Disability law gets a boost

Disability law gets a boost
Photo: Thinkstock
Disability law is about to get a bit more attention.
Marian MacGregor and Sheila Burns have been selected for this year’s Law Foundation of Ontario community leadership in justice fellowships. Both will focus on disability within the justice system.

MacGregor, clinic director for the Community and Legal Aid Services Program at Osgoode Hall Law School, will complete her fellowship in partnership with the ARCH Disability Law Centre.

Although there aren’t many lawyers who currently practise disability law, the need is there. “Disability law in particular needs advocates,” says MacGregor. “And since there’s not a lot of big firms that are going to be doing that kind of work, we’ve got to show people this area of law in other ways and different places and expose people early.”

Adding to Osgoode’s drive for experiential learning, MacGregor will develop a clinical program in disability law to be offered to students as early as September 2013. She plans to consult with students, faculty, clinical educators, and those in the disability community.

“Experiential education is certainly where learning has to go,” she says. “And I truly believe that students learn best when they actually get to practise out those skills.”

The program is expected to include a placement at ARCH and a non-governmental organization. Through the ARCH placement, students should be able to address clients who aren’t being served. “Traditionally, people with disabilities have a hard time accessing justice,” says MacGregor.

Her goal through the program is for students to gain a greater sense of social justice and be more likely to take on disability cases when they become lawyers.

Sheila Burns, a consultant and former chairwoman of the FASD Ontario Network of Expertise, will conduct her fellowship at Georgian College. As an advocate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, she will focus on bringing greater awareness to the disorder.

She will develop two courses on FASD as well as a post-graduate program at Georgian, conduct a series of roundtables, and complete a research project.

A greater awareness of the disorder would have a positive impact on the justice system, says Burns. “Any kind of awareness within the system can help divert individuals to more appropriate responses.”

Through the fellowship, she aspires to shift the lens on how society views people with disabilities, specifically those with FASD.

Ayumi Bailly, director of policy and programs at the Law Foundation of Ontario, says the fellowship’s objective is to build bridges between leaders in the field and the academic world.

With a maximum grant of $50,000, fellows are able to temporarily step out of their current jobs and devote their time to a new project. The academic institution is also granted up to $15,000 for expenses.

The fellowships were specifically created to benefit non-profit organizations and academic institutions. The direct contact students have with leaders in the field has also proven to be valuable, adds Bailly.

The fact that both of this year’s fellows are from within the disability community was a coincidence since the fellowships aren’t geared towards any one topic, says Bailly. “We believe that our mandate is to be responsive to current needs.”

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