2004 Conference Proceedings

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DISABILITY LAW CLINIC: EXPERIENCES FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF LAW

Presenter(s)
Sherrie Brown, Research Associate Professor
University of Washington
National Center on Accessible Information Technology (AccessIT)
Box 357920
Seattle, WA 98195-7920
Phone: 206-685-4181
Fax: 206-543-4779
Email: accessit@u.washington.edu

Karen Clark, Staff Attorney
Eleanor Hamburger, Staff Attorney
Columbia Legal Services
101 Yesler Way, Suite #300
Seattle, WA
Phone: 206-464-5936
Fax: 206-382-3386

There are currently few attorneys in the community who understand the needs of consumers who use assistive technology or how to successfully advocate for them within the legal system. The Washington Assistive Technology Alliance (WATA) through the University of Washington Center for Technology Disability Studies (UWCTDS) has worked for several years to change this through the introduction of assistive technology advocacy content to the University of Washington School of Law (School of Law) curriculum.

Beginning with the 2003-4 academic year, a year-long Disability Law Clinic (Clinic) has been added to the clinics available for students in the University of Washington School of Law who are interested in developing skills in legal advocacy. The Clinic is a partnership between the School of Law, WATA, and Columbia Legal Services (a non-profit legal services organization in Washington State). With the involvement of faculty from each of these entities, third-year law students receive intensive academic preparation and practical experience on legal advocacy. The Clinic itself is directed by several experienced attorneys who supervise a small group of law students in representing low-income clients in a wide range of advocacy activities including administrative proceedings. One goal of the Clinic is to increase the numbers of attorneys in the community who will understand how to assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining assistive technology by providing law students with direct experience representing consumers who use it. We believe that the Disability Law Clinic will result in both short-term benefits for users of assistive technology and long-term systems change by increasing the pool of knowledgeable attorneys able to represent consumers who use assistive technology.

All students enrolled in the Clinic must have taken the Disability Law course offered by the School of Law as a prerequisite. This quarter long course provides a general background to the disability civil rights laws and benefits programs. The Clinic itself begins with a four-week seminar during the fall quarter designed to prepare students to represent people with disabilities, particularly those using or seeking access to assistive technology. The seminar includes an introduction to the substantive law relevant to assistive technology funding and opportunities for students to practice the multiple skills required to effectively advocate in this area. Once students have completed the seminar, which culminates in a mock administrative hearing, they begin their clinical legal practice supervised by Columbia Legal Services attorneys.

In this presentation, the Columbia Legal Services attorneys who are supervising the law students, will describe in detail the structure of the Disability Law Clinic, the clinic curriculum, highlight selected cases, students' experiences and lessons learned, and offer suggestions for replication of the model at other law schools.


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