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May 18, 2012

Raising Awareness and Combating Misperceptions Critical to Further Inclusion of Lawyers with Disabilities

empdisconfHow can we as a profession eradicate the stigma that prevents lawyers with disabilities from reaching the pinnacle of their careers?  That was the question posed during “Disability Inclusion: Corporate and Law Firm Best Practices,” a panel during the Third National Conference on the Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities, hosted by the ABA Office of the President and ABA Commission on Disability Rights, and sponsored by the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

Michele Gatto, vice chair of ACC’s Board of Directors, said that change requires determination.  She spoke about the gradual inclusion within the profession of minority groups — women, black attorneys and now, lawyers with disabilities.  It’s important to reframe our view of talent without labeling individuals, Gatto continued, and to capitalize on the untapped pool of talent that lawyers with disabilities bring to the table.

Additional action steps and best practices in disability inclusion, according to Gatto, include:

  • Reviewing existing diversity efforts and initiatives;
  • Creating a culture of inclusion that welcomes lawyers with disabilities;
  • Designing dynamic training in order to provide measurable results;
  • Communicating effectively;
  • Avoiding misperceptions regarding competence; and
  • Building awareness of the need for and cost of reasonable accommodations.

The need for training in the area of inclusion for lawyers with disabilities also was emphasized by panelist Jane Kow, owner of HR Law Consultants.  Kow outlined the employer’s duty to engage in an “interactive dialogue” with the employee to determine appropriate accommodations.  In doing so, the employer should focus on gathering information about work-related limitations, and should not “play doctor and try to diagnose the employee’s condition.”

The interactive process, continued Kow, should include an analysis and documentation of all essential job functions; identification and documentation of a range of accommodations that would allow an employee to perform all essential job functions; assessment of whether proposed accommodations are reasonable and effective; consideration for employee preference of accommodations, and implementation of accommodations that are effective and reasonable; and follow-up to ensure accommodations are effective and that the employee does not suffer adverse consequences, such as retaliation, for requesting accommodations.

Scott LaBarre, of LaBarre Law Offices and president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, served as moderator of the session, calling on big firms and corporations to hire, retain and promote lawyers with disabilities.  ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III gave closing remarks, reaffirming the ABA’s commitment to diversity, and in particular, the inclusion of lawyers with disabilities.

Learn More About:  Disability Law