  Even me, the disability counselor, was not prepared to face what I faced on those two days because it just did not seem in the realm of possibility for this to happen to me—until it did, over and over.

Students without disabilities already face stress, pressure, fear, fatigue, and brain fog for the bar exam.  It is grueling.  I expected that.  But students with disabilities deal with all of those things, plus the many hurdles placed in their way by exam administrators and proctors.  On my way out of the last testing session I ran into another student who had just finished the bar exam.  She was upset, and we started talking about our experience.  She told me first, that she was a student with a disability who was not given the view of a clock during testing because of the way they situated her for her accommodations—which is monumental for the bar exam when we are not allowed to bring in watches of any kind.  Out of respect for this student’s confidentiality I will not disclose her identity.  Her choice to disclose her experience is her own to make, but I wanted to include her in this because I am certain that I am not the first student with a disability to receive prejudicial treatment.

The passage rate on the bar exam is already somewhat low, and those who pass need many things to go right in order to do so.  Students with disabilities have a higher bar—they must make many things go right when everything around them is going wrong.  I have had people tell me that my concerns and advocacy aren’t necessary if I passed.  I could not disagree more.  It matters regardless of the outcome.  The Americans with Disabilities Act was violated.  Members of a protected class are being mistreated by leaders who have no interest in reforming this system.  This is discrimination, and it cannot be accepted in a field devoted to just treatment under the law.

My urgent recommendation is that the Board of Law Examiners be held accountable for this atrocious discriminatory treatment, that a new Board of Law Examiners Director be nominated by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and that this new appointee have actual experience and expertise in disability rights and accommodations.  A perfect candidate would be a person who has a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), and also has legal experience.  I would be happy to submit recommendations of specific individuals who are qualified for the position, or help in any other way to prevent this discrimination from occurring in the future.

We cannot stand by while people with disabilities are stifled by prejudice.  We cannot accept discrimination, because to do so would be telling people with disabilities they are not worthy of respect, dignity, opportunity, or equal rights under the law.

 

Thank you,

Ashley Jacobson, JD, MA, CRC

Disability Expert, Advocate, and Accommodations Specialist”

 

Unintended victims of the “opioid crisis”: Chronic Pain Patients

Head to my YouTube now (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCClrdkiH_6RTZ1mRiIBVv6A) to hear more about how people with legitimate chronic pain from disease and/or disability are adversely affected and stigmatized by those fighting to address the Opioid Crisis. This is super important. Studies have shown that over 85% of people who use pain medication to manage long-term chronic pain from disease or disability never become addicted or misuse their medication. This crisis must be addressed, but it must be addressed in a way that doesn’t criminalize people in the disability community who rely on pain management for a decent quality of life. I hated seeing my counseling clients, friends, and family members affected by this. Going through the proper channels is vital, but it is delaying appropriate care for far too many people. This has to change. Let me know what you think!