Pathway to the Law, A Virtuous Cycle of Support and Progress
by Angela Winfield, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Law School Admission Council; Board member, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
As we celebrate Law Day on May 1, and the importance of the law in securing and ensuring access for the blind and visually impaired community (BVI), we cannot underestimate the importance of recognizing that support leads to progress. When we support the aspirations of individuals who are blind and visually impaired to join the legal profession, we advance as a community, a profession, and as a society.
When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, cataracts, glaucoma, and uveitis. By age ten I was legally blind. Yet, I aspired to become an attorney. With the unwavering support of my parents, teachers (including teachers for the visually impaired), guidance counselors, mobility instructors, the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) and others, I learned the skills to pursue my chosen path.
After graduating from high school, I attended Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City. During my sophomore year, I suffered a flare-up of my uveitis and lost what little vision I had. By age 20 I was totally blind. With the support of various programs, employment opportunities, and skill-building experiences, including serving as an intern for Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, I gained the confidence to apply to, attend, and graduate from Cornell Law School.
After earning my J.D. and passing the New York bar exam, I practiced law with a major firm, later accepting the position of Associate Vice President for Inclusion and Workforce Diversity at Cornell University. Today, I am Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), where I work to ensure that students who dream of being a lawyer – including those who are blind or visually impaired – not only have an organization that believes in them, but one that also seeks to create pathways and increase access to the law. LSAC’s mission is to advance law and justice by encouraging diverse, talented individuals to study law and by supporting their enrollment and learning journeys from prelaw through practice. To learn more about LSAC’s work regarding diversity related to disabilities, race or ethnicity and other backgrounds, visit the website page on Diversity in Law School.
It is my honor and privilege to serve in this capacity and I celebrate those who have come before me, who support those on the pathway, and those who will come after me. Together, through collective efforts, we will continue to make progress.
Law Day 2022: “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change”
Each year, May 1 is celebrated nationally as “Law Day,” to provide an opportunity to increase understanding of how the legal process works and to celebrate the role law plays in our lives. This year’s celebration recognizes how the Constitution has served as a blueprint for the establishment of government, offering mechanisms for change and legislation building on it to make a “’more perfect union.’” Resources to mark the day can be obtained through the American Bar Association for schools and state and local bar and civic organizations to hold activities in person and virtually. Law Day events are being held around the country, before, after, and on May 1. For more information, visit the web page for Law Day 2022.
Pioneers in the Legal Arena Who Were Blind or Had Low Vision
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
In celebration of Law Day 2022, we are highlighting two pioneers in the legal field who were blind, Richard Conway Casey and Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly.
The nation’s first blind federal judge, Richard Conway Casey was born in 1933, in Ithaca, New York. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1955 and from Georgetown University Law Center in 1958, earning Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws degrees, respectively. In 1964 at the age of 31, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, becoming totally blind in 1987. Ten years later, in 1997, he was nominated by President Bill Clinton and served as United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Earlier in his career, Casey was a legal investigator for the New York County District Attorney's office before becoming the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. After a long, prestigious career, he died on March 22, 2007. For more information, please read the Los Angeles Times obituary titled, "Richard Casey, 74; first blind federal judge heard high-profile cases" and the Wikipedia listing on Richard C. Casey.
Roger Demosthenes O'Kelly was born in 1880 in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the age of 9, he contracted scarlet fever and lost his ability to see and hear. O'Kelly regained some vision about a year later and communicated with the “hearing world through writing notes on pads.” Eventually he attended and graduated from Shaw University in 1908 and received his legal license from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Subsequently O’Kelly enrolled in Yale University and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1912, becoming the first DeafBlind person to receive a law degree. He opened his own legal firm, O'Kelly's Legal Bureau, where he served as a Legal Specialist, providing legal services for many years for local business people in Raleigh and Granite Quarry, North Carolina. Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly is remembered as the nation’s first black, DeafBlind lawyer. For more information, please read the American Society for Deaf Children’s webpage titled, “First Black, Deaf-Blind Lawyer in the US.” Wikipedia provides additional details about Roger Demosthenes O'Kelly.
Professional Organizations for Attorneys and Law Students Who are Blind or Have Low Vision
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Are you a lawyer or law student who is blind or has low vision seeking a professional membership organization? Are you looking to connect with other legal professionals? If so, here are two organizations you may be interested in joining:
The National Association of Blind Lawyers (NABL), a division of the National Federation of the Blind, is a professional organization whose members are blind lawyers, legal professionals, and law students. “NABL’s mission is to provide resources, mentoring, and collective action benefiting blind legal professionals to help all blind people” live their lives freely and independently. Membership in NABL is available to lawyers for a $25 annual fee and to non-lawyers for $5 per year. If you are interested in joining or donating to the organization, visit the National Association of Blind Lawyers website, here.
The American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys (AAVIA), formerly known as the American Blind Lawyers Association, is an international non-profit membership organization consisting of attorneys who are blind or have low vision. Affiliated with the American Council for the Blind (ACB), AAVIA imparts active members with knowledge, information, resources, and shared experiences which give attorneys who are blind or have low vision the expertise to excel in their field, better assist their clients, and advocate for themselves within the legal community. Membership in AAVIA is available to attorneys and non-attorneys. Attorneys pay $40 for a one-year voting membership, $100 for three years, and $500 for a life membership. Non-attorneys may also join. Students who are blind or have low vision and are preparing to practice law can expect to pay $20 per year for membership, while any other person wishing to support the AAVIA may become an associate member for $20 annually. If you are interested in joining or supporting the AAVIA, visit the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys website, here.
Legal Update: CVS and Federal Prosecutors Reach Settlement Regarding Vaccine Portal Accessibility
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Federal prosecutors and CVS Pharmacy have reached a settlement to ensure that the company's online portal to schedule vaccinations is “fully accessible to people with disabilities.” According to an allegation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Rhode Island, CVS was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to the portal being inaccessible to customers who use screen-reading software and to those having difficulties using a mouse. A federal investigation found that, for example, the types of vaccines available were not read to users of screen readers and that in the section where appointments can be made, screen readers were informed that all time slots were checked when users had not made a selection. Although CVS made no admission of wrongdoing, the company has agreed to make sure that its vaccine scheduling portal is compliant with “industry guidelines for making online information accessible to users with disabilities” and to test the website regularly and quickly repair problems. CVS stated: ”’We’re committed to supporting the health of our communities, which includes making COVID-19 vaccinations accessible for all eligible patients.’” U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Zachary Cunha issued a statement saying that, "’While web accessibility is always important, when it comes to critical health services like COVID-19 vaccination, making sure that everyone — regardless of disability — can access information and care is essential... This office is committed to vigorously enforcing the ADA to eliminate unnecessary barriers that stand in the way of lifesaving care.’” For more information, read the article in U.S. News and World Report: CVS, Feds Reach Agreement on Vaccine Portal Accessibility.
The SCOTUS Blog for U.S. Supreme Court News
by Ahmat Djouma, Paralegal Assistant Oneida County (New York) Department, of Law and former RDPFS intern
Are you curious about what goes on each day at the highest court in the nation? SCOTUSblog provides news and analysis to report on and increase understanding of the court’s ongoing activities. The blog covers the U.S. Supreme Court independently and was founded by lawyers Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe in 2002. They report on each case before argument, after argument, and after the decision. The blog provides analysis of the court summary in language that is easy to understand. It also publishes all the documents pertaining to each case covered, like arguments of each party involved and the final rulings of the lower courts. To learn more, visit SCOTUSblog.
Mother’s Day and the Law
The observance of Mother’s Day in the United States can be traced to the passage of a law. While a holiday honoring mothers had been celebrated by some individuals and organizations in the 1800s, it became official through the legal system. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress enacted a law to designate the second Sunday as Mother’s Day, requesting a proclamation. The following day, President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation announcing the first national Mother’s Day as a day for Americans to display the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons lost their lives in war. Mother’s Day as a holiday received additional recognition later on as well, including the approval of a commemorative stamp by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, and votes from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 on a resolution honoring the holiday. For more details, visit the Wikipedia page on Mother's Day in the United States.
Mother’s Day Gift Ideas
As Mother’s Day 2022 approaches, here are a few sources of gifts that might be of interest to honor the moms in your life:
For a wide range of gifts, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), offers ideas from its catalog and from online retailers. From the APH, the Talking Cooking Thermometer for the culinary minded or the Color Star Advanced Talking Color Identifier Light Detector and Light Analyzer are among their suggestions. Accessories for iOs devices, Bluetooth accessories, and portable chargers are available from the Harbolt Company. Guidelights and Gadgets catalogs feature gifts like pouches, wallets, and headphones as well as items for dogs, such as toys and leashes. For these and other ideas for gifts and how to purchase them, visit VisionAware’s post on Gifts for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.
Produced for the holiday season, the AccessWorld Holiday Gift Guide includes items that can be considered year round. For the tech savvy, there are accessories like the Plugable Bluetooth Full-Size Folding Keyboard or Kindle Unlimited, where readers can download and read as many books as desired for a monthly fee (for details, visit: Kindle Unlimited sign-up), using the accessible iOs, Android, on Windows Kindle app or a Kindle device. Those who enjoy “experiencing life with all of their senses” may appreciate textured gifts like a soft cashmere-like throw blanket, or slippers. Fragrances and scented gifts are additional options, such as the fragrant Crisp White Linen Reed Diffuser Set or the aroma from the black metal and vintage light bulb wax warmer. More gift ideas and pricing information are detailed on the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) website listing for The AccessWorld 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Gifted Blind Artists, Crafters, and Knitters (GiftedBack), “the first e-commerce platform that offers products exclusively made by blind/visually impaired individuals,” features art, music, and handmade gifts. The company, based in San Diego, California, GiftedBack currently features the creations of eight artisans. Their offerings include such novelties as knitted blankets, a heart-shaped jewelry box, and a ceramic bouquet, to name a few. Prices range from $20 to $120. To check out their work, visit the website for Gifted Blind Artists Crafters Knitters.
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