Disability Issues Committee of the State Bar of Texas: Enhancing access to justice for Texans with disabilities

Committee History and Recent Activity

In 1993, the State Bar of Texas created the Disability Issues Committee to study the concerns of Texas lawyers with disabilities, as well as clients and members of the public, and make recommendations to the Board of Directors of the State Bar of Texas concerning ways in which the role of people with disabilities in Texas can be enhanced by improvement in programs and initiatives sponsored by the State Bar.

Since that time, the Disability Issues Committee has been instrumental in increasing awareness of particular legal issues surrounding clients with mental and physical disabilities, as well as addressing concerns of lawyers with disabilities. The committee has sponsored CLEs, published articles, produced videos, and undertaken various projects in order to educate about and promote legal concerns surrounding disabilities.


CLEs AND WEBCASTS

Since 1999, the Committee has sponsored a number of disability-related CLEs and webcasts including topics like "Special Education Issues and the Juvenile Justice System," "The Affirmative Defense of Insanity in Texas," and "Employment of Attorneys with Disabilities." These programs are aimed at keeping attorneys abreast of legal developments pertaining to representation of clients with disabilities as well as those surrounding the rights of attorneys with disabilities.


PUBLICATIONS/VIDEOS

Articles and videos have been produced by individual members as well as by the Committee as a whole. Most recently, in 2013, the Committee produced a video with the assistance of the State Bar CLE department which helps explain Texas House Bill 489, otherwise known as Bootz's Law, relating to the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities and use of service animals.

The video "Veterans and Bootz's Law: Service Animals and Persons with Disabilities in Texas" features a 19-minute panel discussion produced by the State Bar of Texas Disability Issues Committee and Disability Rights Texas. An interpreter was on hand to sign for the deaf and hard of hearing. Panel participants included Brian East, Disability Rights Texas; Michelle Pelletier, service dog coordinator/trainer, Wag That; Denette Vaughn, Disability Rights Texas; Adan Gallegos, Army veteran; and Bootz, the service dog. Read more information, and view the video.


ADVOCACY

The committee has written letters to various organizations and sponsored seminars for physicians in attempts to advocate for those with disabilities.


GRANT-RELATED PROJECTS

In 2007, the Committee received $20,000 from the Texas Bar Foundation to work with Advocacy Incorporated to set up the Sign-Up Fund, currently named "The Communication Access Fund (CAF)." The CAF assists attorneys to meet their effective communication obligations under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently the CAF is administered by the State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division. Read more information about how the CAF works, and apply for funds.


CURRENT COMMITTEE PROJECTS

Current DIC interests include developing a mentoring program for law students with disabilities, accessibility of shelters and other temporary housing, veterans and mental health awareness, and developing disability-related webcasts/CLEs/publications.

Previous Committee projects have included initiating an outreach program to increase disability awareness, developing an accessibility checklist for organizations hosting CLEs, and assisting the State Bar in planning ADA-compliant building renovations.