Happy Fall, an e-mail update to my friends

Dear friends,

After 9 years of living in California, I moved back home to Illinois. I’m in an incubator program that incubates new attorneys into solo practitioners. Yes, my life has been full of detours, twisting and turning my intended direct path. When I was in Pasadena, I met up with my law school friend and mock trial competition co-counsel. As I shared my job search frustrations, she jokingly asked if I was upset that I haven’t changed the world yet. She was right. I remember writing in my law school applications that I’m not naive enough to think I can change the world, but I want to be a catalyst for everyday change. I’ve come to realize that I do want to change the world. Or at the very least, be part of that change.

This mass email will probably be my last update from this address. I plan to launch my law practice for people with disabilities and their families on January 2, 2015! I keep pushing back my launch date, so perhaps sharing my exciting news of my second wind at my legal career will motivate me to stick to this date.

In other fantastic news, Able Community, the soon-to-be nonprofit housing cooperative I’m starting with friends with and without disabilities filed its articles with the Illinois Secretary of State. We’ve been working on it for the past two years and are progressing towards our goal of becoming a 501(c)3. If I am able to leave a legacy, I believe it will be for my work on Able Community, redefining independence for people with disabilities, personal assistants, and their families by improving accessible housing and the dynamics of care to enable reaching our full personhood potential and employment. To find out more about Able Community, please visit: ablecommunitychicago.org.

Stay tuned for more exciting news to come!

This was an e-mail update to my friends. If you would like to receive e-mail updates from me, please leave me a comment below.

Picture of the "at" symbol emerging from an envelope with a blue arrow circling the envelope, representing an e-mail, from this link.

Picture of the “at” symbol emerging from an envelope with a blue arrow circling the envelope, representing an e-mail, from this link.

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Reflecting on “In My Language”

I’m reading Dr. Temple Grandin’s “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s,” in which she mentions Amanda Baggs’ Youtube video sharing her Autistic language very powerfully in “In My Language.”

Although I do not have Autism or Asperger’s, I immensely relate to what Amanda (Amelia) Baggs says in this video, in her language, because of my speech impediment. People who first meet me have difficulty understanding me. But it gets easier to understand me after a while. Unfortunately, a small number of people cannot understand me, even after communicating with me several times. Some friends consider my speech impediment like another language and take pride in being able to communicate with me.

Picture of Inside My Language video: "Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible."

Picture of Inside My Language video: “Only when the many different shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible.”

I do feel the pressure to conform my speech to the “normal language,” as I have written about before with my communication device dilemma, and failure to conform leads to assumptions that I am less capable. Although there is a misconception that all people with disabilities have intellectual disabilities, I feel this is especially true of people with speech impediments. I am not trying to draw distinctions dividing people with physical disabilities vs. people with intellectual disabilities, which could lead to undesired consequences in of a disability hierarchy. Assumptions of lack of capacity bother me for individuals with intellectual disabilities and those with physical disabilities, as well as for people who do not speak English fluently.

The need to conform is not only relevant to speech. I attended a meeting in college where sorority girls, who were also personal care assistants in my dorm for students with disabilities needing personal care, tried convincing us to join sororities because joining one would be non-conforming to norms attached to people with disabilities. (In this case, the assumption that people with disabilities did not join the Greek system). I didn’t fall for this; my roommate and another student with a disability were. I didn’t have any urge to do so. Not the there is anything wrong with those who do; it just wasn’t for me.

But I agree with the sentiment that people with disabilities have to conform to be nonconformists regarding the low to no expectations placed on us. As a nonconformist by nature, I am not sure if I would have pursued higher education if I didn’t have a disability, since our society expects everyone to get at least a college education, which is diminishing in its value (a discussion for another post). The lack of expectations for me to go to college or get a job motivated me more to go to law school. My dedication to advance civil rights through the justice system helped too. I did struggle greatly with the job part, but I was fortunate enough to successfully complete my legal education. I realize that even education can be difficult for people with disabilities with unaccommodating administrations, lack of accessible classrooms, housing, personal care, and so on.

Have there been instances when you felt/feel like the act of conforming was taking a nonconformist stance? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Yes, I am an attorney with a speech impediment working on a legal assistance hotline!

I am in the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), the Chicago Bar Foundation’s incubator program enabling new attorneys to start law practices, serving unmet legal needs. I am starting a law practice for people with disabilities and their families, as well as advancing the Civil Rights of all people. Before volunteering at CARPLS (a legal assistance hotline in Chicago) through JEP, my past supervising attorneys shielded me from client contact because of my speech impediment. At first, I was concerned, not with whether I could communicate with CARPLS clients effectively since I have a translator, but if clients would be reluctant to work with me because of my disability. Fortunately, out of my past 34 volunteer hours, I have only had one client who became irate at having to communicate with me, which was ironically after my conveying information that she did not want to hear. CARPLS has been very accommodating of my disability: finding ways that both my assistant and I can use headsets to communicate with clients and for me to enter information into their systems with my assistive technology. My acquaintances are astonished that I am volunteering for a legal assistance hotline.

Old fashioned phone with a figure standing by ready to help. Image from this site.

I appreciate my time volunteering at CARPLS, gaining more substantial client intake and direct service experience. Since I plan to integrate virtual law and online legal services in my practice, it is nice to get exposed to the cutting edge of legal service technology with CARPLS’ client intake and service management system. While we cannot solve every problem, it feels good to empower clients to write self-help letters and to be able to reassure clients that they have at least a few more days or until the end of the weekend before the sheriff comes to evict them. Volunteering for CARPLS has also been an unsuspecting source of mentors; I found seasoned solo practice attorneys in CARPLS staff and volunteers. I recommend volunteering at a legal assistance hotline to get exposed to various legal areas and communicating with clients, as well as connecting with other attorneys, for both attorneys with and without speech impediments.

Originally written for the CBA Record.