Tag: disability

Disabled State of the Union 2021

I’m a disabled woman, disability rights lawyer, and disability counselor and assessment specialist. Disability affects me personally and professionally. It drives me to advocate for an inclusive, diverse, and accessible tomorrow. I’m not alone. There is a rich disability culture online and in person. This Disability Pride Month, I am highlighting the key issues facing the disability community in this Disabled State of the Union address. Let me know what you think! Also available on the Apple Podcast app!


Hi everyone and thank you for watching or listening. My name is Ashley Jacobson. I am a disability rights attorney, who also holds a master’s degree and certification in a disability counseling field. I also am a woman living with physical disability from autoimmune disease. Throughout my life, I’ve been inspired by the work of seemingly fearless advocates. It wasn’t until I became an advocate myself, that I truly understood how necessary, and challenging advocacy can be. It’s not always well received (or initially understood) but in those moments, when you see a change to which you’ve devoted your efforts, we become one step closer to a truly equitable and inclusive world. As someone who has professionally and personally experienced disability, I’ve witnessed just how important disability justice (or inclusion) is for our future. While disability is incredibly common, and perhaps the most normal and shared human experience, it’s still stigmatized and discriminated against in workplaces, community groups, schools, and social settings. Everyone blessed with the opportunity to age will acquire some form of disability in their lifetimes. 1 in 4 adults in the US have a disability—that’s over 61 million potential voters, and includes many of your coworkers, family, and friends. When I tell nondisabled individuals that statistic, they think, “No way.” You, even might be wondering, how is it that possible? Do I really know that many people in my personal life who are living with disability? Disability affects people of every race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and identity. Disability is diverse. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the definition of disability is all encompassing to include:

A person living with a mental or physical condition that significantly impairs one or more major life functions (eating, sleeping, grooming, bathing, working, mobility, hearing, vision, etc.); OR

A person who has a record of being diagnosed with such a condition; OR

A person who others regard as having a disability. The lawmakers did an extraordinary thing when they made the definition of disability that broad. They acknowledged that the disability experience itself is as diverse as the disability community throughout our country. They recognized that even without formal diagnosis, you have disability rights. They recognized that inherently and purposely discriminatory environments needed to be made more equitable and accessible.

It’s important to note, that disability rights are recent in our history. I lived before they existed in the widespread fashion, they are in today. And while these rights are a great start, there is a long way to go. Disability includes those with anxiety, ADHD, dyslexia, PTSD, hearing loss, vision loss, brain injury, chronic illness, and many other conditions which far exceed the limited stereotype nondisabled people see when picturing disability. To most nondisabled people, they hear “disability” and think someone using a wheelchair. While that certainly is one group of the disability community, it’s not the whole disability community. Why is this important?

Because if we want to truly address the issues of today, to ensure a better tomorrow, we must have an accurate depiction of who will be living in that tomorrow. We must recognize disabled citizens as part of our present and future. One of the central issues facing the disabled, is the lack of recognition by the nondisabled of disability culture and its value in our society.

A remarkable effect of advocacy and accessible social media spaces, is that people from the disability community have become more organized in their advocacy and more equipped at sharing resources with disabled individuals throughout our country. But advocates have been sharing and fighting for disability justice for decades. They climbed the steps of the Capital, some forced to disembark their wheelchairs to climb on hands and knees—because there was no ramp.

They performed sit-ins, protests, and policy reviews. They demonstrated strength, tenacity, and leadership—and in doing so, demonstrated the value of our community.

Yet, parents still fear for their children’s futures when they’re born with disability. They are told by doctors that their newborns will never work, never marry, and never have kids of their own. As a result of this stigmatizing start, kids grow up being told they have “special needs,” because to the nondisabled, the term “disabled” is terrifying and wrong. Parents are, of course, doing their best to adapt to their children’s disabilities—but when we sugar coat the term “disabled,” we’re teaching children to hide their conditions from others, to shield the world from their differences, and to pretend to conform to a nondisabled experience. Even more damaging, is that we aren’t teaching them that disability is normal, that their disability has certain characteristics to which they can accept and adapt, and that people with disabilities have value.

One of the reasons the disabled haven’t been seen as valued members of our society, is because the unemployment rate for this population is extraordinarily high (nearly 80% of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2020 as opposed to around 40% for the nondisabled, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics) [cite: PERSONS WITH A DISABILITY: LABOR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS — 2020 (bls.gov)].

This is a result of two main things: discrimination in the workplace, and aging. One of the largest populations in the disability community, is the elderly. But when it comes to employment–

If you talk to almost any disabled person who is capable of and trying to maintain employment, of which there are many, you’ll hear horror stories about discrimination they faced in hiring practices and once hired on the job.

People are denied interviews once they disclose a disability and they’re denied accommodations once they accept a new job.

For many, this is why disclosing a disability is tremendously nerve-wracking. It’s also one of the main things on which I counsel my clients.

They have to prepare, sometimes in excruciating detail, how they choose to disclose; if or when to disclose; where to disclose; and to whom they disclose. Each time they interview, they’re thinking about these factors, and bracing for the discrimination that so often follows.

And, once they get the job, they’re bracing for discrimination in the form of denied accommodations, rude comments, unjust job evaluations, and discriminatory firings.

You might be wondering, what the heck are accommodations? Under the ADA, disabled individuals have a right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, in schools, and many other places. This could include adapted tools (weighted pens, larger text, additional time on tests in school, access to medical equipment, access to communication equipment, assistive technology, etc.). But despite the ADA, employers and professors deny accommodations every day.

I’ll give you an example:

One of the symptoms of my disability is hand tremors. In law school, I needed to type my exam essays, rather than write by hand, because I can type at a more reasonable pace. I’d studied for hours, and I showed up to the exam room with my laptop. In order to log into the exam software, I had to have an internet connection. For some reason, that room would not allow my computer to access the internet that day. The accommodations coordinator said, “Well, can’t you just write this one time?”

When I asked to use the school’s other testing room which had an open desktop computer specifically set up for students to take exams, they said I couldn’t because I told them I’d use my laptop—not knowing the internet wouldn’t work in my testing room that day. There were two empty desktop computers in rooms set up for testing, and they forced me to hand-write. I spent the entire time slowly etching out my essay by hand. With two minutes left, I had to guess on every single multiple-choice answer and just hope for the best.

After, I notified the professor, the deans, and the accommodations coordinator that I was denied my accommodation. One dean said to my supportive professor, “Well why should she get special treatment? She’s probably just complaining because she didn’t do well.” What he didn’t know, was that I received the highest score in the class. I had literally guessed all of the multiple-choice questions correctly. Then, he used my “success” as a reason to not address the problem– “If she did well, what’s she complaining about?”

2 takeaways from this story:

Disability accommodations are a right under the law. They are not determined unnecessary because someone happens to survive without them because of luck or any other reason.

Disability accommodations are not “special treatment.” Disability rights laws were created because these environments—schools, workplaces, etc.–were proven to be inherently discriminatory and inaccessible spaces. Accommodations are the after-thought in making spaces accessible for people with disabilities. And, they’re essential until our society has remedied the discrimination in these environments.

But I didn’t just experience this during law school. When I sat for the bar exam, I had to apply for my accommodations to be approved, months in advance, and they were approved. Yet, when I showed up on testing day at each testing session over the 2-day period for the bar exam in Michigan, the proctors had forgotten to plan to implement the accommodations, and wanted to just throw them out the window, “You’ll be right without them, right?” they said, and I said, “No. Not only will I not be fine without them, they’re my rights. They argued with me for 15-20 minutes at the start of each testing session. For a test that’s already incredibly expensive to take, and stressful to prepare for. And when I complained about the inaccessibility and discrimination at the bar exam, I was again dismissed. “Well she’s probably upset because she didn’t do that well.” When in reality I had passed the exam, but that’s not the point. I passed the bar exam because I had to compensate more than my nondisabled peers. I had to guess correctly in many cases. And I dealt with the trauma of being discriminated against, for the biggest test of my life, for months following the exam. And when I went to report it to the Board of Law Examiners, to the Governor of the state of Michigan, truly, nobody knew who would answer for this discrimination, how it could be fixed and reversed, who we would hold accountable. So one of my goals as an attorney who is disabled, who practices disability civil rights, is to make sure that my profession, the legal profession, doesn’t perpetuate this discrimination for future disabled lawyers. But the issues affecting people with disabilities isn’t just in schools or the workplace.

Another main issue affecting those with disabilities is the climate crisis—and yet, they are so often excluded from consideration in environmental advocacy.

Disabled individuals are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Over the last couple of years especially, there have been reports of people not having accessible methods for evacuating during wildfires, being abandoned in nursing homes during hurricanes, and undeserving of emergency shelter.

Disabled people are also, in many cases, greatly interested in environmental advocacy. One of the leaders who has illuminated the climate crisis to millions is Greta Thunberg. Greta, though a child at the time, was brutally attacked by grown politicians who highlighted her history with autism, anxiety, and depression as a means to discredit her.

They repeatedly projected to Greta and to the millions of individuals with disabilities around the world, that if you have a disability, you shouldn’t speak up, you shouldn’t have a voice, you shouldn’t be taken seriously.

To Greta’s tremendous credit, she persisted, as often those with disabilities do, in the face of such discrimination. In her movie on Hulu, she talks about this, and about how the idea of her disabilities being used to discredit her is ludicrous because having autism has actually brought her the drive, consistency, and commit to pursue her advocacy.

And yet, as our world is becoming less and less inhabitable for all, it more quickly becomes even less inhabitable for the disabled.

When snow falls, they are stranded in their homes, because there is no sidewalk on which they can safely travel with a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

When hurricanes occur, some cannot be evacuated before the storm, and then after the hurricane hits, they cannot make it to their roof to await emergency personnel who can rescue them.

When the wildfires rage through their communities, their lungs might be more easily affected by the air quality, their personal attendants might decide to evacuate without them, and their attempts to find a shelter with accessible restrooms, beds, or even entrances are fruitless. They are again, treated as an afterthought. Disposable. Unimportant.

The attitude our society has about disabled people being disposable has been horrifically apparent during this pandemic.

As someone living with autoimmune disease, I heard countless politicians, family, and friends remark on how they were relieved that the worst symptoms of Covid only affected vulnerable individuals—the elderly and those with underlying conditions. I am one of those individuals, and I’d hear this every single day—when I turned on the news, when I talked to my friends, and when I logged on to social media.

I also heard medical professionals prioritizing the treatment and care of nondisabled people over the disabled. They literally calculated disabled lives to be of less value in our society.

I admit, there are valid discussions that need to occur during a public health crisis with limited supplies and that tough decisions had to be made by healthcare workers in an impossible position.

That being said, too often, disabled lives were discounted. Regardless of contribution to society, regardless of compliance with social distancing and mask usage, regardless of (in many instances) typical lifespan being equal to that of their nondisabled peers.

Though deemed “vulnerable” to the most severe symptoms of Covid-19, disabled individuals were not given appropriate access to the vaccine. In Michigan, they provided for the vaccination of the elderly (of which of course, there is a large portion of people with disabilities), but for all of those with disabilities under the age of 65, who were not essential workers (and, many couldn’t be essential workers because of hiring discrimination), they were the last to become eligible. Insultingly, the caregivers of the disabled were given vaccines before disabled people themselves.

However, these attitudes are not new. People with disabilities were institutionalized for over a century, through the 1970s, for some conditions that frankly are common and manageable by the individual in everyday life—things like epilepsy, down syndrome, deafness, and low vision. These institutions were not like the hospitals or facilities you see today—they were traumatizing, violently abusive, and neglectful. If you want to learn more, google “Willowbrook Institution.”

But when the de-institutionalization movement “ended,” the institutionalization of the disabled, especially disabled people of color, continued.

As an attorney and advocate, one of the most pressing issues I see facing the disability community today is within our criminal justice, juvenile detention, and prison systems.

A great example of this issue is actually the reason I became an attorney. When I was working as a counselor with disabled adults, I had a client who had a disability that greatly affected this person’s speech and vocabulary. One day, my client was mugged and called the police. When they arrived, instead of correctly assessing that my client had a disability, they believed my client was under the influence and disorderly.

My client was arrested, and had signed a plea deal with a forever charge on their record all within a couple of hours. This client is kind, hard-working, and cares for their family—but simply called the police for help and was arrested because they didn’t understand disability. I signed up for the LSAT and became a lawyer because I saw this happen far too often.

People with disabilities are being falsely arrested, wrongfully convicted, and institutionalized in prison at alarmingly high rates. 30-40% of adult inmates have documented disabilities, and without a doubt, there are many more who were never properly assessed that make that number much higher.

Police departments report openly that most of their instances of excessive force are inflicted against people with mental illness, including those with substance use disorders. Unsurprisingly, Black disabled individuals are at even higher risk. Matthew Rushin, Elijah McClain, Duante Wright, Pamela Turner, and many, many more valued individuals with disabilities were incarcerated or killed at the hands of the police. But adults are not the only ones affected by this massive problem.

Children with disabilities, especially Black disabled children, are more likely to face harsher punishment in schools and juvenile adjudications. They are also more likely to be reported for “problematic behaviors” that are a result of their disability not being properly assessed or addressed through appropriate services and supports than their white, nondisabled counterparts.

Children facing trauma, disability, and racial discrimination are being assessed incorrectly when the lawyers, CPS workers, judges, and referees don’t take disability into account. There are some that do—but it’s not uncommon that they don’t.

Disability affects every facet of the legal system, every legal area, and truly every facet of our society.

And these are just some of the many issues being discussed in the disability justice movement. The truth is, everyone needs to learn and care about disability advocacy, because anyone can become disabled at any time. When I say this, sometimes people think it’s threatening in nature, because they’re viewing disability as something to fear. While it’s not always pretty, fun, fair…disability doesn’t discount the joy in your life, the meaning in your work, the importance of your presence.

If you are listening to this, and you have a disability, please take this in:

You have value. You have power in your vote. You are worthy.

If you are listening to this, and you don’t have a disability, hear this:

We welcome you to our causes. There is space for your allyship. If you’d like to learn more about the disability community, reach out to me. Search the hashtag #DisabilityAdvocate on social media. Head to my website jacobsonlawandadvocacy.com (also @JLAfirm on Facebook), and my personal but public Instagram page @ashleybjacobson (where I share tons of resources).

Thank you.

Legally Abled Podcast: Review of Special on Netflix S1E1 – Cerebral LOLzy

Legally Abled Podcast: Review of Special on Netflix S1E1 – Cerebral LOLzy

Transcript: “Hi everyone, this is Ashley Jacobson I’m a disability rights attorney, as well as a disability counselor and assessment specialist, a disabled woman. And this is the Legally Abled Podcast. 

I mentioned that one of the things I was really excited about doing with the podcast is reviewing media that involves the disability community in some way shape or form.  Historically, TV and movies have gotten disability wrong.  And so I’m really thrilled that lately, there has been a push for disabled writers creators, producers and actors to be more involved in TV and movies.  I think especially with streaming services, this is allowed more diverse content to reach the masses. 

And one thing that I love with the show I’m going to talk about today is that it talks about disabled adults.  Often when you see disability in the media, it involves kids, and then the non disabled community doesn’t have a full picture of what it’s like to live with disability as an adult. And so they might not see disabled people dating getting married boating like all of these things that non disabled adults do. 

And when they don’t see that in the media, and they’re not hanging out with disabled people in their social circles, they might not realize that we’re a lot like everybody else.  And so, the show I’m going to talk about today is special on Netflix, it’s such an excellent show. It’s for adults, I would say, it has adult themes in it.  So if you’re listening to this podcast and kids around being put in headphones. And I would recommend watching it first before you have, especially like young children, watching it, But I wanted to talk about the show special because it has one season already the new season comes out, may 20. Very soon. It’s based on a book that was written by Ryan O’Connell, who is one of the executive producers writers he’s the main actor and he has cerebral palsy. 

And I love how funny the show is, and I also love how it touches on intersectionality.  Because, Ryan is a gay disabled man and he’s learning how to navigate this new season in his life, where he’s starting a new job, and fading and he’s putting himself out there more and making new friends at work and pushing himself to be more independent and even move out on his own.  And it does all of this with such humor that I love. 

So I’m going to dive into season one episode one. The title of it is Cerebral LOLzy, like Cerebral Palsy but with LOL, which is great. And there’s such a brilliant opening the main character Ryan so it’s the same name as Ryan O’Connell and but Ryan is a young white man.  He’s about medium height and builds he’s not he’s wearing these really trendy super cool glasses and he’s walking along listening to headphones, happy as can be, and falls. 

And as he falls, he gets up and keeps going.  And I say, a pretty young kid, maybe like seven or eight walks up to him and asks if he needs help if you need him to go get his parents, and the character says no and just start swapping way we can send your walking funny you need to go to the hospital.  He and Ryan stops and walks back and says, “Oh, it’s, it’s not my fault I had a thing. And it’s disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or after birth” and the kid start screaming and runs away. 

And it’s such a classic, really funny well written scene.  Because so often, kids especially have their first interaction with somebody with a specific disability and they assume that they need help or there’s something seriously wrong that they need to step in and get a parent to assist with, and, you know, it’s also just for me I could relate to the following sighing and getting up, because there are many things throughout the day where I might lose balance have muscle weakness, have my pain, get worse and be like, “Oh, here we go.” 

So it just really touched on how disability can just become even the things that are hard and annoying can become a normal part of our day-to-day life and we just keep it going. And so then, the next scene in the shovel Ryan’s with at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a personal trainer physical therapist, I think it was a physical therapist type of guy. He’s white and bald. He’s stretching Ryan’s leg out, and he’s explained to the trainer or the physical therapist what happened. And the guy says, people don’t really understand your disability, it looks different on everybody which is true. 

And then, one of the first signs that we’d be touching on dating in the show and sexuality is when in this scene Ryan is admiring another person’s backside in the facility where he’s getting the physical therapy, and the therapist is something like say that for grinder, and that’s when we learned that Ryan is day and I love how the show in the first one minute 40 seconds hits on disability and sexuality and a really authentic way, and doesn’t hide that at all. really is upfront about it, which is great because that’s the reality if you’re an adult with a disability. 

Sometimes on disabled people think, “Oh, you don’t date or you don’t go on dating apps,” and that’s not the case.  And so, I just really appreciated that from the start they touched on dating and disability and sexuality.  And then, in this same scene you see, I’m still getting over Covid so if you hear me coughing. That’s why, but in the same scene.  Ryan says something that I think a lot of disabled people can really relate to and he says, sometimes we wish I were more disabled like I’m not able bodied enough to be cool in the mainstream world, but I’m not disabled enough to be cool in the disabled or the PT world, and his physical therapist says you’re lucky, privilege and you need to get over it. 

And Ryan says it’s hard out here for again. And I just thought that was so funny. 

That he responded like that but it also touched on how in the disability community.  There’s such diversity when it comes to disability type of symptoms and how it can be affected by things like access to resources medication and therapies and treatment, education, and sometimes it’s easy as human beings to get competitive with one another, or to compare to other people situations. And so, for example, I know, living with autoimmune disease. 

There are times when my symptoms are things where I’m feeling internally, but other people aren’t seeing. And other times, there are things I’m feeling internally, and people are seeing because I’m having an tremors like tremors muscle weakness, I’m using a cane. But there are people who have disabilities where they are never passing as able bodied.  And so for example if I’m in an interview, or a meeting somebody over zoom, or video conferencing.  They might not realize right away that I have a disability.  And so these differences among us and the disability community are great, were intended to be just as diverse as the non disabled world, but it is sometimes, easy to compare and say I wish I fell more into this certain category or this community because I feel that would be better understood. 

And we all know that people say the grass is always greener on the other side. There are pros and cons to each symptom that you might have. Nobody is more or less part of the disability community if their disability symptoms don’t more or less effect them on a certain day.  And I know all of that and still sometimes we feel like we’re misunderstood, even within the disability community. 

So again, this is the first few minutes of the show, and they’re talking about disability dating sexuality identity, within and outside of the disability community.  And then suddenly, as Ryan’s leaving the physical therapy session, you start to see. Ryan, the person’s act acting chops, the physical comedy that he does on the show is amazing. 

It’s something that you don’t often see with disabled characters, usually because traditionally in the media they didn’t feel like writers and directors didn’t feel comfortable poking fun, and having like these comedic elements. 

But as he’s leaving. He gets just suddenly hit by a car.  And this car accident is something that repeatedly comes up throughout season one.  And it’s a source of comedy in a sense where of course if you get hit by a car, it’s not usually very funny, it could be very serious but Ryan gets hit any false, again, and he fractures and elbow and Josephs first car accidents goes pretty chill. 

And, but then as the show goes on, you see how people just assume that has cerebral palsy symptoms are from the car accident and the assumptions that they make from that are classic, classic non disabled people comments and I say that with love, sometimes.  Sometimes people without disabilities, truly just make natural assumptions that they’re not intending to be insulting about.  But anyway we’ll get into that later. 

So the next thing Ryan and his mom are hanging out around the house and he’s in the bathroom and he’s shooting himself and he cuts himself and his mom is right around the corner and starts like blogging with the tissue where he’s kind of space.  Ryan explains that he’s excited to start his internship at egg yolk, which is that kind of millennial site that publishes funny articles and such. 

And his mom says, but what about your CPE your cerebral palsy, they’re going to ask you to do these really difficult things like facts and print and Ryan jokes.  Well, the thing no one’s had to access the 90s.  And, you know, it’s funny that one faxing and printing to people of a certain generation might seem like really difficult things, whereas nowadays. They’re more common, like, well, not the faxing but the printing is more commonplace and emailing and taping all of these things that weren’t so common back in the day and so it’s just funny that his mom jokes about that.  But then it’s also kind of hinting a little bit too, when parents, raise a child with a disability, they’re used to advocating for them and stepping in and helping them when they are themselves, and preparing them for these life situations and Ryan is really branching out on his own and you see that as an episode goes on. 

But it makes really funny jokes, his mom like jokes about him being unpaid and it was like that’s rude. And he says it’s time for him to branch out because the kid died in a car accident, his obituary would have been Bleak Lively.  And so there’s a lot of really great writing.  Brian, we learn at this point is 28 years old, and he feels like he just wants to do more. You know I think a lot of people with disabilities can relate to this.  I know when I was in college is when I acquired disability.  And I was it was right before my, my senior year really not it was formally diagnosed.  But in grad school I was learning how to adapt to disability while going to get my masters in counseling people with disabilities, and learning things like about disabled identity and culture. 

And I had those feelings like am I going to be able to do what I want to do and I want to branch out I want to have a career and I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I know I need to go for it and push myself in a way that’s appropriate for me and my disability.  And so I could really relate to that with Ryan. 

The show cuts to Ryan at egg row, which is that website that he works for and his supervisor is demanding viral content.  And so, Ryan walks in and his supervisor sees him, kind of walking in with a little bit of a limb, and she says sorry hon cedar Sinai is around the corner and cedar Sinai.  For those who don’t know, is a hospital, medical center, and he explains that now he’s actually entered and he still does it. And so, the supervisor is asking for a funny story and Ryan provides kind of a cutesy funny thing, and the supervisor puts him on male duty and so he’s like, oh, shoot, like I don’t I, my first day, my first meeting, and I was put on meal duty. 

And there are some complications to him being on the Ltd, with his cerebral palsy, but in this meeting before we get to him opening the mail, his coworker who is this really funny outgoing smart.  Open appearing to be I think she’s Indian American woman, I would say she’s probably in her mid to late 20s, also on the show.  She’s a writer gets a ton of traffic on her articles, she was really successful but these articles are super open about like female genitalia. I will say, and so she essentially because she gets so many hits on her articles for the website. 

She pushes back on the supervisor, more than most people who work at a globe and it’s really very funny and integrated example of, you know, a really strong funny, talented woman, not taking crap in the workplace.  But anyways, his coworker who we don’t know her name at this point.  But she explained to Ryan that the supervisors, natural thing is exploiting the personal stories for page views. 

And she says it’s really scary to write about it but it can be healing once you own it, no one can take anything away from you. And so, Ryan doesn’t know what he’d write about because he says his life is so boring, which, again, is very poignant because non disabled people might think that living with disability is so traumatic and devastating always, and it’s always terrible, but this just shows that when you live with a disability, you know, disabled life can be just as boring as non disabled life.  It’s just a different experience. 

And so during this week I was hit by a car, and his coworker assumes that his disability is from that and, of course, and he and she was like what happened, expecting this devastating car accidents story.  And he says, oh, it just grace my elbow and she looks so confused that he doesn’t you know maybe walk the way he does because of the car accident. 

But then she doesn’t really push it too much.  Very accurate. Sometimes when you share an injury or an illness or any other form of disability. People feel uncomfortable sometimes asking more questions and so there can be these awkward silences sometimes.  But that being said don’t feel like you need to over share about your disability. I’ve had moments where I felt like I needed to over share. And sometimes I regretted it and sometimes I didn’t, but I just realized that if other people are uncomfortable with what I share about my disability that’s their problem and not mine. 

Anyway, Ryan returns to work, and his supervisor confronts him about how she sees him opening the mail. And he is really trying to open the envelope, and it’s difficult for him because of dexterity with his hands.  And it’s an even when he’s trying to open it and when his supervisor confronts him about like Why aren’t you opening the mail. Right. And he says, I have a dexterity issue and she goes over you homeschooled. 

And it’s just, again, perfect writing on the show on how disability can be misunderstood and how symptoms that were used to talking about all the time like dexterity and fine gross motor skills and mobility and accessibility.  These things that can affect come up often in our daily lives.  Sometimes I do this we’re all talk about it, because it’s just another thing it’s just another time mobility is brought up it’s just another time accessibility is something that needs to be addressed. 

And then I’ll forget sometimes that non disabled people don’t know these terms.  But then the co worker apologizes for the supervisor and it’s like, oh, it’ll be fine, like don’t worry about the supervisor being a jerk, and not understanding it’ll be okay.  The show then goes to Ryan, who he’s at home, and is practicing opening mail with a letter opener over and over again.  This reminded me of a lot of things that I went through. Prior to becoming a lawyer, especially. 

I have talked on my social media a little bit about how I was really.  I wanted to be very prepared for when I would be in a courtroom.  And what that would be like with my team with getting your security at the courtroom, with feeling comfortable in a courtroom with accessing the bench and all of these things that are already it wasn’t going to court for anybody can be intimidating. 

And so when I was in law school I wanted to make sure I felt as comfortable as possible and that I knew what accommodations, I needed, and was entitled to when I would go to court.  And so every Wednesday. I would sit in judge Garcia’s courtroom in Lansing, Michigan.  And he had invited at our law school orientation anybody to sit in and observe.  And so I decided to do that and I brought a couple new friends with me most of the time.  And we would sit and we would watch and observe the cases and learn about the different procedures, and gained some confidence in that environment. 

But for me, I was really practicing, in my mind, and then at home, navigating these situations years before I was in a courtroom. 

So, I can relate to Ryan going home and practicing opening these envelopes over and over again and just wanting to fit in at work, and not have disability become another thing that you have to explain when you’re working, and just also trying to get your work done at one of the law firms they worked at. 

I had a boss who, when they hired me they didn’t know a lot about, you know, me and my disability and my physical differences.  And I had on after I got the job I had a really honest conversation with them about the accommodations that I was entitled to.  And how I could still do the essential functions of the job but they didn’t handle all of it very well but I stayed at that job for a while.  And one of the things that was difficult was this attorney, really wanted the other attorneys to do things exactly the same way that he did. And as a disabled woman, and I know that there are times when you have to do things especially in the law that you have to do steps one through 20, and there’s no way to change those steps from being required and but there still may be ways that you can adapt, get the job done. 

In the same effectiveness level as your boss or your coworkers, but just in your unique way because the environment is inaccessible or discriminatory.  So one of the things that I had to deal with at this job was the employers wanted everyone to win meetings with clients sketch out this diagram.  And I knew that with my hand tremors that that was going to be difficult immediately.  And so one thing that I did was I went home and I had spent hours creating this diagram on the computer, so that instead of sketching it out. 

It could be printed with icons and charts and everything the same exact content as when you’re writing it in front of the client and explaining it to a client, but it’s a printed out resource so the client can also use and take with them if they’d like.  And we could use with other clients.  And I just remember when I first brought it up. I was really nervous about it, and I spent a lot of time working on it.  And to my employers credit he did allow me to use that and then you should have allowed me to use it and he did. 

He wasn’t doing me a favor by allowing me to make the environment accessible.  But at first he was like “Well I prefer if you can hand write it.” To do that, because then it shows the clients that you just know these things off the off the top of your head and as you’re writing out but they,  I guess think that you’re smarter, or something like, and but I pushed back against that and honestly, I stand by the diagram. I think the diagram’s great. 

And even though I don’t work for them anymore. I would do it all over again, and I still think the diagram was the right way to go. But I’m a little biased, probably on that.  But I’m also professionally equipped to assess that anyway.  So, back to the show Ryan is practicing opening now as mom says, “You don’t need to learn that and you said yes I do, because I don’t know how to do basic shape like open mail.” 

She’ll give you a break and you can both focus on pitching articles. And he says, I don’t think anyone will be interested in the time I ditch school to go mini golfing with my mom.  His mom goes. That was so fun, and he looks at her seriously with a smile on his face and, like, I know those corn dogs they sell they’re better than they need to be.  And so his mom kind of recommends that he should write about his CP. And he was like No, my whole life. My CP has been the main course, when it really needs to be an appetizer taken off the menu, and his mom says your disability is part of you. 

It’s what makes you any cuts and and so special, I know.  And so, one thing I don’t know if I touched on this before, but his memoir, Ryan O’Connell, who’s the actor and the writer and executive producer of the series, his memoirs called I’m special and other lies we tell ourselves. 

And so that’s kind of what this show is based on. And it’s the special term is something I talk a lot about on my disability advocacy work online because oftentimes the term special needs, is used by really well intentioned parents who want their children who have disabilities to be looked at as well rounded individuals who are in their words quote unquote more than just their disability, but that messaging can be very damaging.  And not only do other kids tend to use special and special needs. And the special buss or the short buss, or phrases like that to bully disabled kids.  But, disability, it teaches that disability is this kind of extraordinary strange experience of being other and different from the norm when really disability is the most normal human experience especially as we age and so we in the disability community. 

I tend to prefer people say, just disabled or disability, rather than special needs are special because it’s a weighted term that special word.  So in the show. Ryan returns to work sees a supervisor and says he has an idea about what he can write about but it’s really personal, and as supervisor cuts them off and starts apologizing and saying, I was like, essentially, really rude to you yesterday 

I was just told that you’re hit by a car, and as a fellow victim and then goes oh you were hit by a car too.  And the supervisor is like “No, but we all could be,” and starts kind of picking on the coworker Samantha who gets picked on by a lot of people.  And she says, “Especially Samantha. It all makes sense now the mail and your sad little limp.” 

And then goes oh no my lip is actually kind of and a supervisor custom audiences are you ever going to get better, or is this just like it for you.  And this question are you ever going to get better, or what’s wrong with you, or what happened, or things that I do get quite a bit from people, not just people who don’t know me. But you know, colleagues and old professors and things like that.  And it’s a difficult question one because it’s asking for personal private confidential, often medical information. 

And so sometimes when people are like, oh, what’s wrong with you.  I want to be like, what’s wrong with you.  Let me look at your medical records, and then I’ll discuss mine with you.  And just because I get asked that a lot especially if I’m using a mobility like a team.  And so anyway.  This question is really complicated when she’s like are you ever going to get better as it’s just like it for you because the disabled experience, is it just like, it’s not.  Are you stuck with this horrible disabled body and experience?  Coworker Kim says, “I hope you don’t mind [I told her] I couldn’t let her come down on you for something you couldn’t do.”  He says, “It’s fine.”  His supervisor says he needs to write about getting hit by a car, Ryan says, “Absolutely, let the healing begin.” LOL. Ryan sits back, looking at his computer, and smiles. 

That wraps up season one episode one of Special on Netflix!  Again, the new season comes out May 20th.  Watch along with me, and let me know what you think of the show!  This has been the Legally Abled Podcast, I’ll see you next time!”

New Podcast Update: Pressing Disability Issues and a Personal Update!

New Podcast Update: Pressing Disability Issues and a Personal Update!


Hello everyone and welcome back to the legally abled podcast. My name is Ashley Jacobson I am a disability rights attorney, a disability counselor and assessment specialist, and a physically disabled woman living in the state of Michigan. And I’m so thrilled to be bringing this podcast back. I created a little legal evil podcast when I was in law school. After I saw a lot of injustice is happening against the disability community and I wanted a way to raise awareness of that and also share the many many resources that I’ve acquired. In the past, gosh, I would say, 13 to 15 years working in the disability arena and living with disability. So some things have changed since I started the podcast, I am no longer a law student, I am a lawyer, which is very exciting I’m loving what I’m doing.
I’m also a disabled entrepreneur, I have my own law firm called Jacobson law and advocacy. And I have my own consulting firm, which allows me to do, counseling, on adopting to disability accommodations assessments for the workplace. And for schools including universities and grad school, and really sink my teeth into all of the ways in which
I can provide trainings resources and counseling to people with disabilities of all ages, and that’s through my consulting firm called adaptive inclusion. So, my life is very disability centric personally living with lupus and other chronic illnesses, as well as working as a disability rights attorney.
So there have been a lot of changes, I would say over the last year and I’m really excited to be bringing this podcast back on a weekly basis. I’m going to definitely do at least once a week. And each podcast will broken up into 15 to 30 minutes segments, because I received some feedback from people saying that, especially for certain types of disabilities. The loss of focus might be something that’s difficult in longer podcasts so they, you know, my, so not a little bit or get distracted or have difficulties with memory and sensory and things that caused them to go back and try to find where they left off. And so I will be chopping these episodes up into 15 to 30 minute blocks of time.
And I’m really receptive to any feedback, especially if it will accommodate your disability if it will make this podcast more accessible for you, for your loved ones. Please do not be afraid, let me know.

So I wanted to do a little bit of a roundup now that you’ve got your updates on me on current events, and issues facing the disability community because I’m going to be diving into all of these topics, weekly, and interviewing some truly amazing guest so I’m really honored to have the opportunity to interview.
I’m really honored to have the opportunity to interview. And I already have some awesome people lined up Disability Advocates disabled writers actors policy writers.
Politicians attorneys educators and other counselors.
And I want to focus on the key issues in the Disability Justice Movement, while also having a little bit of fun and share her favorite taste of disability in the media, because there is some incredible media content out there for people with disabilities,

Whether it’s on social media, or TV or movie is, we are coming for it all.
And so, you know, in the last year with the covenant team pandemic.
It has never been more glaring that people with disabilities are treated as less than or not worthy, or not as important, then they’re not disabled peers.
Not only did we have to hear, politicians, people on the news, friends, community members say that it didn’t matter if we had more severe symptoms of covert if we were to catch it.
Because our lives weren’t as valuable.
And they would say this messaging through things like.
It’s only the vulnerable people who are affected by coping, which we know to be not true.
But then they would clarify that the vulnerable are old people, and disabled people. People with underlying conditions.
And so for over a year.

I’ve heard leaders. People have no saying that essentially it didn’t matter. They weren’t going to wear masks, they weren’t going to social distance. Because if they caught coven, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
When I was holed up in my home for over a year, I didn’t go anywhere but the pharmacy, and usually it was my husband going to the pharmacy and going to the grocery store, or to the doctor.
I did have surgery during the pandemic, which was a very interesting experience, to say the least.
But that surgery was delayed for about six or seven months while you know most surgeries were on hiatus, providing emergency medical care to people with COPD, which is understandable.
But it was not understandable, was the lack of empathy that I experienced daily from strangers on the internet to famous people who just didn’t get that there are millions and millions of people in every state of the United States, who have disabilities who contribute to their communities, support families have friends and loved ones that care for them and that they care for deeply. And many of them work. Some of them don’t and they volunteer. Many are prominent advocates online and in person.

And yet, we were truly treated like we were disposable.
So I wrote an article about that it is up on LegallyAbled.com I wrote it initially, I want to say it was in April of 2020, it is now may of 2021.

And while some things have changed. some things remain the same.
I am fully vaccinated, which is great news.
I did get covert after being fully vaccinated. So I urge everyone to be careful, even if they’re vaccinated.
And because while I was careful. You know, it’s still happened. And while I’m very, very grateful.
Because I feel as though having the vaccine allowed me to experience co bed in a still pretty severe way, I would say, but much less severe and scary that I’m sure it would have been had I not been vaccinated.
So about a month ago, my husband co bed.
And one of going to the hospital, really messed with his blood pressure. He’s doing much better now.
But then shortly thereafter I woke up in the middle of the night, and I felt like I was choking. And that was really scary because I don’t normally experienced that, but I do have autoimmune disease and so I wasn’t sure if it was related to that or not. And I went to my primary care doctor first thing that day, and I said you know I don’t know maybe I should get back on doing my breathing treatments. And he said I’m going to test you for COPD. And I truly thought there was no way I had it I mean I’m such a hermit. And I don’t go anywhere. And I knew my husband had it but I was also fully vaccinated and I heard that it was pretty rare. I think they say point 1% of people who are fully vaccinated still get it but again they probably have less severe symptoms than they would have had they not been vaccinated. They still, but I mean what are the odds I’m in that point 01 percent of people. Turns out for me and my body that’s pretty good for that so I’m grateful to have mostly healed from that.
You probably can’t tell from me rambling on this podcast, but I am still having some shortness of breath.
If you’re watching this video. You can see that I’m going to let this flare up right now I’ve got a rash on my face and my body I think is just kind of bouncing back in its own unique way from having coven and having an autoimmune disease during that. But speaking of the vaccine.
One of the other updates that highlighted the way in which disabled people your view during this pandemic. Was that many of them were not given access to the vaccine appropriately, in my state, the state of Michigan.

Essential workers like and mostly were given access to the vaccine first that makes sense, right it’s a public health crisis they’re providing a central services.
We need to protect them, they’re valued members of our society.
But then, at least in my state.
And in a lot of other states and I’m seeing this to where they open up vaccines to people 65 years or older.
And while a big portion of the disability community is in that each group.
There are millions of people with disabilities who had been told for over a year.
In some cases, that they were vulnerable to the most severe symptoms of co op ed.
And yet, because they weren’t over the age of 65. They weren’t given access to the vaccine.
In fact, caregivers of people with disabilities were given access to the vaccine sooner than the disabled individual themselves. That’s a huge problem. We’re literally assessing whose lives lives are worth saving. And we’re doing it in a very public way, a very direct way. And we’re sending the message to a huge chunk of the disability community that they’re always the last right i mean they’re always the last to come to mind. They’re the last to get opportunities to get protected and the statistics are even more staggering for black disabled individuals.

We found that in many states, and I’m a white disabled woman, but just from my professional background I’ve been keeping track of the statistics, and the reports that are coming out from different counties in different states, and even different countries and black disabled individuals were disproportionately affected by lack of access to the vaccine, lack of access to adequate covert testing and treatment. And so not only was the disability community dealing with this negative messaging throughout the whole pandemic and they’re still dealing with that.
But they’re also dealing with life threatening issues here. And yet, throughout this pandemic.
I really heard anybody reporting on it outside of myself and many Disability Advocates online but in the mainstream media. It wasn’t really that reported on. And so that was also disappointing.

Other updates pertaining to disability current events and issues that are important to our community.
In the last year there’s been a lot of awareness and really an uprising to no longer be complacent or accept the police brutality that’s inflicted against black people.
Black disabled individuals are among the most affected by police violence and brutality.
As a disability rights lawyer, this is not new information to me, it’s not something that I just became aware of it’s not something that I just started advocating against.
But the past year I’ve seen a lot of people who normally didn’t pay that much attention to police brutality start to want to learn about it and speak about it and while some of it was performative Alice ship meaning they talked about it for a few days and then moved on. And I’m hoping, truly really desperately hoping that this isn’t something that we push past or push aside, black children with disabilities have a higher rate of being more severely punished.
When it comes to having a disability and being in school.
They tend to be seen as more as troublemakers and their weight nondisabled peers, even more so than their weight disabled peers.

Even when that’s not the case that bias is there in a lot of our education system.
And then once you get into juvenile law, which is part of what I do is I represent kids who are dealing with the court system, you find that, depending on the detention center. One study found that up to 70% seven zero percent of kids in juvenile detention have disability. When it comes to the adult prison population. Again, this is just what’s documented, and what’s verified. I’m sure this number is actually much higher, but it’s around 40% of the adult inmate population has a disability.
And then you consider how disability rights are required to be provided for when you’re questioned by police. When you’re going through a juvenile adjudication, which is essentially what they call a juvenile criminal case, the system works a little bit differently for kids and adults. But when you’re going through the either as an adult or as a child, and you’re dealing with police and social workers, and attorneys and judges or referees.

You have disability rights in those settings. But if you pull aside each of these participants in our legal system.
What you’ll find is, even the most well intentioned individuals don’t have the background and disability that they need to be able to assess how disability, played a role, either in the incident alleged or in the courtroom.
And that’s why I became a lawyer. I was working as a counselor what using my master’s degree and my nationwide certification in disability counseling and assessment. It’s called a rehabilitation counselor, which is not the same thing as a substance use disorder counselor that’s a totally different fields, but sometimes people think that because they hear rehabilitation and the name, but rehabilitation counselors are providing counseling, that empower people with disabilities in the workplace in schools and in their home situations or they’re independent living or wherever they find themselves in the community really. And I was doing that, loving that, and then I had over one week I had three separate clients deal with a legal matter. I’m deal with the police. And I noticed how horribly those situations were handled and I went to find an attorney who adequately understood disability and how it would affect the clients ability to navigate the legal system with the barriers the legal system has, in their way, that are discriminatory. And I couldn’t find that. And so I thought I’ll just sign up for the offset and see, and then went to law school did it in two years went out for the bar exam past it. And I’ll get into the bar exam at another time because there’s a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities in the Michigan bar exam, a lot of accommodations being approved but then not provided on the day when you show up. I also have an article written about that and my experience on LegallyAbled.com. And as a lawyer, you know, I’ve seen many clients, interacting with the police.
As kids and as adults. And I followed these national stories that the disability community really rallied behind and advocates and raises awareness and provide the resources to speak up against it and to reach out to politicians who can make a difference and reverse things and all of that, but there’s such a long way to go.

And so in 2020, the disability community also had an awakening in the sense that the people, the disability advocates who tend to do the best on social media, they get the most endorsements that have the most followers are typically white, disabled people who have physical disabilities. Many of them are in wheelchairs or they have limb difference, and their disabilities are kind of packaged in a way that works for them, and is great and we should do that they should get those endorsements and they work hard for their pages. But we’re still needing to correct the bias in the disabled media that we consume. And so I just encourage everybody if you’re on social media, whether it be Tick tock, Instagram, Facebook, or any other app that pops up there. I encourage you to follow people with disabilities who look different than you are different, they’re different race, they have a different disability.

They are from different countries they have, they speak, maybe different languages and immerse yourself in content that is not your day to day experience, because I can tell you that it’s allowed me to be a more well rounded individual, and we’re active participants in the disability community and advocacy movement, as well as just a more intelligent person. Because you know I’m a lawyer, I’m a counselor I am a speaker, and the smartest people I’ve learned. Know that the learning never ends. And so they’re always going to be things that I know and they’re always going to be things that I still need to learn.
And so I just encourage you to go out there and follow some people who expand your understanding.
Especially pertaining to disability and our sexuality, to people who are from the LGBT q plus community who have disabilities.

People who are black and have disabilities people who are immigrants that have disabilities Native Americans with disabilities, really expand your day to day content that you’ll consume.
And you’ll find that it doesn’t necessarily have to include a lot of time to follow people. And you’re going to be on social media, anyway, so you might as well just follow some new people learn some new things. In just that and use that moving forward,

Other really important things that to the disability community right now include the climate crisis. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, changes in the weather and changes in climate.
If you haven’t gotten a chance I highly recommend that you watch the gratitude Berg documentary on Hulu.
It’s a great example of somebody who’s very well known for advocating on environmental issues, but also discusses her disability, quite a bit. And some of you might not know that she has autism. She is very open about being autistic. And she’s also very open about having anxiety and depression, and having some really low periods in her life in which her environmental advocacy and understanding of her disability, helped her and kind of push on.
And so I highly recommend that you check that out but the ways in which people disabilities are affected by climate change are evident, if you look at any huge natural disaster or environmental disaster that’s happened in the last couple of years.

We saw the wildfires in California. We had millions of people with disabilities struggling to find accessible shelters meaning there’s a bed that they can get in and out of their doors that they can go through to get into the facility.
There aren’t restrooms, that they can use that are accessible for wheelchairs walkers canes medical devices and like.
Then, when you look at hurricanes and tornadoes. People with disabilities on occasion are abandoned by caretakers especially if they’re not loved ones like if they’re in a nursing home, and they’re just kind of left to fend for themselves.
Additionally, with weather changes with flooding. It restricts access to sidewalks and roads with ice and snow. People aren’t shoveling sidewalks, like they’re supposed to be in their counties. And so, People with disabilities have been stranded in those instances.

And so we’re looking at these huge Disability Justice issues, and you might be thinking, Well, what can I do to change these issues have been around for a long time? I firmly believe that one of the ways in which you can make concrete change in your community today is to investigate employment discrimination in your area, maybe at your company that you work or own, or your small business association and train on disability and inclusion and the myths that are out there. When it comes to accommodations and cost of accessibility.
Most the vast, vast majority I would say 95% of all accommodations that make workplaces accessible for people with disabilities are low cost or no cost to the employer and employers have more employees with disabilities, I’m a real.

That being said, hiring discrimination is still one of the most pressing issues.
When it comes to Disability Justice in 2020 80%, eight zero percent of people with disabilities were unemployed, compare that to 40% of non disabled people being unemployed. It’s a massive difference. And sure it was a pandemic in 2020. But this isn’t a new problem. The unemployment rate is something that frankly isn’t being addressed quickly enough, and a huge reason for that is that the non disabled community people without disabilities misunderstand what disability is what it looks like, what it looks like and how you can employ and benefit from a person with a disability working in your workplace. So we’ve talked about a lot in this podcast episode. And a lot of it has been kind of heavy stuff.

So now I want to talk about the light happy things that are happening.
This year we saw a huge effort by disabled writers and Hollywood disabled actors producers. And we’re seeing.
Amazing. Funny accurate disability in our media. Granted, is still in less than 1% of all media.
So, We need to be out there and more. We need to be given the opportunity to be out there and more, I should say.
But one of the shows that I’m absolutely loving right now is Special on Netflix. Now, it’s not appropriate for children, there are adult themes and language. But my gosh, it’s just so refreshing to see an adult comedy show that talks about disability accurately talks about adult issues living with disability as a disabled creator, writer, actor, actually, more than one, and has all of the funny uplifting moments just as much if not more than be depressing discriminatory moments. I will be reviewing Season 1 as we wait for Season 2 which comes out on Netflix on May 20th!

Thank you for tuning in to the Legally Abled Podcast! My name is Ashley Jacobson, and I will see you in the next episode!

Legal mentorship program for law students with disabilities

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


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.


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
• 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.



Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disability Counselor, Assessment & Accommodations Specialist (nationwide CRC)

Disability Rights Attorney (state of Michigan) & Disability Advocate



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:


Human Resources Administration
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:


Professional Standards Bureau
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:


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

Office phone:



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



The Vulnerables: Disability in a Pandemic

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

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disability Rights Attorney, Advocate, Activist

Originally published May 3, 2020

Reviewed and re-published (because, well, it’s still as relevant as ever) on February 23, 2021.

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 of contracting and experiencing severe symptoms of the virus.  Of those at risk, people with disabilities have often been seen and discussed as “vulnerables” not worthy of preservation, not worthy of mourning, not worthy of access, and not worthy of input.  As a physically-disabled 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 joke phrase for people with disabilities, which more aptly describes our creative inventiveness and adaptability like super heroes, and is a nod to everyone pushing “differently abled” as a softer approach than just calling us what we want…disabled).

Though disability advocates have fought hard to receive equal treatment as citizens under several disability rights laws, 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 (google “Ugly Laws” when you’re looking for a real downer), 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, 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 probably 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 many of these 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 earlier 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? For most–nope.

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.


NPR story on lobotomies

NY ARC v. Rockefeller

Michigan Bar Exam Discrimination: My Experience

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. 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, Esq., MA, CRC

Disability Rights Attorney, Advocate, and Accommodations Specialist”