Housemates with and without Disabilities Wanted

My nonprofit, Able Community, is looking for housemates, especially those willing to provide personal care for housemates with disabilities in exchange for free rent!

Able Community is taking applications for residents and personal care assistants for its first house in downtown Arlington Heights, a ~35 minute express Metra train ride to downtown Chicago, with access to public buses and accessible dial-a-ride township vans.

Apply on: http://bit.ly/apply2AC

 

 

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Moving Mountains: Assistive Technology as a Means Towards Independence

It’s no big secret that I have been opposed to using communication devices pretty much my whole life—that is, until now. My cerebral palsy affects my speech and mobility, but not my spirit. Although it is difficult for many people to understand my speech, especially before getting to know me, I preferred repeating myself a few times over using a communication device because that was more efficient. There wasn’t a communication device that matched my comprehensive vocabulary and my slow typing speed made the process too slow.

When a friend told me about eye gaze technology, I was really excited. It was getting harder for me to type, so I was looking for alternative computer input methods. I tried a few devices and found the Tobii worked for me and it was covered, for the most part, by insurance.

The first time I got a Tobii was in 2013. Unfortunately, due to a mix up with my new wheelchair arriving after my Tobii warranty expired, I was never able to mount my Tobii on my new wheelchair, or any wheelchair for that matter. While the Tobii representative was gracious enough to let me borrow her table mount for an extended time, I could only practice talking to myself for so long. I did practice every morning for ten minutes at my home desk, where the table mount was set up and stayed, but then, I went about my day, which involved meeting people and attending events or appointments outside of my home.

The mount ordered with my first Tobii was a regular 7 shaped arm mount. I guess they didn’t get much consumer input (if any) designing or improving it, and that mounting technology had not advanced at all since the 80’a with my first communication device that I didn’t really use as a toddler. Due to my spasticity and lack of fine motor skills, I could never use these types of mounts myself. This might have contributed to my hatred of communication devices since I had to rely on others to move it, and take it on and off; being ‘confined to a wheelchair’ had a whole new meaning—since I couldn’t independently get out of my wheelchair when that mount was attached (NOTE: being ‘confined to a wheelchair’ is considered derogatory).

The second time I was evaluated for another Tobii-like device (I found another device, the Accent by Prentke Romich Company worked better for my spasticity, but got another Tobii because my insurance covered it), I expressed my frustration at the old mounting system that was still being used today to my occupational therapist. She told me of a mount she thought I could use independently. I was immediately intrigued and fell in love, even before seeing it in person. It was the Mount’n Mover, but what I heard was “Mountain Mover,” which I thought was a fitting name if I could really use it by myself.

Esther S Lee Mount'n Mover outside

Photo Caption:  Esther (me) using a Tobii mounted on a loaner Mount’n Mover in the backyard.

I fell deeper in love with the Mount’n Mover during a trial and am currently in the process of getting my own. In addition to being able to move the mounted device myself to transfer independently and/or access something else on a table, I can independently put my device and the mount on/off myself. This was something I never fathomed being able to do. I was able to take my communication device on the Mount’n Mover everywhere; to my doctor’s appointment, a writing group I participate in with local creative writers, and a meeting with Able Community’s supporters and a contractor renovating Able Community’s house. It’s amazing how much impact pieces of metal and plastic can have on one’s independence and empowerment.

I am an attorney, licensed to practice in Illinois and California. I recently opened a virtual law practice, called Disability Law Collective, (http://www.disabilitylawcollective.com). It is an affordable, socially conscious law practice advocating for people with disabilities and their families’ everyday legal needs.

I am also the president and founder of a 501(c)(3) non-profit housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities in the Chicagoland area, called Able Community, (http://www.ablecommunitychicago.org). It will be the only fully accessible and intentionally inclusive co-housing in the United States. Able Community’s mission is redefining independence through self-directed personal care, employment, and community by building affordable co-housing for people with and without disabilities to create an alternative to living in nursing homes and having to depend on family for care.

Esther S Lee Mount'n Mover house renovations

Photo Caption:  Esther (me) talking to a co-op mentor during the renovation of Able Community’s house with a Tobii mounted on a loaner Mount’n Mover.

Improving people with disabilities’ independence seems to be the common thread of my life’s work. I am often so engulfed in advocating for others’ independence that I neglect to think about improving my own. I am glad that I found the Mount’n Mover, so I can really start moving mountains, both for others as well as for myself. Now, I just have to work on the funding for it, since I just discovered that my insurance will not cover it.

Happy Holidays 2017

Christmas tree

Picture of Esther: a woman in a wheelchair is in front of the Christmas tree at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. 

It’s been a remarkable year.  I’m making progress improving my pain and right foot.  Disability Law Collective, my law practice, started earning more than its expenses with clients and I am finishing my reasonable housing accommodations and modifications guidebook collaboration with Access Living and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. My former Access Living supervising attorney asked me to work with them because I write well.  Let’s hope they still think that!

It was also a momentous year for Able Community, my non-profit housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities.  We officially received our 501(c)3 status, found a house to live in together, and moved in last month!

housewarming group shot

Group picture from Able Community’s housewarming party: some guests with and without disabilities gathered in Able Community’s living room. 

I have a great housemate, Thomas.  We met through a mutual friend, T.J., who I played boccia with when I was in high school.  I discovered after we moved in together that Thomas knew of me for years.  Apparently, T.J. talked me up regarding my boccia abilities.  I could’ve been a contender, but instead, I chose to be studious so I could be an attorney.  Thomas regrets not being able to compete against me while we were both in our primes.  It’s funny how much we have in common, including having the same doctors… a CP connection.

Able Community housewarming

Thomas and Esther’s first meal together at Able Community’s house!  Fish and chicken tacos.

Despite all of these accomplishments, I can’t help feeling discouraged because I am still struggling to find personal care assistants.  We had a number of applicants with disabilities needing personal care and planned to select another resident needing care after I established my own care, so we can share this care.  This is why the delay in finding enough assistants is particularly hard for me.

We found a solution.  We will renovate the basement so that it can attract personal care assistants to live there, or be rented out to offset our care costs.  We are raising $16,000 to enlarge 2 basement windows as fire escapes.

Here’s my housewarming speech, in case you missed it:

We raised $2,799 from Giving Tuesday and our housewarming party, thanks to our generous friends!  Able Community sure has come a long way from our first fundraiser for $800 for our website and incorporation expenses.  Here’s a blast from the past fundraising video:

We definitely have a ways to go before we reach our $16,000 basement window repair goal, so we can provide exceptional housing for people needing and providing care.  If you haven’t donated, please donate to Able Community on www.ablecommunitychicago.org/donate/!  It’s not too late to make your tax deductible donation count towards your 2017 taxes!

I’m also continuing to look for personal care assistants.  If you know anyone who might be interested, please send them my e-mail address below.

I first started my annual holiday updates during my first year of law school.  That was a very challenging year for me having to establish my personal care in California during the pressures of 1L classes and being horribly homesick for Illinois.  I guess I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go.  Please drop me a line.  It always brightens my day to hear from you!

Happy Holidays,

Esther S. Lee,

Attorney at Law

Disability Law Collective: affordable legal advocacy for people with disabilities’ everyday legal needs.

esther@disabilitylawcollective.com

EXTRA, EXTRA! An Extra Exciting Summer Update.

I know, I know.  It’s not December, when I usually send my annual holiday update.  But I have such exciting news that I couldn’t wait.  I’ll save it for the end to escalate the anticipation.  Hopefully, you’ll make it that far down.  There’s a surprise; so don’t miss it.

Quick health update since I mentioned it in December and friends keep asking why I am not coming out to play:  I have cerebral palsy, a physical disability.  It’s hard to explain CP because everyone’s CP is different and I ironically don’t know that much about it.  Yes, that guy on the Speechless show has it.  My CP makes the me spastic, basically, I have too much movement I can’t control, as some of you who have walked up from behind me may have noticed my startle reflex with me jumping five feet out of my wheelchair.

Anyway, I’m having too much tone in my right foot.  It feels like I have a lot of trapped energy and movement, which is making it harder to walk on, even assisted.  I’m working with doctors to find the right treatment.  Don’t worry; I guess this happens to many people with my type of CP, especially as we age.  I am doing a lot better than before, when I even had difficulty sitting in my wheelchair from the tone; funny how just a foot can make a big impact.  Doctors never seem to know what to do with me, but they are trying.  I’m a bit of an anomaly across the board, including in medicine too… they don’t know why it’s only one side, but I am thankful that it is not both feet.

Despite my tone, I was able to hit the slopes.  Unfortunately, not with my Midwest friends this year, but out West, during our family’s spring break.  Yes, they were very annoyed and I am not sure that they will ever take me again since we almost didn’t make it back. It started snowing while we were coming down the mountain and my dad insisted on driving down.  We skidded off the detour and got stuck on the edge of a cliff until someone towed us out.  I thought it was humorous, but no one else did.  It was one in a series of many unfortunate travel events during that road trip.

I tried the world’s only joystick operated ski through the University of Utah’s TRAILS program.  Dr. Jeff Rosenbluth envisioned it for people with spinal cord injury (SCI), having been an adaptive ski instructor before medical school.  Why can’t I have a cool doctor like that?  He even came to ski with me on the first day.

joy ski

Picture of me skiing in a joystick operated kart ski in Utah on a snowy mountain.  There is a man behind me holding on to a rope connected to my ski for good measure.

They were excited because I was the first person with a disability besides SCI to try it.  I also discovered that I was the first woman (go girl power!), so they let me go faster than they let anyone else before (being short finally paid off!).  It was the fastest I’ve ever skied, so of course, I loved it!  I surprisingly didn’t crash; I almost did at least twice misjudging a snowbank on a turn.  But Dr. Rosenbluth was strong enough to stop me.  Apparently, it hurts more than wiping out on a regular sit ski, which I have done.  I’m glad that I didn’t find out how much more it hurts.

So the real exciting news…  Drum roll please.  Able Community, the housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities that my friends and I have been working on, has finally received our 501(c)(3) status!

We were waiting to tell everyone formally until we got the green light from our Perkins Coie pro bono attorneys to officially solicit tax deductible donations.  And guess what?  We made a video to say that your donations will now be tax deductible; and if you filed an extension, you can deduct any donations you made in 2016!

It is fitting that we send out this update in July.  We had our first Able Community meeting in July, before we even had a name for it.  I really wanted to have that meeting on the 4th of July, since we’re working to improve people with disabilities’ independence.  But we settled on July 6th instead.

For you Amazon.com shoppers, 0.5% of your purchases can be donated to Able Community at no additional cost to you.  You have to set your donation preferences on smile.amazon.com and remember to make your purchases through smile.amazon.com.  Here’s the link: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/47-1913272

More exciting news… Able Community is this year’s recipient of the Berkeley Student Cooperative co-op development grant!

And extremely exciting news.  Able Community found a house to rent in downtown Arlington Heights (a Chicago suburb) to start living in together!!!  We are looking for more housemates with and without disabilities, and personal care assistants (both live-in and hourly PAs) if you or anyone you know are interested.  Please forward this application link to anyone who may be interested: http://bit.ly/apply2AC

ac house

Picture of Able Community’s red brick house with a ramp being built for the front door.

We are currently waiting for the renovations to make it accessible before we move in.  We plan to host an open house hopefully at the end of August and many get-togethers there that we would love to see you at.  Let me know if you are interested in attending.

We hope you enjoy our video and consider donating to Able Community, a 501(c)(3) housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities, so we can really start doing amazing work.  You have donate through the link on the video or through our link here: http://www.ablecommunitychicago.org/donate/ or if you want to send a check, I’ll give you our address.  Your donations will help us furnish our empty house and other household needs.

Until more good news,

Esther S. Lee,

esther@disabilitylawcollective.com

Able Community

http://www.ablecommunitychicago.org

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Holiday Update in July!

I had trouble posting my annual holiday update e-mail on this Gimpy Law blog in December. I thought it was a sign that I should wait until my post about my friend, Amber, who passed. But here’s my holiday update in case you missed it. If you want to be on my e-mail list, leave me your e-mail address below.

Happy Holidays 2016!

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying the holiday season.

I love how the Cubs won the World Series after my family and I moved back to Illinois. Pure coincidence??

A Happy Holidays from Chicago card shows people engaged in winter activities in the city. This card is available for purchase at hellolucky.com/city-cards/hl-805-happy-holidays-from-chicago.

Able Community is well on its way to becoming a reality.

This photo is from Able Community’s 2015 Korean BBQ. A young man is sitting in a lawn chair in the front, four people with electric wheelchairs are behind him, and six personal care assistants are standing behind them. Two assistants are giving another assistant bunny ears. They all look content and full from the BBQ.

I just sent our non-profit attorneys the signed 501(c)3 application for the accessible housing cooperative that my friends and I have been working on. We will be able to provide tax deductions for your donations once we are approved.

Thanks for everyone who continues supporting Able Community through donations, attending our meet-up events, and keeping us in your thoughts. Stay tuned for Able Community’s big and exciting upcoming plans.


It’s been a tough year for me personally. Although I had chronic pain for a while now, I am losing some function—my ability to walk with assistance. It’s been especially hard on my family, who never fully accepted the fact that I had a disability in the first place. It’s funny how amazed people are when they discover I am able to walk at all; one law professor looked so stunned by me walking with my assistant down to the then inaccessible law school courtyard that I doubt I could have done anything academically to get a similar reaction.

I usually refrain from discussing my health to avoid seeming less capable (is it strange I think this?) and because I don’t want my friends to worry (I supposedly have a “normal” life expectancy, whatever that means). Don’t worry, I found some amazing doctors here, which is saying a lot because doctors and I usually do not mix well. As my PM&R Doctor said, the years of using my body in ways most people do not caught up to me. So, I guess it’s a part of aging with a disability. If anyone also has experienced increased tone with cerebral palsy, I’d love corresponding.

Also, in addition to missing friends who have passed away previously (I was waiting to update my newsletter with a post about Amber, my friend who passed away last year, but it’s been hard for me to do), I recently lost a dear former college professor, who was also my favorite poet. She put up with my endless e-mails although she was not fond of that form of communication and she helped me survive law school, even though she previously tried talking me into pursuing creative writing instead. Having said that, I encourage you to tell your loved ones that you love them while you can. I heard the act of saying something makes it more real.

My professor’s name was Brigit P. Kelly, if you want to read her books. I’m always surprised at how many people have never heard of her. Here’s her Amazon Author Page.

In exciting news, I am working on a legal guidebook regarding reasonable housing accommodations and modifications with Access Living and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. We hope it will enlighten housing providers in working with people with disabilities in Illinois.

I am hopeful that I can still squeeze some adaptive alpine skiing in this winter. Stay warm and drop me a line when you get a chance. I love hearing from you.

Warmly,

Esther S. Lee

To Gimpy Law Readers, An Explanation

I realize that I have not updated in some time. I just found out that Gimpy Law has been nominated for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blogs. I had no idea that such a competition existed. I am very curious who made the nomination. Thanks very much to whoever you are.

I do feel that I owe Gimpy Law readers an explanation for my absence from posting. I have been keeping busy, having just been appointed as the Co-Chair of the Attorneys with Disabilities Committee for the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois and a member of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois. Also, in addition to traveling a lot for legal conferences, I have been putting out fires for officially launching my law practice, Disability Law Collective. It has been a little over a year since I started my legal incubator program and I haven’t officially launched yet. I know that this seems strange, considering I have friends who set up their law practices much quickly (like in a week); everyone has their own pace.

It seems like every time I try to launch, something goes wrong… major website malfunctions and redevelopment, office inaccessibility, taking better care of my health, pulling my hair out about my non-profit housing cooperative—Able Community, and worrying about finding clients (as my Torts and Civil Rights Professor described herself, I too am a chronic worrier). I’ll spare you all the boring details. I am not sure if I am overreacting, but I became discouraged that I have to face more hurdles than my peers without disabilities. I mean I usually don’t feel bad about myself or my disability and I never throw myself a pity party, but the totality of the circumstances triggered it.

The Thinker, a sculpture by Auguste Rodin, shows a nude male figure of over life-size sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand as though deep in thought. This picture is from this museum's website, Musee Rodin.

The Thinker, a sculpture by Auguste Rodin, shows a nude male figure of over life-size sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand as though deep in thought. This picture is from this museum’s website, Musee Rodin, in Paris.

Although I am accepting clients, I would like to get all of my ducks in a row before I officially launch. But I am pleased to announce that I am very close to launching Disability Law Collective. I have been working on legally substantive blog posts that I have been saving for closer to my launch. I’m not sure if this will change Gimpy Law’s readership, but I still plan to mix in posts about social issues.

In short, to be continued. Please stay tuned.

Attorney Profile: Disclosing My Disability

After much deliberation about disclosing my disability on my online attorney profile, I decided to go full monty and disclose a full picture. Perhaps it makes sense for me to disclose my disability, since I am starting a disability law practice. But I am still nervous that some potential clients would be hesitant to hire me because of my disability.

When I was about to graduate law school, I had a conversation about disclosing my disability with my Employment Discrimination Law Professor. She encouraged me to disclose my disability, saying that employers would eventually find out that I have a disability and that I shouldn’t waste my time with the ones that discriminate. She added that I would find the right office that would accept me and my disability. After about six years of agonizing job applications, I have come to realize that no such office exists. But I am hopeful that my potential clients will be different.

Here’s my blurb for my up and coming website for my law practice:

Profile Picture of Esther Lee

Profile Picture of Esther Lee

My name is Esther S. Lee.  I am an attorney with a disability.  My Cerebral Palsy affects my speech and mobility, but not my spirit.  I received honors distinctions from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a B.A. in English and Rhetoric.  I graduated from the University of California Davis, School of Law, with a focus on civil rights and public interest law.  In addition to being an attorney, I am starting a non-profit housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities, called Able Community.  My extensive background advancing the rights of people with disabilities includes legal work at multiple disability rights organizations and disability policy work at the White House.  I am committed to empowering people with disabilities and underrepresented communities, advancing their rights and quality of life through legal advocacy.

Our office is an affordable, socially conscious law practice advocating for people with disabilities and their families’ every day legal needs.  The practice focuses on Social Security, Special Education, housing, disability, and administrative law; as well as advancing the Civil Rights of all people in Illinois and California.

Experience:

  • Successfully fought apartment management companies and university housing to modify units for increased ADA accessibility.
  • Successfully initiated Social Security applications and assisted with appearances.
  • Successfully resolved fence encroachment matters between neighbors.
  • Successfully reduced and appealed Cook County property tax assessments.
  • Successfully negotiated medical bills in a medical negligence case.
  • Successfully completed mediations, administrative reviews, administrative fair hearings, 4731 complaints for Regional Center disabilities services in California.
  • Successfully completed mediations and administrative review process for Department of Rehabilitation services.

Pro Bono Experience:

  • White House: Engaged in disability policy and outreach to the disability community.
  • Legal Assistance Foundation’s Special Education Pro Bono Panel: Trained to provide legal representation and advocacy in Special Education matters.
  • Access Living—Civil Rights Team (Chicago’s Independent Living Center): Advanced disability rights in housing and community integration litigation.
  • Disability Rights California’s Office of Clients’ Rights Advocates: Advocated for clients with developmental disabilities in Special Education, employment discrimination, and wrote a letter to stop harassing a client who was manipulated into purchasing an expensive household item he did not need.
  • Aids Legal Council of Chicago: Advocated for adults and children with disabilities in Social Security Disability Insurance and Social Security Income appeals before the Social Security Administration and Federal Court.
  • Legal Services of Northern California: Provided legal advice to low-income and elderly clients on topics including landlord-tenant issues, housing, and professional licensing.
  • Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS): Assisted clients in creditor, housing, and family law self-help matters on a legal assistance hotline.
  • Civil Rights Clinic: Represented a former prisoner in a medical negligence (personal injury) case against prison personnel.
  • Homeless Action Center: Worked on Social Security applications and appeals for homeless and low income individuals.

Any feedback on this bio or thoughts on disclosing one’s disability on one’s profile?