Sunday, September 27, 2015

The ballad of the wheelchair lift: Best do nothing

I've had a stressful week. The next didn't look much better either, so I decided to get a load off my mind by seeing a movie on campus. Double feature Saturday. Get some popcorn -and none of that healthy stuff- and relax for a few hours with a bottle of a cherry cola. I really needed a break. When I get to the cinema room at the student union building, the first thing I notice is that the lift that takes me over the stairs and to the door is all the way up. At first I think that they have another patron in a wheelchair, or- what they occasionally do- they were bringing some equipment down. I try to get it down but the button isn't working.  I see a man from the catering services rolling a cart with dishes around to see if perhaps the door at the top is slightly open. It happens sometimes, it won't run until it's tightly closed. He opens it, slams it, goes in, tries to run it from the inside, yup, not working. The projectionist comes out, plays with the buttons for a bit, can't get it to work, calls the building manager. The building manager comes up, looks at the lift, tries to operate it by going in, but and again- it's not working. Then he remembers that there was something about it being broken the day before. But they "wrote it up" or they called it in. When would it be fixed? Coming here on Sunday wouldn't be exactly ideal for me, because the buses don't really run, but the movies only play for one more day. But no, not Sunday. Next week. Perhaps they can get someone out there as early as Monday. (Here's to hoping). The building manager is apologizing, but he doesn't know what to do. A few stairs became the impossible barrier. I came here for nothing. I won't get to see the 2 pm movie or the one at seven. or anything on Sunday. I knew he wouldn't suggest that a group of students lift me up, because everyone is so afraid of liability, should something happen to me. Reitz is after all the building where I was told by the staff to go wait in the staircase on the second floor  during a fire alarm evacuation and nobody cared to help me down. Thank God it wasn't a real fire. He then suggested I could peek through the other entrance. I wouldn't be able to go in, because it had three small stairs down, but I could see, from the side - perhaps 1/3 of the screen. And I could hear it. I guess hearing it is the most important thing about watching a movie. And again, three tiny steps got in my way of getting in. I even thought of crawling out of my chair and just getting into the room. If only there was a portable ramp they could put over the stairs. The solution was that simple!  But that didn't happen, the building manager apologized and I was really upset and I said, "Thank you, I wish I could say it's OK, but it's really not".

 Here's what really upsets me about that whole situation. It's not that I couldn't get into one movie, that one time. It's that it became perfectly acceptable for something labeled "accessible entrance" to be out of commission not for an hour, not for a day, but at least three days, and nobody sees it as something essential, something that an entire group of people needs and uses to make use of a campus facility. Wait until Monday, Monday-if we're lucky, maybe longer, and nobody seems to see it as a priority or is looking for any solution. Perhaps it will be fixed Monday, but what good does it do me if there's no movie that day? It's a upsetting that all they can do is "write it up" like a broken light bulb or an electric door opener, things that you can typically afford getting to to when you get to them. It's also disappointing that "accessible entrance" as the stick on the lift says, is routinely used to transport speakers and equipment. Something meant for people - exposed to a greater chance of breaking down. So much for disability access at UF. It's event like this that cut Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation's work for us. Because we need the access. And definitely more awareness.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The lawyer resume format: Have we've been doing it all wrong?

My Foundation's Creative Director reviewed my resume recently and she was shocked when she saw its structure. Nobody's going to hire you if you present it like that, she concluded. What she didn't know was that it was actually more and less how an attorney's (or law student's) resume is supposed to look like. This was how my Career Services contact revised and show me to do it during my first year. And this how everybody else has been doing it- I showed her samples from schools like Yale, although shorter than mine. But why? Here's where the problem is- on a "legal" resume education goes first, before experience. And this is something that hasn't been sitting well. It looks as if my degrees are my biggest accomplishment. I guess with a typical applicant it doesn't make much of a difference. They list the college they went to for undergrad ans above it - where they got their JD. Two to four lines max, and then you get to the meat and potatoes. I have three law degrees from two different countries, I participated in conferences and competitions, I finished two foreign centers of foreign law, I have Dean's lists and Book awards and scholarships. You have to read through half a page of text before you get to any experience and that might be impressive if I looked for a career in academia, not law practice. You need to feature your biggest asset she said - and that is where you worked previously. That's why typical resumes/CVs have it in the reverse order. Work is more important than school. And I guess because this section was intentionally intended to be short- just a quick glimpse at a school name to get the idea about what to expect, for most people it makes no difference. I do think with me it pulls focus away from what I wanted to feature. And the same time I don't want to remove entries from my resume, as I'm proud of all of them just so it can have a better flow. So here's where my problem is: On one hand II know that "the other type" of resume would suit me better upon reading. On the other it could reflect on me poorly. This is what my industry expects, not following the standard, the protocol, the accepted format makes me truly look like a novice. I might as well just print it on a pink scented paper and sign it with a pen with a fluffy tip on top like the character from Legally Blonde. Sure, it would give me attention, but would it be for the right reasons? When you read through some of the job postings they seem to test the candidates on their ability to follow instructions. Answer these questions in a reverse order in your cover letter, one of them said. On the other hand do I risk being completely overlooked if I don't give myself the edge? Shouldn't all communication be purposeful and if I'm running the risk of sacrificing content for format and not presenting myself in an effective way, don't I lose either way? That format was adopted for a reason- a reason presumably other than just following it blindly on a set of presumptions. Presumptions that worked for many but not all. At one point adherence to a standard not only overweighs communication but hinders it. What should happen then. On a personal note, it got me to think, although I never have the courage to do it, I have so many things stacked up against me. I'm in a wheelchair, I'm a foreigner, but I'm educated and I'm creative. And I just want to practice law. Or educate people about it. Maybe being a bit outside of the box can't give me more of a disadvantage that my life already has. Perhaps I shouldn't fear featuring my assets, because no matter what I do I will always be different.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My thoughts on Florida reciprocity

I will never understand while the Florida Bar believes that someone straight out of law school is more qualified to advise clients on legal matters having taken the  exam just a few weeks earlier than someone who actively practiced in another State for many years. I also have hard time grasping why attorneys who have taken the Bar exam in another American jurisdiction, passed it, then made a living working in the profession within a legal system very similar to ours are treated as if they practiced law in another country. The only thing that cures that is of course- taking a two day exam side by side with recent graduates. Here's where I think we lose sight when talking about reciprocity and whether or not Florida should adopt it. We're not talking about opening the floodgates and swearing in everybody who just wants to practice law. We're not talking about allowing people without Juris Doctor degrees to sit for the bar. We're not talking about abandoning the requirement that the schools running those programs be ABA approved. Some jurisdictions do allow foreign LLM graduates to take the exam. Others make provisions allowing formal legal education substitution. But- at the same time- States that do that have the reputation of having some of the hardest exams in the country. And I say - good luck to applicants trying that route, they will need it.

And I say that- in the interest of full disclosure- as someone- who after graduating with a law degree from a different country and an LLM from Florida, actually went back, got his Juris Doctor, took and passed the Florida Bar exam. I'm a Florida attorney- but also taking advantage of the admission on motion rules in DC- a Washington DC attorney. Being sworn in and practicing in DC opens me up to reciprocity in a large number of under States, that Florida itself didn't. It just takes longer. So, here's where the bottom line is for me- all of us (or most) went to ADA approved schools following the same guidelines. We've taken exams that had the same parts like the multistate section day or the MBE. We were also required to pass the ethics exam- the MPRE, on which I hate to brag I scored pretty high. The only thing that is truly different is the "state portion", on which we write essays and solve multiple choice tests. But even then large amount of what we have to express is still pretty similar. With some "state distinctions" we have to memorize over the multistate concepts. Often in review classes they are taught more as an afterthought, or a list we have to memorize. So, what is it about Florida that makes it more hermetic in how it administer the admission to the legal profession,  how are we more unique than New York or Illinois. And are we really helping the clients or just keeping the gates closed for those that are already in? And I understand that the Bar needs to set the standards for admission and monitor the quality of the services rendered. I just don't think that sealing itself from the rest of the country, ignoring the talent and experience of all those other lawyers is the proper way to do it. I know- there's ninety thousand of us. And if Florida offers any type of reciprocity- there will be more. Some of us have a hard time getting legal work as it is. I know that traditional law firms have not been exactly rushing to hire me either- but it is a time to adapt.

When somebody asks me how to go about locating a lawyer, I often tell them to find someone experienced and local. Yes, I know some people collect jurisdictions like badges, but to me it's never about how you got your Bar card, but are you physically there. Have you dealt with the peculiar ways courts in your area do things and can you assist someone if a matter escalates. Ten, eleven bar memberships may look impressive on a resume- and if you're willing to move here- great. If not, I don't think it speaks much about your ability to help a Florida client.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Wheelchaired Anger- for somebody else.

The response to our Wheelchaired For A Day challenge from the disability community has been overwhelmingly positive so far. In a manner that feels more like punishment or payback some have pointed out, that now the able-bodied get to experience what they've had to endure for years. Finally, someone will show them what it's like type of feedback. Others have asked about the program guidelines and how to launch it in their city. That their city should be next- a reaction we got from places across the country. The only people who have not gotten it and have a hard time getting it still, are the ones who themselves can walk. And this is strangest thing- those are the people that typically have a brother, a father, a best friend who is in a wheelchair. Through interaction or osmosis they believe they have absorbed the disability perspective without having to experience it themselves. They watch from the outside, so they assume they know what it's like. Yet, they refuse to try it and find out for themselves. Because they feel that being curious about what it's like is wrong. Like it takes away from what the brother, father, or friend experiences. These are the people that get outraged- but somebody else's behalf. And I have no use for that. I mean if a person in a wheelchair reached out to me and said- I don't like it when someone who walks tries to experience what I go through we could definitely talk about it. But when you get upset over experiences of other people because you assume you know what it's like, not something you know first hand but your interpretation of it, what you believe a person in a wheelchair should feel, well I don't know how to argue with that. Because I draw from my own life, things that actually happened to me and how they made me feel. I know I don't get enough understanding and empathy from my community for these types of causes so I'm trying to built up what I'm missing. The best way to have someone think of something is not talking to them about it, it's having them experiences. Those who refuse to do it because of the father, the brother, the uncle or a friend basically see a wheelchair as a taboo, as something shameful, as something we must tolerate because there's no alternative- but it seems to me, whether they admit it or not- they feel that being in a wheelchair itself is shameful. Most recently, our Drag Queen participant was nearly denied admission to the club and the DJ threatened to not play her music. And you have to wonder: What is this pushback? Why are those angry, negative reactions from non-wheelchair users so strong? Is it because they fear it? Is it because they see it as something final, they point of no return? I see it as a tool. One that helps me get around.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Wheelchaired: Technology failures

13 able-bodied people agreed to sit down and use a wheelchair for 24 hours for us last month. We produced more before, after, and "during" video content than we ever imagined. As the pilot stage of the challenge finishes we have to sit down, look over everything and decide how to use all this content. First thing that we noticed, is that material we have goes beyond simple 2-3 minute profile shorts we originally were planning on and it would be a shame to waste it, not to make it accessible to public in some form. We need to decide what it's gonna be, who's gonna be doing it and how we're going to get it to them. It's over 84GB of video so far. The other thing we need to acknowledge is the role of technology in the entire process. We've used multiple devices to film it all (as videographers would not be available for most of it after all) and between our Windows tablets, iPhones, LG and Blackberry phones we've all had situations when a device would not record and refuse to save a video mid-filming. The other issue was getting our output onto a cloud for student volunteers to work on them. Our Wifi access soon proved too slow to upload and download any type of content, the applications for both Google Drive and Box would simply not cooperate and created a host of issues. Getting the videos to our accounts required a lot of patience and starting over. There has to be a better way to do this, we just haven't figured out what it is. But syncing our phones, tablets and computers isn't as smooth as the service providers made us think. And this again made me think once more on the extent we rely on and put our faith in technology. It reminded me of something that happened to me a few months ago. I decided to take a friend to see the Terminator film, a movie yet again about technology gone bad. I didn't want to wait in line, so I decided to get the tickets online. Problem number 1: All my printer cartridges depleted at the same time. Isn't it always the case? As soon as you need to print something, you can't.  No issue, I thought - I can get a bar code on my phone. We get to the theatre and as soon as we get in I have no internet service on my 4G Sprint network. I'm waiting in line, the girl is waiting to scan my bar code, but I can't pull up the ticket! Luckily I was able to text the link to my friend. And then we watched the film. It appeared to be about an operating system that will launch in cell phones, computers and all other devices. I thought this movie was about eight years late. Windows and Google already are in all our electronics anyway. But with imperfect network coverage, cartridges, bad Wifi and batteries, the machines are not taking over anytime soon

Friday, September 4, 2015

Wheelchaired: Ending on a high note.

When you do a project for a month a certain routine an arrogance kicks in. But then life once again teaches you a lesson, brings you down and makes you humble. Last week we were set to interview two of our last Wheelchaired for A Day Challenge participants. We were all tired and stressed and then figuring out the schedule to have them come in and share their experiences became an issue. The logistics of picking up and dropping off the wheelchair really takes a toll on you after a while- especially since one of them asked not to be filmed on the first day and then both got sick and we were texting frantically back and forth to figure out who was coming back and when with a new scenario emerging every twenty minutes. I appreciate all of the people who took the Challenge, I really truly do. The stories that they shared were incredibly and surprisingly moving and some of the footage they shot was mind blowing. But we were ready to be done and I have to say, with all the complications a thought crossed my mind and I said to myself :"Do we really need it?" In my own arrogance I thought, "Well, maybe they don't need to come back, what can tell me, what can they show me that a drag queen and a Mayor of a local town haven't?" "How can you top that?" And as it turned out, in their own way, they did. We also thought we may have made a mistake scheduling two trauma nurses in a row, once again, wrongly assuming their experiences would be similar. My project manager, Susan felt we should finish the month by getting a teacher to do it, but we didn't give him enough time. And there was a slight disappointment- between all the hot and humid weather and riding on two city buses to get there she wanted to make the last one powerful.As we plan to expand the challenge into schools we thought this would allow it to end on a "high note". As a preview of what may come. But we did end on a high note, because we were not prepared for what the nurses told us. Often we gear up for yet another routine interview, but then something happens that blows us away. And I'm not just saying simply because everybody's story is important and everyone's perspective brings something new, which is all true.  Both of our nurse participants live together and work at the trauma unit. First one told us about her grandfather who had polio and worked for NASA. They way she remembered him was always in his wheelchair, that was his normal state for her. And he arranged his entire workshop so he can operate it from that position. She then decided to get a sense of what it must have been like for him so he took the chair to do crossfit.

As if that wasn't moving enough her roommate told us about her work. Since they live and spend most of their day together we thought their stories would be similar. Boy, were we wrong! She told us  that as a neuro trauma nurse she sees a lot of people coming in with injuries. On many occasions she knows that her patients will need a wheelchair for the rest of their lives even before they do. For her, it was a gesture of solidarity, but also to get a feeling of what that perspective would be like, although for them it's not a day and not something they signed up for. We were blown away by that statement and it's unlike anything any of our other participants could ever told us. We can't wait for all our videos to come our you will then understand- we could not have hoped for a better outcome. But then- that's our life lesson: Don't get jaded- you might just be amazed if you let yourself be surprised, and don't ever stop being humbled by what others share with you.