Three decades ago, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). It was the first “comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities.” Thanks to the advancement of disability rights and advocacy for accessibility, people with disabilities have more opportunities than ever before. Yet people with disabilities continue to face discrimination and challenges.
In terms of challenges in the legal field and education, roughly 6.8% of employment age respondents (Ages 16-64) on the 2010 U.S. Census are employed and have a disability. The American Bar Association (the “ABA”) Commission on Disability rights noted that the same census showed that nearly half of employment age respondents that have a disability are not employed. This leads to a correlation of disability and poverty, which in turn affects the number of students with disabilities who complete their bachelor’s degree. The ABA has suggested that the small number of law students (2.70% in 2009) and lawyers with disabilities (7% in 2009) is in part due to the pipeline issue.
The ABA also found that the number of law students who are utilizing accommodations or report disabilities is increasing, from 2.7% in 2009 to 3.2% in 2010. In response to the growing number of law students and lawyers with disabilities, the ABA has “made disability diversity a priority” and called on the legal profession to root out invidious discrimination.
Though the ABA has prioritized disability diversity, disability stigma persists in the law school environment. The consequence of this stigma affects all aspects of the legal profession. Law schools are the entry point for legal professionals, but law students often encounter hurdles in receiving accommodations. Prospective law students with disabilities must consider, in addition to scholarships, law school ranking, and what a law school offers, how friendly that law school is to students with disabilities.
Law students nationwide have started student organizations to support each other, incoming law students, and recent graduates in the law school environment. In 2019, leaders from different organizations for law students with disabilities, including but not limited to the Harvard Disability Law Students Association, the George Washington University Atypical Society, Boston University Disability Law Advocates and Allies, New York University Disability Allied Law Students Association, University of Pittsburgh Lawyers and Scholars for Disability Justice, and the Texas Law Disability Alliance, gathered to form a national organization for law students with disabilities.
Our mission? To increase disability diversity in the legal profession by improving the experiences of law students with disabilities from the moment they decide to take the LSAT to their first successful interview as a certified lawyer admitted to the bar. NDLSA is here to help, and NDLSA is here to stay.
1. “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” EEOC, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/1990s/ada.html#content
2. Matthew W. Brault, “Americans with Disabilities: 2010,” Report No. P70-131, 2012, Table 1. Prevalence of Disability for Selected Age Groups: 2005 and 2010.
3. ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, “ABA Disability Statistics Report,” 2011, 5. http://lawschoolasp.org/docs/2012/ABADisabilityStatisticsReport.pdf
4. Donald H. Stone, “The Disabled Lawyers Have Arrived; Have They Been Welcomed with Open Arms into the Profession – An Empirical Study of the Disabled Lawyers,” Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Volume 27, Issue 1, 2009, 94-95.
5. “ABA Disability Statistics Report,” 6.
6. Unfortunately, there is not clear, precise, and collected data easily available regarding the number of lawyers with disabilities or the number of students who request accommodation. In addition to the lack of easily discovered data about the number of lawyers or students with disabilities, some lawyers or students may choose not to disclose their disability. Donald H. Stone writes in “The Disabled Lawyers Have Arrived” that the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law believes that there are significantly more lawyers with disabilities than the numbers reflect. (See “The Disabled Lawyers Have Arrived, Footnote 4).