Monday, March 18, 2013

Alternative compliance

You can't not notice that I have a disability. All you have to do is look at me, maybe even hear me. You see it in my posture, often even in the strain on in my face as I speak . And of course there's the wheelchair. Some even easily guess what condition I have. You really can't miss it. There have been  numerous articles written about me, videos of me floating on the internet, in October I'm flying to Germany to discuss my life with Cerebral Palsy as a keynote speaker at a Conductive Education World Congress and over in UK some people wish to adapt some of my writings for an upcoming book. There's no denying I have a disability. "These days a man has to prove that  he is not a camel" wrote Polish political fiction writer about the overwhelming bureaucracy that has  taken over are lives. Some things are obvious, and require no proof further than common sense and good will. And I feel this is what I'm dealing with today. I'm a member of a few bar associations as I'm licensed to practice in both Florida and District of Columbia. Both require a newly admitted attorney to attend their state specific ethics course, in person within their first year of practice.

 Florida has no alternative ways to fulfill this requirement- they had given me extra time, but at the end I had to find a friend kind enough to drive me around the State, miss work, stay the night and assist me while I was there. District of Columbia does. They allow for a person to listen to an audio lecture ( not online as I believed, in situations like " extreme hardship"  or disability. When I went to DC originally to take my oath a year ago, I had a friend who drove up from New Jersey just to assist me on that special day. And I'm glad he did. Given how little wheelchair friendly DC felt when  I got there I would have a really hard time being there on my own,  considering I really don't know the city , where everything was, how to get where I wanted to be and even finding the right hotel I could have get into was a challenge I wrote to the DC Bar that I indeed had Cerebral Palsy since birth, it severely limits my mobility, I often require forms of assistance particularly while traveling and often prolong travel is hard on me. And my presence in the District would be required for less than a day anyway. I felt the bar might realize that given the planning, the accommodations, the assistance needed for me to to attend in person, the hassle of air travel, loading and unloading of my wheelchair, the stress, the bar would be a lot to deal with. That when they see what I'd have to go through they'd be sympathetic to offer me alternative compliance.  It's not that I don't want to fulfill the requirement. But it's not necessary for me to struggle as much and I can do it at home. Before I sent anything I called the Bar to make sure what kind of support of my  hardship they were looking for. I heard that they would not be able to tell me over the phone if something was or wasn't enough, but they needed something to prove my claim. That part made sense.  People can lie, cheat, although we've all taken an Oath and what I was asking for wasn't some amazing benefit in the first place. What made less sense during that first conversation is that they stated clearly they wouldn't tell me  on the phone what was and what wasn't sufficient and I would have to wait for them to evaluate it to see if they were satisfied.

  What I understood on the phone was that if my disability renders me unable to travel I should get a note from a "treating physician". It's very hard to explain that while I'm not "unable to travel" as in risking my health, my disability poses an extreme hardship. Because I do have limited mobility as I  have quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. All of my limbs are spastic. It is only my left hand that we were able to get to a functional state through years and years of rehabilitation. My condition is not progressive, it is not like say, the flu. I do not have a "treating physician" since I'm not in treatment for anything. To be fair, the bar used a physician note as an example of what would suffice and today they called me to clarify, but they couldn't discuss over the phone what would or wouldn't be enough. I have a month to satisfy the request.
And I'm from Poland. I only moved to America 8 years ago. If I wanted to get a note from a "treating position" - I'd probably need to locate my doctor in Warsaw, from twenty, twenty five years ago.  I don't have a doctor, I don't even have insurance. Quite frankly, even when I did back in school, they didn't even need to examine me to fill out my accommodation requests, all they had to do was to look at me.The person on the phone has advised me that I should submit some substantiation  of the circumstances I'm talking about. So I sent them a few articles from Florida press that discuss my accomplishments, my limitations and my life in a wheelchair. They say that isn't enough. I could offer them a few videos, but I doubt  that will be enough either. Being a foreigner makes it harder because I really don't have an  extensive medical file. So as I roll around the room trying to figure out what to do, I'm thinking of ways to convince the Bar of something I knew all along. Who knows, maybe the Bar will choose to disbar or suspend me over this. Because putting my body through a strain like that is not something I'm willing to do easily.But oddly enough it would be because I couldn't convince someone that I have a disability and that doesn't happen every day. 

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