A year ago my boss had an idea- Why don't we create a legal workshop and assistance program for people with disabilities. Easier said than done. How do you get started? How do you get financed? How do you explain the reasons why you think that currently established programs, although they're doing amazing work every day, simply are not enough? And how do you create a model that will attract both clients and young attorneys that will pay for itself. A year ago the idea died because we didn't have the answers. The Florida Bar Foundation will never throw money at you simply because you want to do something good.
As you know last week I took my Oath of Attorney. It was not something given to me, but an end to a long journey I started when I came to America. Years of hard work and studying. Long semesters of school and Bar preparation. But, in many ways, that end is only a beginning. Because, although I am now an attorney, I'm still a person with a disability. I still take the bus every day, I still use restrooms in public places, need to get in and out of buildings, ramps and lifts and grab bars are still my life. Trust me, ADA related issues find me every day. And for that reason my perspective is always going to be a little different. The only difference is that now I'm given a great tool- the power of law. I can understand my rights, I can help other people and yes, I can sue if necessary. A couple of days ago something that happened to me made me realize that, while Three Rivers and clinics are wonderful as a whole they have two major problems. First and foremost, you need to come to them. And then, they might not pick up on disability related issues because, quite honestly, people don't really look or aware of them unless it concerns them in some way. I would never look for grab bars in a bathroom at a restaurant or a clubif it wasn't for the fact that I need them.
So, the idea of that workshop for people with disabilities resurfaces . I feel like It is a big problem in America to get people to understand that American with Disabilities Act is law like any other.
Just few days ago I threatened to sue the City of Gainesville - they were training their drivers not to assist the wheelchair users the way the law requires for many years. Their initial response was to say be adamant about it and say that that's their policy and even misinform me that the law doesn't mandate it.
They were very apologetic about it later when I announced I'm an attorney but how many people don't even know they have rights or even that they should talk to somebody after being shut down?It's easy to dismiss someone who's not strong enough to fend for himself and it's been happening for years. Yes, I'm an attorney and I will stand up for itself. Make no mistake- I can put in the work, the time and the research, but it's not about me. It's not about one isolated event or somebody's mistake.
People will not go to 3 rivers, because they call places like RTS and are told they have no complaint, so how can they know that they should find an attorney? Often poor and uneducated and easily pushed around. This is where I think Three Rivers or even Center for Independent Living fail. And often, it is where issues involving children, families, poverty and disability cross. That's why we need to promote greater awareness for the rights of the disabled. I dream of creating a mobile workshop that will travel across North Central Florida and educate the public. Because you can't enforce your rights if you don't know what they are. I'm less concerned with some one time incident than I am with the lack of proper procedures. And I'm the last person who'd be happy to catch the city off-guard and sue. Rather, I want to work with the City, to eliminate those incidents. I have high hopes for Craig Lowe and the new Commission.
It feels to me ADA is viewed as some form of lesser law that is there, but really isn't. I spoke to Dean Jerry months ago and he was concerned that the school didn't have enough clinic spots for students. I was thinking about starting it up as a clinic program to place students. I'd like to establish something that will teach empathy and experience and I also know a bunch of hungry recently admitted attorneys that want to do something meaningful. And I believe nothing is impossible when people come together. Our big challenge- structuring the program in some way that would be able to finance itself.. This is a call to my Attorney friends and colleagues, let' s sit down, think and do something together.