Saturday, February 4, 2006

Disabilities as Assets?

I highly recommend Professor Jennifer Jolly-Ryan's recent article, "Disabilities to Exceptional Abilities:  Law Students with Disabilities, Nontraditional Learners, and the Law Teacher as a Learner," 6 Nev. L.J. 116 (2005).  A professor at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Jolly-Ryan has put together an insightful, practical, and inspiring article that may change the way you think about students with disabilities.

Beginning with a brief overview of disabilities law and its relationship to law schools, she demonstrates the increasing presence in law schools of persons with a variety of disabilities and the implications for law teachers.  She then explores the dynamics of disabilities in the law school setting and the obstacles disabled students face in school and later in the profession. 

But then she turns the discussion on its head.  She postulates that disabilities, when properly understood, can actually be assets, both in law school and in the profession.  She challenges professors to stop focusing merely on the disabled student's difficulties and start focusing on the strengths such students bring to the field of law.  She includes an inspiring section on people with disabilities who have excelled in the law and explains that, in reality, disabilities foster skills and attitudes that are essential to success in our profession.

In addition, she points out, the increasing presence of students with disabilities in our law schools will change legal education for the better if we simply pay attention to what we can learn as a result of their being in our classrooms.  Offering a host of practical strategies for accommodating the needs of disabled students as well as study strategies students can implement for themselves,  she convincingly argues that incorporating those strategies will result in improving the learning of all law students.

Take a few minutes to read her article, and consider passing it along to your colleagues on the faculty and to your students who may be struggling with obstacles to effective learning.  I think both you and they will see the world a little differently. (dbw)

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