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Eighth Annual Disability and Civil Rights Clinic Roundtable

02/16/2022

On Feb. 4, 100 law students, city and state officials, disability advocates and activists, and community leaders gathered for the eighth annual Disability and Civil Rights Clinic Roundtable at Brooklyn Law School. The roundtable provides a collaborative environment in which to explore recent legal and policy developments impacting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities while exchanging ideas, establishing new community partnerships and individual relationships, and discussing creative solutions for change. The virtual event was cosponsored by the Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic and the Center for Health, Science and Public Policy and was supported with a generous grant from the Taft Foundation, which also supports the Clinic’s overall work.

In welcoming roundtable attendees, Dean Michael Cahill cited the significance of the Clinic’s mission: “Since its start in 2014, the Clinic has enrolled over 100 students and served hundreds of adults with disabilities and their families, representing them in state and federal court in administrative proceedings, providing referrals, and technical support. It would not be possible without the outstanding leadership of co-directors Prianka Nair and Sarah Lorr.” 

“Intersectional Approaches to Inclusion and Advocacy,” was chosen as the theme of this year’s roundtable, said Lorr, “with the idea that community and disability justice is centered not around an aspect of disability or disability alone but around multiple identities in our community. We hope today is an opportunity to celebrate the diverse human beings that make up this community and to broaden the net of disability rights and justice, pushing the law to move forward.” 

The keynote address was given by Juan Pablo Salazar, an activist and advocate in the global movement for the rights of persons with disabilities, who works with the Development Bank of Latin America to help countries in the region implement the UN Convention on Disability. He is also a Governing Board member for the International Paralympic Committee.

Salazar stressed the importance of respecting and understanding people with disabilities as multifaceted individuals, not as defined by their disabilities. “We can advance the disability rights agenda and achieve positive cultural shifts through grassroots activism, public policy, and popular culture over time. A key is communication outside of our community. Our stories need to enter the mainstream.”

Following the keynote, participants broke into working groups focused on various subject areas, where they shared knowledge, identified challenges, and discussed strategies to further progress. Topics included rights within the criminal justice and carceral system, challenges in accessing special education services, access to services provided by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, sexuality and the rights to intimacy, access to housing and discrimination issues within housing systems, supported decision making as an alternative to guardianship, the important role of mediation and dispute resolution services, and the right to family. 

The Disability and Civil Rights Clinic focuses on protecting and advancing the civil rights of adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. As one of the few law school clinics in the country specializing in this area, it functions as a pro bono law firm, with students representing low-income adults and their families in a variety of civil legal matters, including housing, public benefits, access to health care, special education, parental rights, alternatives to guardianship, prisoners’ rights, asylum, and discrimination concerning access to programs and services.