On Thursday, November 1, the Disability Law Association (DLA) at the University of Ottawa hosted its first discussion panel on the subject of Practicing Law with a Disability.

                 Overall, I was extremely impressed with the conference. The sheer number of people who showed up for the event demonstrates that an interest for disability issues exists among current University of Ottawa law students and aspiring law students. In fact, our speaker Laurie Letheren told us that the University of Ottawa had a better turnout for this conference than any other law school where she spoke regarding disability rights. It gave me a sense of pride that I am part of a law school that understands the importance of building a barrier free society for individuals with disabilities! If any of you misted the talk and would like to see a recording, one will be posted to the DLA website shortly. The hand outs and power points are already posted at http://disabilitylawassociation.yolasite.com/practicing-law-with-a-disability.php

                I felt that Laurie gave an excellent overview of Ontario law surrounding disability and what a law school student with a disability should expect in terms of accommodation from their employer or potential employer. Knowing the law will definitely help students with disabilities to navigate the recruitment and articling application process. However, I would have also appreciated a more thorough discussion of the issues which may still arise in practice during the hiring process, regardless of what the law says on paper.  For example, going back to the “Bay Street” firm example Laurie mentioned, the student with a disability should not automatically discount working for these firms because the employer has a duty to accommodate. However, the firm may not currently have the equipment to accommodate the student. For example, if the student were in a wheelchair, the student would need to take an elevator to get an interview with the firm. If the elevator in the firm cannot fit the student’s wheelchair, would it be considered “undue hardship” for an employer to adjust the elevator doors so that the wheelchair could fit? While the firm may think it’s reasonable to adjust the elevator, the adjustment process could take days resulting in the student missing the interior date (since interviews usually takes place over a given 1-3 day period). Thus, although the law clearly states that an employer has an obligation to accommodate an employee with disability, in reality the accommodation process is a lot more complicated than just what is stated, even if the employer wants to accommodate in good faith. I would have liked her to discuss these possible complications in her presentation.

                David Lepofsky is known for his extreme dedication to advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities and he did not fail to show it in this conference. His talk was an inspiration to many students with disabilities, including myself, as he informed us that positive change to better accommodate individuals with disabilities could and does happen. His story about getting the TTC to include audio announcements of bus stops by suing the government shows us that being proactive can lead to legal change.           

    Christy Smith-Worthylake experiences of applying her law degree to none law ways was appreciated by many students. While Christy is currently not practicing law, her legal background has allowed her to explore alternative careers in law. Christy did a great job at informing us law students or aspiring law students that having a law degree is useful beyond just becoming a lawyer. In fact, many consulting firms seek individuals with legal backgrounds. In addition, Christy was able to broaden her horizons by doing consulting work in areas beyond human rights and disability law. She also did a great job of setting an example. Just because you have a disability does not mean you need to or should only work in areas related to disability law. However, I would have liked her to discuss a bit more about what a consultant does, as she was speaking to a crowd composed primarily of law school students who did not know what it meant to be a consultant.

                Martin Anderson’s speech was funny, informative, and inspiring. He chose to discuss the topic of asking for accommodation and I believed, considering the audience he was speaking to, he hit the nail in the head when it came to topic selection. With his own story about how he was too proud to ask for accommodations when he was young, he was relating to many students with disabilities sitting in the audience. Then he explained how he had to set aside his pride, and by doing so this allowed him to do his work more effectively. Thus, asking for accommodation is a win-win situation for both employers and employees. By using his personal example, I felt like he was effective in conveying the message of why it is so important for students with disabilities to ask for accommodation.

                The only thing I would ask them to consider for next time would be to consider inviting lawyers from more cities  so they can give students a wider understanding of practicing law with a disability in a broader geographic location. In addition, I would have liked to have seen speakers working in private sector on top of those working for the government. However, overall, the Disability Law Association delivered an amazing conference. For those of you who attended the conference, I would like to thank you for taking part in this conference. For those of you who were not able to make it, we look forward to seeing you there next time.