More than a hundred attorneys, legal scholars, governmental officials, disability-rights advocates, and law students from across North America attended the 2010 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Equality, Difference, and the Right to Live in the World, on Thursday and Friday, April 15 and 16, at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The symposium offered a unique and historic opportunity to consider the concepts of equality and difference for the disabled in employment, education, medical treatment, and access to technology. Symposium organizers expanded this year’s format to a day-and-a-half-long event, providing time for concurrent breakout workshops complementing and deepening understanding of the topics addressed in each plenary session. In addition to the NFB Jernigan Institute, symposium cosponsors included the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law; Ferleger Wealth Management, LLC; the Maryland Department of Disabilities; Rosen, Bien, and Galvan, LLP; the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights; Anna Thomasson; and Edward and Joyce Kallgren.
The 2010 tenBroek Symposium included two keynote addresses. The Hon. Tony Coelho, chairman of the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities and former member of Congress from California, largely responsible for authoring the original Americans with Disabilities Act, delivered the symposium’s theme keynote. His personal anecdotes and incisive observations about progress and work yet to be accomplished set the tone for the conference. Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Thomas Perez presented this year’s luncheon keynote. The audience was impressed by the array of initiatives that the Justice Department is tackling and pleased that so many make the interests of disabled people a priority.
NFB President Marc Maurer chaired the symposium. Richard Brown, chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, offered remarks entitled “Changing the Game,” in which he explored the ways the legal profession and disability-rights advocates could broaden employment and other opportunities for America’s disabled community through the law and social change. Judge Brown is one of only a few deaf judges in the country. Attorney David Ferleger joined Judge Brown on this forward-looking panel. The balance of Thursday morning was filled with workshops. Topics including Disability in the Constitution; Real Jobs: Realizing First-Rate Employment—the Next Generation; the ADA Amendments Act: Real Experience, Real Questions; and New Strategies to Improve the Practice of Disability Law were addressed in small-group sessions that registered attendees had preselected.
Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney of the Education Unit of the Maryland Disability Law Center, and Mark Weber, Vincent DePaul Professor of Law at the DePaul University College of Law, presented perspectives on advocacy and special education during the first plenary session on Thursday afternoon. Breakout advocacy workshops emphasizing specific strategies for blind, deaf, autistic, and emotionally disturbed students followed the plenary gathering. Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and Scott LaBarre, president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, facilitated an open forum and discussion of the day’s topics to close Thursday’s programming. President Imparato invited workshop facilitators to summarize their presentations as an overview of the range of issues covered during the day. An evening reception capped the first day’s program.
Friday morning Dan Goldstein and Mehgan Sidhu from the law firm of Brown, Goldstein, and Levy presented a general session on technology access and the disabled. Of particular interest to Monitor readers was their focus on nonvisual access to Websites, electronic books, and items covered in the pending Technology Bill of Rights in the U.S. House of Representatives. The final series of workshops address general litigation strategies. Topics included Pros and Cons of Class Action Lawsuits, the Threat to Self and Others Defense, Litigation of Disability-Rights Cases in the United States Supreme Court, and Lessons Learned from Litigating Olmstead Cases. The last plenary session focused on medical treatment and ethics. Professor Adrienne Asch, director of the Yeshiva University Center for Ethics, and Professor Dan Brock, director of medical ethics at the Harvard Medical School, explored divergent views on eugenics and the value of human life before birth (particularly if that life is likely to be one with a disability). Their thoughtful and respectful exchange generated considerable audience discussion and reflection.
For a more detailed analysis of the material covered during the symposium, visit the Website of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: <www.txJCLCR.org>. The journal will publish the symposium proceedings later this fall.
We can be proud of Jacobus tenBroek’s constitutional and disability law scholarship. His professional legacy has shaped a civil-rights-based approach to disability law in the United States. Without exception symposium presenters acknowledged his early and ongoing influence.