Editor’s note: This post comes from Sid Wolinsky, co-founder of Disability Rights Advocates, in the lead up to the 24th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Haben Girma graduated at the top of her class at Harvard. She was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change. In order to succeed, Haben utilizes screen readers, braille keyboards, sound amplification devices and more.
Haben is a blind and deaf attorney. She works at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) to ensure that the instructional materials she relied on in building her successes are accessible for all students with disabilities.
Disability Rights Advocates has worked for more than 20 years to ensure more success stories like Haben’s.
It all started in 1993, with a hope, a prayer, and borrowed space in downtown Oakland. Larry Paradis and I started Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) with a $35,000 start-up grant from The San Francisco Foundation.
We recognized an extraordinary need in the Bay Area and beyond to address systemic barriers faced by people with disabilities, to participate in mainstream society. DRA has always selected cases that will have the most impact—often suing the biggest and most powerful—to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nation-wide.
Now, more than 20 years later we have:
- Won more than 400 cases on behalf of people with disabilities—achieving dramatic improvements for people with disabilities seeking health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing.
- Trained more than 30 legal fellows almost all of whom have gone onto careers as public interest attorneys.
- Grown our team to nearly 30 people, who work out of two offices in New York City and Berkeley, California.
- Won more than 20 prestigious awards for our work including California Lawyer of the Year awards, Trial Lawyer of the Year awards, Top 100 California Lawyer awards, and Lifetime Achievement awards.
We are proud of this progress, especially as the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches. But much work remains. DRA is working hard on issues including ensuring that
- Incarcerated youth with disabilities gain equal access to education.
- Cities and counties across the country have disaster preparedness plans that account for the needs of their disabled residents.
- Through the effective use of emerging technology, all people, regardless of age or ability can contribute, succeed and thrive.
As we enter our third decade and a rapidly changing physical, cultural, economic, and technological landscape, this work is more critical than ever before: for Haben and all of us.