Thursday, September 27, 2012

And nobody has to know.

I couldn't hide my disability if I tried. The wheelchair is usually the first thing you see. Even if I'm not in it you can tell by my posture, my movements, my spastic right hand and if you're skilled enough to spot these things, you'd know what I have without even asking. When I was 8 or 10 years old my mom used to put me in regular sits of buses and trams when my stroller was folded. I remember this one time very vividly when a women asked me once and then again to give up one place to one of the standing ladies. Obviously, she didn't know I couldn't walk. It became a bit of a funny story we would tell in the family, but it made me feel good. For once I was like everybody else. For that second in somebody's eyes I didn't have a disability. I wasn't somebody you pity, you feel sorry for, I wasn't one of "them". I was like everybody else. For once I didn't have to deal with and measure up to everyone else's idea of what it was  like to be me. For a lack of a better word I was normal.

I have friends with intellectual conditions that some choose not to reveal. Others are very open about it: This is what I have and these are the pills I take for it. They feel it's better for those around them to understand what they deal with, to see their limitations, to explain the very often unexplainable  behavior. Sometimes it's just a way to say: I'm fine with it. I have it, but it doesn't have me It's a choice, but they have a choice. My mom told be once that a young boy she knew told her that he envied me. Because, he explained people know what I have and they can feel for me. Sympathy is I think the wrong way for it, nobody wants to be looked at that way and patted on the head. Empathy is something everybody should have to try and understand the struggles that other people have. We all want to be appreciated, seen as capable professionals in the face of whatever life throws at us, So, "I feel so bad for you" isn't quite gonna cut it. A useless and patronizing emotion.

I have  friends who choose to hide her disability. Some have manic depression, some have  learning issues and anything between. You could say that it gets in the way of their careers. It interferes with the image they want to put out there. They don't want people to know because they don't want to have a label. They don't want people to feel sorry for them. They don't want to bring that kind of attention to themselves.  Nobody wants to be a story. Nobody wants to seem less capable. I also think coping with your disability means admitting you have limitations. Maybe you can't do it all, maybe you'll do some things differently. Admitting to the world, but mostly to yourself Even if they can't hide it, because they can't always hide it they prefer to be seen as erratic and unreasonable than to reveal something so personal. And  having some people know may help you. If you don't tell anyone then you're all alone in this. Just because you don't doesn't make it any less real. I had a friend who had a learning disability who was mistreated by our school. I've tried to convince him to see me as an attorney, if not me- then somebody else. He chose not to, I think for reasons having nothing to do with the strength of his case. He didn't want go through it, he didn't want attention, he didn't want to deal with  people's assumptions, others seeing them in a different light. But then, there are no guarantees in any legal action. He'd be stuck with consequences either way. I understand wanting to be private. It's not only about  the mental aspect. John W Quinn is the American born with Cerebral Palsy who hid it for 20 years during a Navy career and now writes books about it. Is it brave, is it fear or is it self preservation? Perhaps it just... is. I don't have a choice- I roll into a room and get people's attention. Would I be so guarded that I'd hide it if I could to the extent that I hurt myself? Who knows.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Campus life

Gainesville is not a typical city. It's also not strictly a college town. I moved here eight years ago and stayed long after I graduated and most of my friends moved away.  People live here. There are people, families here that have no connection to the school at all. But make no mistake- at the heart of Gainesville lies a really big University campus. Not just a collection of buildings that students go to- it's an area that is visually separate from its surroundings, but it's not only the red brick that gives it its look- it feels different. In Warsaw, the buildings of all the universities blended well with the rest of the city. Some were more spread apart, others grouped together in mini campuses. But this is nothing like what you see here. University of Florida not only makes up a large part of what  Gainesville is area-wise, it also was a driving factor behind it's growth. A lot of people are here because of the school, the population count fluctuates. The city transit with all its faults is advanced because UF pays millions of dollars every year out of the student tuition to keep a lot of those bus routes running. In exchange, students ride free, get additional service confined to the campus area and are able to get home safely at night on the Lator Gators that take them to some of the most popular off-campus complexes after an evening of clubbing. But UF does a lot more. There are cultural events, speeches, concerts, exhibits movies and shows. Some if not most are free and open to the public.

 What was really striking to me when I first moved here was that my American friends, graduate and law students didn't want to have anything to do with the main campus. For a lot of them, seeing some of the younger kids, the undergrads, going to these events was very "uncool". What did they do then you may ask? House parties and pub hopping downtown. We've had a diverse group of  friends many of whom had traveled, gotten advanced degrees, came from other cultures and countries so a lot of it was fun too, don't get me wrong. But I could never understand categorically closing yourself off from any type of experience like this. And as you may guess, doing the same things over and over gets pretty boring. I'll admit, that first few years in Gainesville was to me as much about having the college experience I never had as it was education. In Poland going to school was a different experience all together. It was less about community, learning about yourself, exploring other cultures, learning about others. It was school and work and life. I lived at home. And last but not least I was in a wheelchair, so getting around town was never much of an option. But Gainesville did open me up to those youth driven possibilities and I got to have my American college experience (minus living in a dorm) that I used to see in the movies. And I guess a lot of international students share my sentiment as they often come to these open events out of curiosity and the need to try something new, while Americans 21 and up are rarely there.

My American school friends were too "mature" and "cool" to bother, but was also very surprising is that a lot of people that are local don't know or care about any of those things that go on right in their city. They choose to ignore all together as it doesn't exist and couldn't name or find a single campus building. And I don't mean the halls or labs, I'm talking about the museums that we have a few of, the theaters and performance venues.  I understand it's often difficult to go to some of those things if you're no longer connected to the University in any way. But is it better to stay home every night and watch a movie on cable? Is it better to go drinking at a bar or with a roommate? I chose to see Carmen. And Evita. And Pussy cat Dolls and the Blackeyed Peas. And the Blue Men Group. And Elton John. And the Magic Flute. And Chicago. A few dance shows I can't even name. Some of these would never come to town if it wasn't for UF being here. Gainesville will never be New York, so if we wan't culture, we have to embrace what the University gives us. It's presence makes Gainesville a very unnusual town. It'd be very small without it. You can choose to accept the city's young and student nature or you can ignore it but why? How can you ignore something that is so essential to the place you live in? I decide to benefit from it and take it for what it it is. I make it work for me. No matter how "uncool" it is.

Monday, September 24, 2012


It happens every few months on campus. The emergency lights start to blink, the siren sound goes on and a prerecorded voice calmly announces that an emergency has been reported. Whatever it is that you're doing, you must drop it. The whole building must evacuate. A lot of times it's just a fire drill. A few years ago there was some malfunction due to construction. I also remember there was a time when one of the employees was suspected of pulling the lever intentionally a few times a month. Not to long ago a very young and inexperienced night manager evacuated the entire student union building with a few floors of hotel above it. Whatever the reason, it's treated very seriously and according to procedure. Elevators shut down, the rooms close and we will not go back until we are given permission. Most of the time we're just waiting for firefighters to arrive, because most of the time it's nothing. Most of the time. Emergency is an emergency and it's better to be safe and sorry.

It's not having to go that concerns me, but what appears to be a complete lack of procedures for people in wheelchairs in situations like this. While the building staff is busy organizing the crowds to head for the stairs in an orderly fashion nobody seems to be too concerned about what will happen to me and that I could be stuck on one of the upper floors. It happened again this Friday. I was at the Reitz Union, the student activity building watching a weekly movie in the auditorium when alarms went off. The voice tells you not to use the elevators, but I knew I had to break the procedure and get to one before they are turned off only to be reactivated by the firefighters. I was on the second floor. If only I was lower, if only I chose to get a slice of Papa John's pizza instead of watching Madagascar 3, I could've wheeled out down the colonnade that connects to the campus theater and go down the ramp to safety. But there are no ramps or connectors, no alternative ways to get out or get down if you can't take the stairs or the elevators on the second floor. This happened before- I was on the third floor in the computer lab when the alarms went off. The student supervisors were told to close it and not reopen until the firefighters gave it an "all clear". As everybody evacuated, I was told to stay in the stairway. On the third floor. When I was in high school and we had a fire drill, my classmates would  carry me down the stairs, sometimes in a desk chair I was sitting in. In America, everybody is afraid of liability, so no one would move me or touch me. The students were told not to do it, but neither did the police and fire rescue that arrived at the building. I was stuck in the third floor stairway until the alarms went off and no one was too concerned to help me move. The computer lab supervisor offered to stay behind to keep me company, but nothing was happening. I guess the stairway door were fireproof so this kind of makes sense. But note, we had no idea what kind of emergency it was. Was it a fire, was it a bomb, was it a chemical spill? Is the fear of getting sued for injuring me greater that the risk of me losing a life? Would I have stayed there until the building burned down?

So this time I did go down one floor. In an elevator. We gathered on the colonnade, that we were soon told to get off and stand next to the building. As if those few feet really make a difference between life and death. But  I guess, those are the rules and that's the procedure. Because most of the time it's nothing, right? Most of the time

Friday, September 21, 2012

Closing time

2 am: Streets come alive with laughter, voices and movement. It's closing time in downtown Gainesville. A ritual you see every night. As I was coming home tonight I passed a girl on her knees on the cobble stone. Her boyfriend was on his cell phone, trying to give his ride directions, while attempting to lift her. As they agreed as to the location he was trying to assist her and walk with her, but she was losing balance and falling every couple steps. It's a very common sight. Drunk people trying to find a ride, find a taxi, find  friend. Screaming and shouting, calling each other, running in traffic, walking in front of cars, trying to get home. At 2 o'clock all bars shut down. It's a hard closing- you must be out no matter what and nobody really cares how you're doing, so you better think of some plan. Luckily, we have the Later Gators- nighttime bus routes that connect Downtown with the most popular apartment complexes in the city. But you can't miss your last run. And you want to make sure that you don't leave your friends behind. And that you'll take care of the one that the one that's half passed out or vomiting on the lawn. You see people traveling in groups as they decide to get home. And it's sometimes fun to bump into those kids, exchange a few words, share a few laughs. You see sorority girls who worked so hard on their dresses, hair and make up.

By now, their mascara is running, the outfit is a mess and some are either missing a shoe or carrying them in their hands. You see international students. You hear Chinese and Arabic and the kids from India  walking together. On the buses, that some people decide to run after, there will  be laughter, singing and clapping. Somebody will attempt a back flip, someone else will  ask the driver to stop it because they felt ill. It's amazing how little has changed over the years. Bars have always been Gainesville's number one form of entertainment, our biggest industry if you will. And it is primarily a college town. This doesn't mean that everybody gets drunk every night, but if you're looking for something to do with friends at night you'll most likely end up and one of these venues. We have cinemas, museums and theaters, but they are not as wide spread, some are connected to the University, they are out of the way and they are not open late. Food and drinking (and one arthouse cinema place that closes by 10) are the typical activities in my area,which happens to be downtown. When I lived further, I used to love coming down here on a bus on the weekends. It felt like an expedition. I would grab a bite, get a drink, sing some karaoke and  go home with  students attempting to do a back flip on the bus.  I like watching the bars close. Quick, fast and efficient and sometimes you'll bump into an old friend heading home.

Now another thing fascinates me. How by 3 am it's all quiet. The streets are empty, Gainesville looks like a ghost town, historic Downtown seems like an abandoned movie set. People just go home. Tomorrow they'll do it again. There's no vandalism, no destruction, no all night drinking and noise. Is it the American culture that lets people simply have fun within limits and reason? Is it the police that watches over everyone? Why is it that this city is still mostly safe and calm and clean and fun? How come in Poland whenever a venue tries to stay open late in Warsaw you read about noise complaints, urination and spray painting?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lessons in multiculturalism

Hate  or ignorance? As I was contemplating what drove a Polish politician to say those offensive, mean spirited things about Paralympics and people with disabilities, another story made the headlines back home. A black media personality spoke out against use of the word "Murzyn", an emotionally neutral term describing his race and color. Used in proper Polish in literature, humor and culture for centuries now, it has a somewhat patronizing feel, because of how it was brought up in the  stereotypical context of African tribes and cultures some viewed as 'primitive". It's the word used used in the 1920's children's rhyme "Murzynek Bambo" known to all Polish kids, as Wikipedia explains: "Etymologically, 'murzyn' comes from the same root as the English word 'Moors'." Yet, he considered it offensive. And it got me thinking: Post World War II Poland really doesn't have many experiences in multiculturalism. We are almost exclusively white, 95% catholic, we never really had to stop and think how others felt, because when I was growing up there were no others. If there were classmates of another religious persuasion we didn't know about it, as we all took religion classes together. "Jew" was  a word you primarily heard in jokes growing up, just as you did "American", or "Russian" or "Scott". The first black person I've met in real life probably was Krystian Legierski, who studied law at Warsaw University as did I but was one year older. He was also I believe the first gay person of my generation to cause a stir in the late 1990's when he appeared on the cover of the cult rock  magazine "Machina" with another man and his face graced billboards throughout the country.  Not that it was  big deal, or that people didn't behave properly. It's just that it wasn't that common.

 Culturally we didn't have the time to adapt. We never analyzed our vocabulary, I think, because there was never any reason to. We were all the same. We looked the same, we joked the same, we grew up in the same cultural circles, shared similar experiences, books, music and references. Some say it's the word we have always used and this new wave of political correctness is forcing us to revisit our heritage. I say, the fact that we've been doing something for a really long time is no excuse to continue doing it. If someone tells me that they are hurt by some word that describes them, they are probably right and they have a right to do so. It is not that I grew up sheltered. But in Poland the only people of other races you would see when I was growing up really were foreigners, exchange students and their children and very few TV and radio personalities. This was not something you talked about or thought on day to day basis. We've had some minorities. But those cultures and religions felt exotic and foreign and it's not something I would be exposed to outside of mass media, quite frankly. One thing that hits you when you move to America is that everyone is from somewhere else. They may have views don't agree with or cherish values that you don't necessarily relate to, but you really need to watch how you phrase things and how you come across. Not because of political correctness- you just really don't want to offend anyone.

One of the other issues you didn't see on the streets was disability. I've written about it before. The communist system kept people in wheelchairs away from public view. It clashed with its propaganda image of a happy and healthy society. There was no need to built ramps. There was no need to adapt buses. There was no need to put in elevators. Individuals with disabilities were not included in public life, so people on the street were never exposed to them. The government had no interest in me getting a proper education. Officially, I was homeschooled for a number of years. In reality, my parents carried me on their backs to classrooms up the stairs every day. Disability was a social problem. It was something you pitied. It was a burden  on the family. It was something that prevented people from being functional. Kids with disabilities were at home or in special schools, "integration" was never a word you used until the collapse of communism. Even later there seemed to had been so much  planning and design, technicality and talking and debating about what to do and how to do it it would've given you a headache. All I could aspire to do is assemble dolls or pens when I grew up or work at a designated labor workshop, if I could get to it.  Decades of communism has done a lot of harm to the society, separating people, affecting how they view each other. But mostly, if you don't see something, when you're  not exposed to it, you really don't need to think about it. It's not that you think that those things don't exist. But they feel far away and not affecting your life in any way. All of a sudden, something hidden from public view now reappears as if to say: Here I am, deal with me. Of course you will have some people will be shocked, uncomfortable, not know what words to use. Because they didn't have to. And I wish i could say that things in Poland have changed over night. I have three law degrees. In America, I'm licensed to practice in two jurisdictions. Back home, I'm certified as permanently unable to work. How can I have any expectations for the society, if the government finds me useless? If they prefer to pay me money to stay at home and do nothing rather than find ways to let me be productive and use my actual skills? When you read Polish forums one other thing seems really upsetting. I can deal with people not understanding the idea of Paralympics, not keen to revise their vocabulary or even not fighting the sight of people in wheelchairs all together. It's the pity. It's the patronizing and pity that get me, that seem to come from all directions, even from people that have an opposing view. It's the lingering "yes, but". Yes, but you have a disability. The lead singer of a Polish pop group Varius Manx was in a car crash a few years ago that rendered her paralyzed. And yet most of the comments you read to articles about her music talk about how sorry everyone is and how they feel for her.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting around

Everything in Gainesville is 15 minutes away. If you have a car of course. If you have to use a bus, walk or wheel yourself there like I do, it's a different story. But people rarely think about that. When they see me somewhere they just assumed I got there somehow, meaning it must not be a problem. Nobody really understands how much effort I often put in, not only to get around, but to try to get places on time and be presentable. Not that they have to- the world really doesn't revolve around me and I don't believe that it should. But there are things that I won't be able to do and places I will not be going to because the logistics of getting there are just too complicated. Recently my Bar association decided to move our monthly luncheons from the downtown area where I live to another part of town. I have already told them I'm unlikely to attend this year and they were very surprised. To me location is key. Rolling around in a dress shirt is bad enough- I have to put much more energy in  going up the hill then people who walk and then, when I go down,  I have to hold my wheels so my chair doesn't go too fast. I get hot and sweaty  not only from all the rolling around, but also from being out in the sun for a long time even if I wait on a bus stop to make a connection. This is Florida. At the same time, people arrive in their air condition cars, always refreshed and on time. Back in law school, I'd sped a few hours every day commuting. Going to a bus stop, getting from a bus stop, waiting on one route only to get to another, that you had to wait for again, because they all have different frequencies. As you wait, it's hot and humid and you get tired. And not every bus stop is near a section of the street that is safe to cross. When I would ride the bus 5 to take me school I often had to go around to be safe. Even though law school was just on the other side there was no crosswalk there and the traffic was just to crazy. The cars rarely stop there even as I forcefully try to roll into the street. Mostly they just try to swirl around me. And there is no other bus stop or pedestrian crossing anywhere near. Add 30 minutes.

 I used to do it in school. Go to all those parties, events and socials just to show that I could, giving myself an extra two hour window just to get there. Going shopping by myself was easily a half-a-day long expedition, trying to roll around with heavy bags, some of which where touching the wheels or dragging against them. Everything takes much longer when you're in a wheelchair, and I'd be the first to admit I'm not  very fast. moving around anyway.  During my time at the Klausner Foundation I did my best to show up at all their events and for all the things that may have been good opportunities for them. And it was a little disconcerting that nobody asked if I needed a ride or Taxi money. Because no one wonders how I got there, all they see is that I'm there. I know that some attorneys have complained about lack of close parking areas for their air conditioned cars- God forbid, they would actually have to walk somewhere- which may be one of the reasons for the move. But commuting on a bus for an hour, hour and a half just to get to a 45 minute buffet lunch is not a wise time investment for me either. Not that it's not fun for me to see some of my peers.  But many of them arrive late, leave early as if they couldn't wait to get back to their hectic lifestyles and their air conditioned cars.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The politician.

"I want to watch attractive, fit and intelligent people on TV" wrote a once prominent Polish politician about his disapproval of the Paralympics and the media interest it generated. He then went on to liken the event to individuals with Down syndrome playing chess and caused a greater outrage when he insulted a man in a wheelchair  he was debating on TV and refused to shake his hand. I have to say, I liked Janusz Korwin Mikke some 20 years ago. My family supported him, my aunt subscribed to the newspaper his party published back in the day. He had some pretty sound views on the economy. He wanted to reduce taxes, limit the administration, advocated for the government to stay out of lives and reduce the bureaucracy. Some ideas sounded better in theory than practice- while it sounds appealing to give power back too the people by getting rid of different forms of mandatory insurance can we really bare the social consequences of just leaving those who didn't plan ahead to their own resources? We needed a libertarian type of a party in Poland specially given how everybody else seemed to have been doing the same thing. But then, his appearances started to be more and more bizarre. While you could justify the claim that not forcing people to wear seat belts may promote driving safety (although I  know plenty of people who are just reckless), his stand that teaching women math and science is unnecessary just turned everybody else off. Mikke reduced himself to a role of a curious older man in a bow tie that frequents low rated cable shows to make witty points and tell anecdotes and over the last week and a half he got more publicity in Poland than in the last 10 years. Now, he's suing a cartoonist who compared him to a Nazi. I don't particularly care about what he says or believes in. Poland is a free country, everybody is entitled to an opinion however stupid. I don't live there, but even if I did this wouldn't affect me one bit. His views on disability were pretty well known. He likes to use the Polish equivalent of the word "cripple" which according to him is a perfectly acceptable dictionary term. I remember seeing some musings on Sparta; Rather than have the government work to include individuals with disabilities and keep them active he once proposed tax cuts for family members taking care of them. Keep it within four walls, out of sight.

. His example is of course extreme and as bad as I feel about how he blew the political capital he built this is not why I brought him up. I wondered where does all that contempt for people with impairment comes from. As if having a disability was not only shameful, but a choice. A choice to offend others and their sensibilities. And I understood that this is how those issues have been framed for years back home. As a social issue- something you have to deal with. Of course, once in a while you'd see a conference, a symposium, a debate or an ad campaign about inclusion. But most of the time people in Poland see disability community as a burden. Something the family will deal with or the government will pay to support. I never saw happy, active, accomplished disabled people growing up, but I would hear the stories of those who live stranded without a lift on the sixth floor, as if having a disability mean settling on something less of a life, more of an existence. Back home, the country paid me monthly benefits because I was classified as permanently unable to work. In the US I'm an attorney in two jurisdictions. Pay me to do nothing or let me be productive? Which makes you feel more useless? What's wrong with being unashamed, venturing out, feeling accomplished? Isn't change, unwillingness to settle, curiosity and ambition what drives progress of any kind? Where's hope in quietly accepting a fate many are afraid of.

 And I realized one thing. It's all a matter of perspective. In Poland I felt I didn't fit in- the outside world had stairs, high curbs, often no way to get around and I felt I had to make it work somehow. The problem was with me. If I only walked... That was a lot to take in when I was growing up. And a constant reminder I was different.  In America, a lot it being done to make the world accessible, by law, not by choice and in a predictable time frame. If  it isn't, the problem is not with me, it's with the world. And the world can be sued or fined for not being compliant. Quite simply I don't have to feel less than.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Call me skeptical

LSAC, the body responsible for the infamous LSAT, the test most if not all American law schools base their admissions on is in trouble –again. There is another class lawsuit brewing in San Francisco and Justice Department decided to intervene to protect rights of individuals with disabilities. The story is all too familiar- discrimination, denial of accommodations, flagging – all resulting in an unfair result. At least they no longer ask Cerebral Palsy sufferers  to undergo a psychological evaluation. “A matter of time before the citadel falls” said my friend Joshua after I’ve sent him the press release. The day the text came out four different people forwarded me the text within an hour as if it was some great victory. But we have been at this junction before. I’ve had my own share of accommodation- related issues when I was taking the test in 2006 and 2007- as most of my requests were denied. The LSAT administration if I recall correctly was at that time freshly off its five year probation for another set of disability law violations following another class law suit. LSAC was sued, settled, paid some damages, promised to do better but some of the problems continued.  I remember trying to complain to local public interest law firms, ADA offices, even the media that the test makers refuse to grant me the same type of accommodations I’ve been getting all through school. And yet, nobody cared. And yet I thought alone. It’s good to be vindicated, but if anything the press release gives me an uneasy feeling.If Justice Department is able to identify new Plaintiffs, new cases and new forms of discrimination, then it must mean they have known about these practices for a while. They could’ve initiated their own action, but they were sitting on this data waiting for someone to bring a suit? Call me skeptical, but we were here before. Law school admission is to big of an industry for LSAC to let go of it easy. There will be a settlement, possibly a payout and they will agree to make some policy changes- again. Of course nothing will ever change until we take a look at the test itself. I don’t think you can make it work with those accommodations without having some deeper modifications in the system. LSAT is not a test of knowledge. It investigates performance under stress in limited time. Perhaps the time has come to ask how should we select lawyers and what qualities they must possess. Are we interested in robots that do well in training or should we value experience and some understanding of the world. There was a time in America when judges were non lawyers brought in for their perspective and knowledge. Perhaps attorneys should know something about the world that surrounds them rather than have them study for six months for a closed universe one off test on testing skills that they will never use again.

“lawsuit, The Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC, Inc., et al., charges LSAC with widespread and systemic deficiencies in the way it processes requests by people with disabilities for testing accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).   As a result, the lawsuit alleges, LSAC fails to provide accommodations where needed to best ensure that those test takers can demonstrate their aptitude and achievement level rather than their disability. 
The department’s proposed complaint identifies additional victims of LSAC’s discriminatory policies and details LSAC’s routine denial of accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants have submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations. 
The department further alleges that LSAC discriminates against prospective law students with disabilities by unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process.   LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA.   The department’s proposed complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages and a civil penalty against LSAC.
“Credentialing examinations, such as the LSAT, are increasingly the gateway to educational and employment opportunities, and the ADA demands that each individual with a disability have the opportunity to fairly demonstrate their abilities so they can pursue their dreams,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Justice Department’s participation in this action is critical to protecting the public interest in the important issues raised in this case.”
One of the victims identified in the complaint, for example, has severe visual impairments and previously received special education services at a school for people who are blind.   Even though she provided LSAC with extensive medical documentation of her conditions, as well as proof that she had received testing accommodations since kindergarten, LSAC denied nearly all her requested accommodations, and even refused to provide her a large print test book.   When she tried to appeal the denial, LSAC informed her that she had missed the deadline for reconsideration.   She then reapplied two more times for testing accommodations, resubmitting all the information previously provided to LSAC, as well as additional medical documentation.   Despite her extensive history of receiving the very same testing accommodations throughout her educational career and on standardized tests, and in disregard of the recommendations of a qualified professional, LSAC refused her requested testing accommodations on three separate occasions.
“The action taken in this case demonstrates the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to ensuring equal access to educational opportunities for everyone,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and by entities that offer examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes.   The ADA mandates that testing entities administer examinations in an accessible manner.   This requires testing entities to administer examinations, such as the LSAT, so as to best ensure that, when the examination is administered to a person with a disability, the examination results accurately reflect his or her aptitude or achievement level, or whatever other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than the individual’s disability.   In addition, Title V of the ADA prohibits any entity from coercing, intimidating, threatening, or interfering with an individual’s exercise or enjoyment of a right granted by the ADA.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spirit of Gainesville: James Klausner

Last year I was nominated to the Spirit of Gainesville Award. This time around, I decided to submit James Klausner as a worthy candidate  for all he's doing for children with Cerebral Palsy and their parents as well as all his hard work to spread Conductive Education awareness and availability

James Klausner wasn't looking for an additional career when he decided to start a rehabilitation program for kids with Cerebral Palsy. He already was quite busy with his day job as a lecturer at University of Florida and a physicist. It would be enough to nominate him for his work as a professor. But he wanted to help kids in Gainesville, kids just like his son, who passed away at age six. He wanted to make them
mobile, more independent, educated and accomplished. Hopefully, he would help them walk. In 2006 he started The Gainesville Conductive Education Academy. With a program modeled after the world famous Peto method, James Klausner took on a second day job. He never turned a child away and as the head of The Jordan Klausner Foundation created in his son's memory he tried with all his might to balance his need to help the local community with ever limiting funding to keep the facility running. Conductive Education is a method very little known in America, but quite popular worldwide, especially in the 1980's. It doesn't enjoy the financial support of insurance or the recognition of the US medical community. Conductive Education was developed in Hungary in the 1940's. The theory behind was that people with -neuromuscular disabilities can learn and improve through routines, movement and repetition. James wanted for the parents in Gainesville to have it as an option, to have the information and then make choices.  He created an Academy that was free for most, affordable for the rest and he persuaded a Hungarian conductor, Kata to join his cause.

25 years ago I was just like the kids James Klausner has helped in Gainesville. I know what it did for me. I know what it's like to fight with limitations of your own body only to raise above it and get better. Today I'm an attorney. Cerebral Palsy never goes away of course I can see, but you can limit the way it affects you. what James Klausner tried to do, against the odds, bringing the approach that helped countless kids to Gainesville. To give them the gift of mobility. And also to start the discussion about the education and
therapy choices in America and how we view Cerebral Palsy today. He didn't make CE widespread, but he got his foot through the door.

This is our last chance to honor Dr Klausner's efforts. After years of struggles the school has shut down this year. I know it was not an easy decision for him. It's not that Cerebral Palsy is no longer a concern in Gainesville, but the logistics, the finances, the economic crisis we all live in, finally became too much for this one person, who tried to make a difference. He sacrificed a lot of personal time, energy and money. He thought of others first.

Last year I was nominated for my work with the school. But James is the true champion of Conductive Education. I'm just a success story. He has inspired me to help others like me. At the school little
miracles happened daily. Yet, the media mostly ignored him. This is our chance to correct it. The school has closed but his efforts were not a failure. Not to his students, his other students, those who now
walk, speak and move.  Not to me, as I build by career around disability law issues and all the others he has touched. The school has closed, but the Foundation will continue, James assured me. For
Jordan and for other kids in Gainesville

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Missing the point

“It’s just some new fad”, “A freakshow”, “Those people should just accept that they’re invalids and crippled” I read on some of the Polish internet forums as the medals at the Paralympics kept pouring in for the country. The success of our national team seems to be the flipped image of Poland’s not so stellar performance at the main Olympics I might add. Most comments I’ve seen were overwhelmingly supportive, but the negatives- loaded with fear and aggression. And it raised so many questions in my mind. What makes sport a sport? If it’s about the perfect human physique then yes, this is something different. But I think we moved away from that with all the blockers, enhancers, trainers and practice that often causes pain and disfigures human body. Is it about the medals or is it about something else- the human spirit prevailing in any circumstance and all the sacrifices an Olympian makes. Who says main stream spot is a well established and settled concept. Women’s participation was a new thing once, not only did it never go away, we got used to it. The Olympic Committee itself verifies the list of games we get to see and every few years some sports disappear while others are added. To me, sport is a great personal accomplishment to those who participate. But to the rest of us is there any significance in how long certain games were recognized? Is it really about official recognition, self proclaimed importance, with Very Important Big Shots in Very Important Places telling us what sport is and what isn’t? I believe that for us the viewers it needs to entertaining, nothing short of spectacular. These days many enjoy watching people fighting in a cage, often paying good money to do it, something that would perhaps be unthinkable three decades ago. Times change, our perception of sports change and so do our opinions of people in it. For now, Paralympics made some people uncomfortable, although many found it breathtaking to watch.

The most important part of Paralympics is not the sport aspect, in my mind. It’s the visibility of the disability community. Normal people doing normal things. It turns out that they are out there, in public space, not usurping spotlight, but living their lives- they have hobbies and passions. Yes, some may not be used to seeing people without limbs or eyesight in roles you’d typically see the fit and beautiful. But I say, let them be uncomfortable- this is not something these people of sport decided to take on overnight. This is something that they do. I’ve written about it before. You don’t see people in wheelchairs on TV (unless occasionally played by an abled-body actor), you don’t .get blind celebrities on the red carpet. The public is never really exposed to presence of people with real-life disabilities. The more you see something, the more normal it becomes. I do think that American networks have missed a great  lesson in tolerance and acceptance. By showing something American viewer doesn’t usually think about. Yes, some may be a little uncomfortable, but they’ll survive it. They’re just unfamiliar with it. And consider this- Paralympics show people with disabilities in a positive context. It’s very rare. Not sensationalizing, not going for pity, like most news stories and fiction out there. This message and this context should’ve invaded living rooms around the world. Medals help- they make people excited and interested, but it is about the message. It makes you think. Not only about others, but also your own life and circumstance. What we focus on and how we view people. A great chance to educate lost. And that’s the point that everyone missed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wheelchairs and dogs

"Do you want to pet him?" - asks an owner of a dog every time I pass a man's best friend on a sidewalk or one is running towards me in my apartment complex. And I really do not. Not because I don't like dogs, I had one when I was growing up. Most of the time I can't predict how it will behave around me. Most puppies didn't grow up around wheelchairs. Someone rolling in their direction makes them scared and uncomfortable. Sometimes they go out of their way to go around me or in a completely opposite direction, with the owners pulling them forward. And when the dog is uncomfortable, so am I, because I don't feel that safe around pets I don't know in the first place. Stressed by the unfamiliarity of the rolling big wheels with a human passengers the small ones get excited and bark loudly, even as their masters try to calm them down, while the larger ones tend to panic as soon as they see me. "I don't know what's gotten over him"- the owner apologizes with embarrassment- "But he doesn't bite". I don't blame the dog, I blame the master. Because you can't predict how an animal will act when it's afraid of something it has never seen before. But when I tell my neighbors that dogs make me tense and I would rather they didn't let their pet run around the courtyard without a leash I get an attitude, or a look that implies I'm not human. If something didn't happen so far, nothing ever will, right? Wrong. It puzzles me, how very little imagination people have in situations like that. When I see a dog frolicking outside my door I'm most likely to go the other way. When I see a person with a dog on a leash as loose they take up 3/4 of the sidewalk I stop until they walk by me. Most   of the time they just get off into the street, because the walkway is not wide enough.

 People forget that there'is no first bite rule in Florida. An owner may still be liable when the dog was not known to be vicious. Even if he has never bitten anyone before. Additionally, biting a person is not only behavior they should be concerned with, but also other forms of injury and damage caused by a dog. Please, supervise your pets. For your benefit and for the good of your pup. But also, so we can all enjoy are neighborhoods without fear. I wanted to end this on a lighter note. My good friend has a dog she adopted from a pound. Henry became so familiar with me and my chair at a very early age that he would not only not fear my chair, but wouldn't get out of my wheels' way as they were rolling