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Episode 62: Accessibility and Accommodations in Law Schools

Dignity, Human Rights – Dec 2022

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Episode 62: Accessibility and Accommodations in Law Schools
Broadcast Date: December 1, 2022

Summary

In this episode, CIAJ’s lawyer Nathan Afilalo is welcoming Lan Keenan, a JD candidate at Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law and President of the Schulich Disability Alliance. Together they provide an overview of accessibility and accommodation issues and solutions in law schools.

Lan Keenan’s contact: lankeenan@dal.ca

This podcast is a follow-up to CIAJ’s 46th Annual Conference on “The Right to Dignity in Canadian Law.”
Video recordings from the conference are available for purchase here and documentation from the event is available for free here. More podcasts on the theme of “Human Rights” are available here.

Guest

My name is Lan Keenan and I am a neurodivergent, queer, disabled law student at Dalhousie University. Before Dalhousie I attended the University of Guelph where I majored in Political Science and Philosophy, and St. Thomas University, where I majored in Native Studies and Law, Society and Politics. I have been an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities for the duration of my university career, and have myself worked in home care, community living and independent living environments at one time or another as a personal support worker, and a developmental support worker. I have also worked extensively with the neurodivergent community from toddlers to seniors, and if the stars align I will continue to advocate for those in our community who struggle to advocate for themselves through my legal profession and beyond. Since joining law school, I have faced discrimination systematically and personally, due to my disability status.

From day one, I was fortunate to be involved as one of the first members of the Schulich Disability Alliance, where I now find myself as President. The Schulich Disability Alliance creates a community space for persons with disabilities, and allies, who are willing to support and advocate for their peers. The SDA also focuses on advocacy, ensuring space is made for conversations within law schools, and the legal profession as a whole, regarding the profession’s degree of respect, inclusion, support and accommodation for lawyers with disabilities, and the disability community at large. Finally, the SDA finds itself acting often as a liaison between various departments, organizations and Dalhousie resources to ensure that our community begins to, and then continues to receive support in ways that have been historically and continue to be presently denied. We push for acknowledgment of the social model of disability, advocating for not just students with disabilities but for a more inclusive, accessible and conscientious community for all law students.

Host

  • Nathan Afilalo, Lawyer, CIAJ

Nathan is a graduate of McGill’s BCL/LLB program and was CIAJ’s first articling student. Trained in both Civil and Common Law, he has been called to the Ontario Bar in 2020 and is now preparing for the Quebec Bar exam. He has clerked at the Montreal Municipal Court, as well as involved himself in Montreal-based access to justice organizations such as The Mile End Legal Clinic and the Centre for Research-Action and Race Relations. At CIAJ Nathan conducts legal research on our national discussions on key issues, pens reports and helps develop CIAJ initiatives.

Full Transcript

00:00:00 Introduction

This is In All Fairness presented by the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. This podcast welcomes representatives from the legal community and explores how we can all contribute to improving the administration of justice in Canada.

00:00:20 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Hello, dear listeners, welcome to the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice’s podcast In all Fairness. My name is Nathan, I’m a lawyer at the CIAJ. Today we have on a law student, I think it’s, is a change from the order of things, a welcome change! There we’re going to be speaking about accessibility and accommodation in law schools. But first, Lan, I’d like you to introduce yourself to the audience if you would be so kind. So please.

00:00:49 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure, thank you for having me. My name is Lan Keenan and I’m a student at Schulich School of Law in Halifax, NS. I am a 2L student. I’m the President of the Schulich Disability Alliance and I’m excited to be here.

00:01:05 Host, Nathan Afilalo

2L is a tough year. I graduated from McGill not too long ago, so I still remember 2L and it’s tough, so I hope, Lan, you’re getting through it alright.

00:01:14 Guest, Lan Keenan

I’m not sure if I remember 2L and I’m in it currently.

00:01:17 Host, Nathan Afilalo

You know, that’s very very, very little, that’s a little comatose that happens. We had the pleasure of meeting each other at the CIAJ’s Annual Conference this past October in Halifax, and that, the conference dealt with the idea of dignity as a legal norm, and we explored that in various venues sort of theatres, be it ageism, be it ableism in sort of medical and the legal system. We discussed what really is dignity as a legal norm.

And maybe we can just pull back for a second and just, you know, what was your experience of the conference, just as a student coming in? This is your first interaction with CIAJ and what did, you know, did it, did it make you reflect on the idea of dignity? That’s where we really, sort of, we’ll begin here.

00:02:06 Guest, Lan Keenan

I found the conference really beneficial for a lot of reasons. Specifically, I find the way that law schools teach the law in general is very vague. It’s not very hands on or applicable in a lot of situations, especially in 1L, but even in 2 and 3L, things are still sort of conceptual at law school. And I think I notice it a lot, as someone who’s dabbled in linguistic philosophy, you know the words we use in law aren’t always very clear. And I think that benefits a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments. But yeah, I think during especially studying judicial decisions you know you, you see the word dignity flying around and not being able to define that concisely or accurately for every situation it’s used is frustrating for students and for the legal profession in general. So, I found the conference really illuminating and I found it at least beneficial to hear that other lawyers are on the same sort of thought train as me.

00:03:09 Host, Nathan Afilalo

I, I think Wittgenstein would cry upon reading the Supreme Court’s interpretation or lack thereof of dignity. So yeah, so and now we can, we can get into, I guess, discussing a few things you, you brought previously, which is the social model versus the medical model of disability. This was a topic at the conference and I think, I think a lot of people are going to come into this podcast, perhaps not knowing that much about this distinction, not having maybe the most up-to-date ideas of what it means to be disabled in law school, what it means the disabled learning law, so you know, let’s begin with sort of definitions. What’s the social model versus the medical model disability? What does that mean?

00:03:52 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure, I think I’ll start with the medical model just because it’s probably what most of your listeners are used to, as it is sort of the normative approach that most organisations and the government still sort of take. So the medical model of disability sees impairments and differences as something that needs to be fixed or needs to be, sort of, temporarily cured in order for the disabled person to like, accurately and like, as much as possible join society so it’s sort of about accommodating one person to ensure that they can participate in society.

Whereas the social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organized. So the disabled part of the disability is actually the inability of society to accommodate for everyone and so by creating, sort of, even just the… the, sort of, vision of a normal person and society is a normal society by, sort of, creating a line and saying like this is society and this is people who are disabled and let’s figure out how to, like, accommodate them so they can join society. The social model of disability is focused on how do we make society more inclusive in general so that everyone can benefit from society. That makes sense?

00:05:14 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Yeah, that that makes sense.

00:05:15 Guest, Lan Keenan

I have a couple of disability, sort of, examples here, from some, some good resources that I can share later. But for example, a wheelchair user wants to get into a building with a step at the entrance: under a social model solution, a ramp would be added to the entrance so that the wheelchair user is free to go into the building immediately.

Using a medical model, there are very few solutions to help a wheelchair user climb stairs, so instead of like picking up a person and dragging them up to stairs to get them into a building, the social model would create a solution that everyone can use. Everyone can use a ramp, everyone can use an elevator. You don’t need to be disabled to use an elevator, but people with disabilities now can access your building by having that elevator. So, that’s, so that’s sort of our fundamental argument for the social model of disability.

00:06:04 Host, Nathan Afilalo

That’s a, I think, wonderful, really intuitive example, a ramp versus stairs. No one likes walking up stairs. Everyone loves sliding down and going up ramps.

00:06:15 Guest, Lan Keenan

Yes, unless they’re very steep ramp like at the university. Shout out.

00:06:22 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Absolutely, and so maybe now, how does that express itself, the social model versus the medical model in law school? and particularly we get to your law school or your experience as a law student. You are the president after all. I’m sure you have many discussion with many students, so how is this expressed in learning law? Or where were the tensions in learning law?

00:06:44 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure. I think law school is a unique, a unique place to be for most people. Law schools a bit different as you… as an undergraduate degree, you have choices in the courses you take and the way that you are marked, and if you would like to take classes that have written assignments versus if you have exams, those sorts of things are easier to choose at the undergraduate level. But when you get to law school things are chosen pretty quickly for you. So, the first year of law school is completely dictated for you. You have your class selections pre, pre designed and handed out at random to the student body that are coming in. So even from, like, the first day of law school, you’re being given a schedule that has no flexibility and that can be pretty impairing for students depending on lots of things.

For example, we have a lot of students with chronic pain, a lot of students with arthritis, a lot of students who don’t function very well in the morning, but if you can get them between noon and 8:00 pm, they’re doing great, there’s students who really need classes in the morning but after 3:00 pm their pain is too bad to be at school. So, you know there are lots of students with disabilities in law school and there are lots of students who haven’t been accommodated before having to get to law school who need accommodations in law school because of, sort of, the rigidity of the structure of the program. Uh, a few, things that come off the top of my head would be the accommodation process in general, how law schools are sort of quasi-independent institutions within a larger university structure.

So, for example, Dalhousie University has an Accessibility Centre that they process all accommodations through, and, due to a lot of issues with accommodation denials in the past, the law school, like, I go to Schulich, they’ve had to moderate their accommodations, and they’ve had to go through the Dalhousie major accommodation system, which could be great in thought, could be great, but realistically the, the accommodation centre was already overloaded before graduate programs joined, joined them and no extra staff was hired when they took on, you know, a hundred new caseloads from graduate programs. So the response time for accommodations, the understanding of accommodations in the perspective of law school, how do accommodations work when the law school assignments don’t really fit the normal assignment structure of an undergraduate program. So we see, like, a lot of problems that arise in specific situations that kind of are very unique to law schools. So why don’t we have a law school accommodations advisor? That’s a great question, and I’d say the reason is systemic ableism and the inability of law school administrations to take disability seriously. It’s a huge problem right now, we have a lot of law students and not a lot of clarification as to how their accommodations actually get to pant out.

00:09:49 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Let’s, a brief word, systemic ableism. Let’s make sure. I think you sent over, I think, a definition of the concept of universal design for learning, and then it sort of counteracts what systemic ableism is. Let me ask you to maybe define it, but you sent this it says: UDL or universal design for learning assumes that diversity is a norm and therefore incorporates needs based on different abilities, identities and other characters or supports all students. And I guess systemic ableism would be the inverse of this. Maybe you could just tease that out for us a little more in case we aren’t altogether clear on what the concept is.

00:10:24 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure. So, systemic ableism is a model that operates under this larger assumption that people are not harmed by disability, but rather that societal barriers make it difficult for disability or for people with disabilities to access care services and generally succeed in society. So systemic ableism is the, the way that our systems are created inherently that are geared toward people without disabilities. I don’t know if I’ve made it clear, more clear.

00:10:54 Host Nathan Afilalo

You did make it clear.

00:10:55 Guest, Lan Keenan

OK, good.

00:10:56 Host Nathan Afilalo

Previously, just before you were talking about the rigidity of law school and I, you know, one thing I wanted to add to that is people with jobs, people who have disabilities and people who have to work that rigidity is extremely difficult to, to overcome. Sometimes at law school, McGill you, you took six classes, which is shocking and then they encourage you to take seven classes, which was quite, quite frankly, they assumed people weren’t working. It’s the same way they could assume people aren’t disabled, so we’re going to do a case-by-case accommodations a method. So, are there, are there good examples of curatives to this to, the, these issues that you see in your law school or that you’ve heard of in other schools or just anywhere else you know? What are good systemic solutions? Or rather, what are concrete examples of systemic solutions working?

00:11:48 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure. So, I’m gonna just explain what I’m gonna read. So, the Schulich Disability Alliance, so the club that I’m now President of, but last year, was Vice President of and the Dalhousie Student Assistance Centre, which is the sort of student run advocacy centre and the Law Society joint last year together because there was, sort of, an explosion of people coming towards various student groups and going: “Ah help, we are all struggling and no one is doing anything about it.” So, we put together a report that sort of encapsulates the challenges that people were experiencing. We did a few surveys throughout the year and then we sort of pose it to the university administration as well as accessibility centre and the university at large and said, you know, here are the challenges, here’s, here’s excited and reputable solutions that other universities have done.

So I’m just going to read some of those, maybe sort of get us on the same page. So, challenges and let’s say the benefit that we could provide to overcome the challenge, so virtual attendees may not have equal experiences to in person learners. That’s a challenge that comes with hybrid learning, a benefit to hybrid learning is the increased ability to facilitate an equitable audience engagement while still benefiting from an in-person presenter. So being able to accommodate students who need to be at home or need to be off campus for various reasons, whether that be child care, whether that be having a second job, meeting an income, having a disability that requires you know you to be at home. Accessing technology that you have that will make it easier for you to, to focus or be in the moment and the realistically overcoming the challenge of hybrid learning is learning how hybrid learning platforms work, you know, and finding ways to use the technology we already have to assist people with hearing loss, assist people who are visually impaired. Find ways to sort of accommodate the population at large and, you know, one major barrier with the university and accommodating people with disabilities in the last two years has been sort of their reluctancy to go into a hybrid learning model even though remote learning was not a problem during the pandemic, of course, but moving on from the pandemic, the university simply reverted back to their in-person model and just sort of very much so left the disability community in the dust.

We’ve been advocating since the beginning of the pandemic to, you know, for everyone to watch, watch what you’re doing now and try and keep this sort of accessibility that you’ve granted us, keep it in your lives when we’re done the pandemic and now, we’re not really done the pandemic. But here we are, yeah, sort of pushing an in-person model only, which has been very limiting for a lot of students, especially when after two years of completely online learning, students are now having to like relearn strategies on how to be around this many people over these many hours a day and yeah, other complications like that. So that’s like sort of one example of a way that we can make law school more accessible for everybody, a universal barrier which is this simply being in person easily eliminated for low cost.

00:15:06 Host Nathan Afilalo

And so what are reasons for the resistance for going to a hybrid model that you are being met with? I’m sure some of them may be terribly founded. I’m sure some of them may be, you know, OK, I see your point like, what is that discussion like and why? It seems fairly obvious. Why not happen right? We give its freedom, everyone can do, can participate, everyone can join, limited barriers. What are the reasons you’re getting for “I don’t want to, we can’t do this, let’s not,” especially because we, they already did a during the height of the pandemic.

00:15:38 Guest, Lan Keenan

Yeah, a lot of, a lot of the sort of resistance comes from a few different areas. So first there’s an administrative area that is a problem, the pedagogy of law professors. So the last full administration, at least at Dalhousie University, and this isn’t the case in all, all law schools in Canada, for example, UBC does not have this problem. But Dalhousie University administration doesn’t give specific directions to their professors as to, like, which model they need to be using so they refuse to sort of give a hybrid model directive to professors, because that would take away from professors autonomy over their classes, and so there’s this recurrent sort of argument that that the university is making that the pedagogy of professors, and like protecting professors ability to make this decision for themselves, sort of goes against the accessibility version of classes, which would be a hybrid model. So instead of enforcing a hybrid model, they’ve just sort of let faculty do what they want, but that doesn’t always work because now we have a few professors, and only a few, that are doing some sort of recording or a “hybridish” model of some classes, but it’s not consistent, it’s not across the board and so now you have a few students who are benefiting from one professor so they can attend one class instead of five. And it just creates like, it’s almost creating more inequality across the board.

Further, they have concerns over the visual quality of classroom or losing a sense of human connection. But those arguments also are inherently ableist, because to deny someone who needs to attend virtually, to deny them of human connection, to think that that’s not an adequate amount of human connection is sort of, I don’t know, I find it personally rude. I can have human connection over a screen and that connection is usually more accessible for me, more facilitatable for me. I can, I can be in a class with 60 people online far easier than I can be in a room with 60 people in person due to the nature of my disability. So those sorts of arguments are, in my opinion, honest based and definitely sort of are showing the, the systemic problems within law school facilities. Also one big sort of barrier has been the, sort of, the law schools concern over students misusing the system or benefiting from the system in ways that aren’t intended. For example, if you have, if you have all of your classes and exams in a hybrid model or from home, virtually, then are students working together unjustly, are they collaborating unjustly? But there are lots of ways of monitoring that problem and lots of assignments go home with students anyway. So when it comes to final exam accommodations or facilitating a more accessible exam situation, it wasn’t a problem during the pandemic, they were able to do it and to facilitate it, and to ensure no one was breaking academic misconduct. And now that we would like to continue the same thing, now it’s an inaccessible problem.

00:18:53 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Besides take home exams didn’t exist. Exam is a paper-based method and the same concerns then replicate virtually and yet widely done.

00:19:06 Guest, Lan Keenan

Yeah, and widely successful like during the pandemic, people had less anxiety over take home exams than they did in person exams, and I’ve never personally sat in an exam room because I have and have had those accommodations, but I imagine that the experience of going to an exam room and sitting with 60 very, very anxious people and writing a law school exam is not a pleasant experience and I’ve had the privilege of avoiding it through my accommodations.

But uhm, yeah, I don’t understand why there is such pushback when we have the ability to proctor online exams. You know there’s so many degrees of protection that the university could give itself for very little cost and they just don’t, they won’t and accessibility is, is the topic at hand. So why? Why aren’t we making law schools more accessible? There’s some, some law schools are.

00:19:58 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Sure, absolutely. I remember, and this maybe our Ontario listeners will be able to laugh at this, but I’ll never forget when I, the Ontario bar exam, before the pandemic, it was done, I believe, it’s in an airplane hangar. And you were there with, you know, not a thousand people but you’re there with several hundred people and in various emotional states and that was one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had in my brief life. And then I got to do the exam online and it was a dream. Yes, I had someone watching me directly, but just doing it on a computer was so much more pleasant than having to sort of live with someone’s existential crisis while I’m trying to find the answer. You know I’m not hearing tears in an equity hall, just wonderful for one’s ability to concentrate on.

00:20:47 Guest, Lan Keenan

Yeah. And to take that even further, I’ve heard from students who have screen readers, who have accessible technology set up at home, you know, they have all of the things that they could possibly need at home, where they live. You know I have gastrointestinal problems and, to be able to sit, pardon my profanity, but sit on the toilet during class or to be able to sort of live from the safety of an accessible washroom that is not gender exclusive is very helpful for students with physical disabilities, you know, to be able to write exams and also physically participating classes from a comfortable environment with the tools you need is rare these days, but wasn’t rare during the pandemic.

So, you know, how do we bridge the gap? That’s, that’s very much been created. You can’t give everyone a great reality, especially, and I know that you know it’s not the ideal situation, I would rather not have a pandemic, but the pandemic created an ideal situation for a lot of disabled people and now to strip us of those accommodations and those luxuries is denying us the universal model, which I think is at the heart of this. You know we’re not talking about giving disabled students the ability to take home their exams. We’re talking about like giving everybody the ability to take home their exams because even if, you know, you’re, even if you’re not a student with a disability and you, maybe, you have a dog at home who helps you calm down. You know the dog isn’t helping you cheat on your exam, but the dog is benefiting your mental well-being while you’re writing the exam. You know that’s something that should be accessible to everybody. It shouldn’t just be an exclusive accommodation. So…

00:22:34 Host, Nathan Afilalo

And this is, and, we could draw an analogy. You know at the beginning of the pandemic, how many big pieces that we see when it came to the revolution of law find courts finally using their tools to accommodate virtual hearings and the expansions thereof in some cases and we had people like Richard Susskind saying: this is, this is the time where, you know, the digital revolution we’re going to shift, we’re going to modernize our justice system. And then, of course, it doesn’t really happen. We get e-filing, we get sort of analog versions of systems, just sort of printed and just transferred digitally, but not change. And I think you know this is part of the ableism discussion we, we didn’t take this opportunity to change how we teach. We just modified teaching for a bit and then went back to normal.

And I think let’s go back to disability and maybe a few definitions. At the annual conference, we discussed dignity and part of dignity is that it’s very hard to define it, it’s quite hard as a legal norm. And what does it mean for law school to increase education regarding disability? Who, what do we mean by disability and how can we go about teaching it in a more informed and helpful way?

00:23:49 Guest, Lan Keenan

Sure, so I think OK. First I guess disability as a, as a general definition, which I know there are many better out there than the one I’m about to spill at you. So, yeah, I guess disability is the, this is sort of tying in with the social model of disability, but reformats/reforms of the disability lines of America Rights, in our view, it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments. By the way, we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. The disabled people are an oppressed group in society. So, disability is now defined not in functional terms, but as the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which takes little or no account of people who have physical impairments or emotional impairments, thus excluding them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.

If we take those definitions, which very much keep in mind that the social model of disability, then we’re talking about people who struggle, right? in various forms, in various situations. And that struggle doesn’t always need to be a consistent struggle, but on occasion there are flare ups or a consistent lifelong struggle. And how are we addressing those people? Are we including them in our bubble? Are we including them in law school? Are we letting them in the door? How do people get into law school? I think this is a big part of having this conversation. We can’t start at law school. We have to start a little bit sooner. So how many disabled people are finishing their undergraduate degrees? It’s like you need an undergraduate degree to go to law school. So, how many people are going through that system? How many people get into university who have a disability and then who are supported adequately through the four to five to seven years it takes them to finish their undergraduate degree?

The cost of living is increased significantly by having a disability, no matter what kind of disability, and so the cost of therapy, the cost of equipment, the cost of, you know, your over-the-counter prescription medication that you can’t actually get interns for. So, all of those things kind of tie into the reality of a person with disability. So it’s not just, it’s not just a number, right? Like this is one person who has an extremely high level of needs that aren’t being met all the way through their education. And students with disabilities are marginalized and very often left out of sort of federal programs and provincial programs that benefit people with disabilities, and then it gets even more messy when you think about students with disabilities who have had to go out of province for education or even worse out of the country for education. So, how do we, you know, as a student who still has permanent residency in Ontario but has lived in Halifax for several years and now who’s living in Nova Scotia, it’s like I have doctors all across the country who are all supposed to be my doctors. A few of them ever call me. And getting an appointment is hell because I either have to get on a plane and go across the country to see a specialist or… and that all comes out of my pocket. Very few of those things are covered so, you know, how do you get through your undergraduate degree with a disability and graduate? And I started undergraduate with a very large population of people with disabilities, and very few of them even made it through undergrad and are now sitting in poverty and unable to access the healthcare they need and haven’t even finished. So, so sorry to go on a bit of a tangent.

But, you know, there are a lot of people who didn’t get to where I am and, so I really have to like take the time to explain why, why aren’t those people getting to where I am? And it’s very much a problem of the funding. Fundings problem, accessibility problem? Big big big problems where people are poor, people can’t live off of disability. Why is disability not a living wage? Why did disabled people get less money than the normal population during the pandemic you know? So those are like big questions and then you think about the law school admission process. So you have to read all sides. All sides have been very particular over the accommodations and the accessibility that they give and provide, so you’re first restricted by an American company and the nature of the LSAT is posting will on a good day. But is the LSAT created with people with disabilities in mind? You know how does the LSAT affect people in populations and people with disabilities? How does the LSAT affect people with learning disabilities? So there are like a lot of questions there. Is, is the Canadian Law School sort of allowing the LSAT to regulate their admissions? Are really a good idea? You know, that’s I’d say that’s like one of the big barriers and then on top of that, you’re asking for specific GPA requirements for students and people with disabilities who are not adequately accommodated at an undergraduate level, which we know, is happening and it’s happening in large, large scales. They tend to have a lower GPA or they have a disability episode, they have a loss of time that they’re able to attend school, they lose a scholarship that was allowing them to be at school and now they’re not finishing school or they’re in part-time schools, so they’re getting less funding. And then they’re trying to maintain a GPA, that is very hard to maintain for a non-disabled person, and then you have a disabled person who can’t maintain an average because of very, very restrictive university policies.

So you know, those are sort of the things that are leading into a law school admission. I think it’s a miracle personally that I got into law school, let alone I have made it to the second year in law school and that’s very much come out of my own pocket and, you know, my own ability. I was at the bank the day, before law school started, begging them for a line of credit because people with disabilities naturally just, we just naturally have less credit available to us. It is a systemic problem that comes all the way from the banks in the government. So yeah, how do we let people in? I guess the door is the first barrier that is, that is a huge barrier. you know I’m one of what, 20? Maybe 20 people who came in my year with disabilities. Most of them have only received diagnosis this year due to timelines and struggles. And we finally have money in, fake money, lines of credit that are paying for finally to get help for our disabilities that we’ve all had? So yeah, I mean the poverty line is a huge barrier for law school admission.

00:30:08 Host, Nathan Afilalo

I think that came up at the annual conference as well. You know, just discussing, you know, so many of our systemic issues, we could point all sorts of various and wonderful theories about them, but often you can say it’s not enough money. People are poor. And it’s not for reasons that they’re doing. They’re just poor because they don’t get the support they need and as crude as that. There’s one thing I wanted to just, you know, before we end, talk about the scope of this issue. In 2018, the CIAJ had its annual conference on Mental Health and the Law. And we heard, I don’t think it’s a secret, I think there are reports on this, on how many lawyers have substance abuse issues. And through sort of the definition of displacement you’ve given us these count as disability episodes.

So before anyone you know, listening thinks that it may not apply to them, these issues probably affect a lot of lawyers, a lot of people, and we’re talking about, you know, maybe creating systems that benefit many different kinds of people in their lives in various ways. So, what would you say to someone they’re listening to us speak and they want to act upon it? A lawyer or judge or professor. What are the, the next, what are the concrete steps someone could take tomorrow after listening to this? And maybe look at themselves like oh maybe I suffer some from this. I know someone who suffers from this. What can they do to begin to improve the situation? You know we, we can just say, you know, one thing for a lawyer. One thing for a judge. One thing for a law professor… with power.

00:31:41 Guest, Lan Keenan

I think… yeah, the people with power listening to this podcast should consider the following: make donations to your local disability centres specifically. You know when you’re writing a check to your alma mater or wherever we’re going to get, you know, the best tax write-off, please write those checks to the disability services at your universities because they are underfunded, underpaid and they are causing a lot of structural problems for students with disabilities.

Also, if you’d like to contribute emotionally, being more open about things like addiction within the profession would be great. I think there aren’t enough conversations regarding substance abuse problems and lawyers, especially when a lot of those things are starting in law school. How are people coping with having seven assignments during a five-day period? Probably not well, and then we have sort of like this, victimizing, this criminalizing of amphetamines within law schools. And you also have a very high population of people in law school with ADHD, with very valid reasons for needing amphetamines. So you sort of create this duality within law school where half of the people can’t receive the prescriptions they need because of the criminal lens on amphetamines. The Dalhousie insurance policies cap amphetamine prescriptions. They don’t cap other prescriptions. So, lots of times by April, we’re out of money, we’re out of insurance money for our medication and then you have students misusing amphetamines that they get from other people or if they get off the street or whatever. So, you know you have substance abuse problems starting in law school. You have very high drinking culture starting in law school.

So, like maybe we should be changing those, those sorts of cultures now in law schools and promoting you know safe use and substance, harm reduction. I sit in like a party safe committee that is specifically working on harm reduction within law schools for law school events, but that could be much wider and within the legal profession, you know. If you’re hosting a holiday Christmas party, make sure you have an ample amount of non-alcoholic options, make sure you have harm reduction supplies in the bathrooms you know. Don’t let people, don’t assume people aren’t using substance, abuse, aren’t abusing substances, but let’s try to reduce the amount of harm it can cause our staff and finding adequate resources and programs to offer people within the legal profession and their families. Because realistically, like a struggling lawyer, has a struggling family. So ensuring that people can access those supports. And yeah, making them available like make home care and make ways of lessening the burden on people with disabilities, make those normal accommodations that your staff offers: Therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatrist, psycho assessments. Those are very costly, very costly barriers for people who are trying to receive help, and reducing those barriers and those financial costs for your staff, for your students, for the people around you who need help is a, is a great way to start.

00:34:44 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close our lovely discussion? Everything we missed? Something I mis-said correcting on? Anything.

00:34:53 Guest, Lan Keenan

I guess, I guess some, some final things that I kind of wrote down beforehand that I would like to go over. At the end of the day, appropriate support systems and technologies, such as brailing equipment: computers, wheelchairs, prosthetics, sign language interpreters, rehabilitation services, psychiatric services, psychological services exist but are really only available to a very small percentage of people in society, and most of those people are not people with disabilities. So there’s so much poverty in this world, and millions and millions of people with disabilities. And all these adequate services tht are available are lost on us, lost on people with disabilities due to poverty, due to a lack of money, very simply, you know. How do we increase the amount of money that people with disabilities students with disabilities, former students with disabilities, people on the margins of society. How do we make sure that we’re bringing them along for the ride? If we’re gonna increase the amount of accessibility software in schools, how do we make sure that everyone can access that software, to make sure they have a computer that can access that software? We’re going to make courts more accessible by offering video, video courts, how do we make sure that the people who are participating in court all have a computer, all have a microphone, all have a camera? You know the sort of barriers to all to all things that we can do to decrease barriers.

So just making sure that we’re keeping in mind the barriers were creating as we tried to dismantle systems that are already in place. Yeah, and I think that I guess, finally, accessibility of public transportation, lack of accessible housing, lack of affordable housing, and sort of this larger lens where people with disabilities, or there aren’t that many people with disabilities in law school is something I hear a lot, and it’s like well, why? Why is that? Because we are one of the largest minorities. We are the largest minority of people in the world, so why aren’t we the majority of the minority of law schools? Why is that not the case? And I think a lot of the issues that we’ve touched on really highlight why people are getting trapped before they even get in the door. So, yeah, thank you so much for this conversation I think it will help people sort of challenge their mythologies about disability.

00:37:09 Host, Nathan Afilalo

I think so too. I think ending on a note on mythologies and stories. You know we’re trying to change the stories and narratives of who a lawyer is, what is a law school, who can get in there? And I think, you know today we kind of went point by point and tried to break down some concepts, and I hope you know people didn’t see it as condescending, but we’re just trying to sort of open up. We, you know, the problem is implicit bias with, problem is taking things for granted, so we’re trying to open up that space today, and I really appreciate Lan sort of your very thorough definitions and sort of excavations on the topic. So I’d like to thank you very much for joining us. I’ve had a lovely time everyone who’s listening, is that a lovely time? And we bid you a fond farewell and we’ll see you next time.

00:37:52 Guest, Lan Keenan

Thank you so much and again, if anyone has any further questions they can contact me directly. I would love to…

00:37:58 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Why don’t you drop your contact information to answer?

00:38:00 Guest, Lan Keenan

… Answer questions, yeah, sure. So you can e-mail me at Lan (l-a-n) Keenan, lankeenan@dal.ca. That’s my school email and you can reach me there. I’m also on social media at aln and order, excuse my legal pun.

(laughs)

00:38:24 Host, Nathan Afilalo

Very good, that’s very good OK.

00:38:28 Guest, Lan Keenan

Yes, so that’s where you can find me.

00:38:29 Host, Nathan Afilalo

OK, well thank you very much. Goodbye.

00:38:34 Extro

You’ve listened to In All Fairness, a CIAJ podcast. For more information, visit us on our website at ciaj-icaj.ca


In All Fairness is a Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice podcast channel welcoming representatives from the legal community and exploring how we can all contribute to improving the administration of justice in Canada. Legal professionals will benefit from informed discussions on key issues, essential knowledge and insights to strengthen their practice.

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