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Paying it Forward

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Caitlin Parton wants to pay it forward. She went to law school to become a disability rights lawyer.  

She’s no stranger to advocating, fighting and even suing for her rights as a person with disabilities. Caitlin lost most of her hearing at 22 months from a life-threatening illness. She was, at the time, the youngest person to receive cochlear implants.  

“I went to law school to pay it forward – over the course of my education, I had to sue the school or school district several times. Attorneys helped me reach my goals and get the accommodations I needed to succeed in the classroom,” she says. “I know intimately the roadblocks that people with disabilities face every day. It is so rewarding to clear the way for my clients to get the access they deserve.” 

Caitlin received her law degree from the City University of New York School of Law. She was awarded AG Bell’s George H. Nofer Scholarship for Law and Public Policy, which helped offset the expensive cost of law school and allowed Caitlin to focus on her studies and take unpaid internships.   

 “My family and I have been members of AG Bell for many years and have been active in different sections as well as the Board of Directors,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to have received several scholarships from AG Bell over the years, which supported my education.” 

 After law school, she moved with her partner to Boston and worked at the Disability Law Center, the protection and advocacy agency for Massachusetts, for six years. She says she represented clients with disabilities in matters ranging from discrimination in housing, employment, and access to education, to public accommodations. She investigated allegations of abuse or neglect and visited hospitals and group homes.  

For the past year, Caitlin has been an attorney at Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, a Massachusetts state agency, focusing on policy and legal advocacy on behalf of those with mental health issues, as well as intellectual or developmental disabilities.  

“I chose to work in disability rights, so thankfully my colleagues already had more of an understanding of disability and accessibility than perhaps those in a corporate firm. Often, I am the first [lawyer who is deaf that] someone meets, though,” she says. “I became active in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association, as well as the Disability Rights Bar Association, to really grow my network of supportive attorneys who share practice ideas and support.” 

When asked for advice for future lawyers with hearing impairments, Caitlin offered the following message: “Find mentors whom you can ask for advice and support as you figure out what works for you. Do internships in a variety of settings—legal firm, government, nonprofit—so you get a sense of what each is like and what will click for you. The law is a powerful tool – use it to help people.”  

To build a pathway for students to succeed in college, consider making your gift to AG Bell at https://www.agbell.org/Donate. 

Una contribución a la socieda

Caitlin Parton desea realizar una contribución a la sociedad. Estudió en una facultad de derecho para convertirse en abogada de los derechos de las personas con discapacidades.

No le resultan ajenas las tareas de reivindicar, defender e incluso demandar para ejercer sus derechos como persona con discapacidades. Caitlin perdió la mayor parte de su audición a los 22 meses debido a una enfermedad potencialmente mortal. En aquellos momentos, era la persona más joven en recibir implantes cocleares.

«Estudié en la facultad de derecho para ayudar a otras personas; durante mi educación, tuve que demandar a la facultad o al distrito escolar en varias ocasiones. Los abogados me ayudaron a alcanzar mis metas y a conseguir las adaptaciones que necesitaba para desenvolverme con éxito en el aula», asegura. «Conozco en profundidad los obstáculos a los que se enfrentan diariamente las personas con discapacidades. Resulta muy gratificante allanar el camino para que mis clientes consigan el acceso que se merecen».

Caitlin recibió su licenciatura de derecho en la City University of New York School of Law. Se le otorgó la beca George H. Nofer para Derecho y Políticas Públicas de AG Bell, que le ayudó a hacer frente al elevado coste de la facultad de derecho y le permitió centrarse en sus estudios y realizar prácticas no remuneradas.

«Mi familia y yo hemos sido miembros de AG Bell durante muchos años y hemos participado en diferentes secciones, así como en la Junta Directiva», explica. «Tuve la suerte de recibir varias becas de AG Bell, que respaldaron mi educación».

Después de la facultad de derecho, se trasladó con su pareja a Boston y trabajó en el Disability Law Center, el organismo de protección y reivindicación de Massachusetts, durante seis años. Comenta que representó a clientes con discapacidades en diferentes asuntos, desde la discriminación en la vivienda, el empleo y el acceso a la educación, hasta las adaptaciones públicas. Investigó denuncias de abuso o negligencia y visitó hospitales y residencias sociales.

El año pasado, Caitlin trabajó como abogada en el Comité de asesores legales de salud mental (Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee), un organismo del estado de Massachusetts que se centra en las políticas y en la defensa jurídica de personas con problemas de salud mental, así como con discapacidades intelectuales o de desarrollo.

«Decidí trabajar en el ámbito de los derechos de las personas con discapacidad, por lo que, afortunadamente, mis compañeros ya tenían más conocimientos sobre la discapacidad y la accesibilidad que, probablemente, los empleados de una firma corporativa. No obstante, soy el primer abogado con sordera que suele conocer la gente», asegura. «Decidí involucrarme en el Colegio de abogados con sordera e hipoacusia (Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association), así como en el Colegio de abogados de los derechos de las personas con discapacidad (Disability Rights Bar Association), con el propósito de contar con una red mayor de abogados con los que comparto ideas de práctica y apoyo».

Cuando se le pidió algún consejo para futuros abogados con discapacidad auditiva, su respuesta fue: «Encuentren mentores a los que puedan pedir consejo y apoyo mientras averiguan qué es lo que les interesa. Realicen prácticas profesionales en una variedad de entornos (bufetes de abogados, organismos gubernamentales, organizaciones sin fines de lucro) para que conozcan en qué consisten sus actividades y por cuáles sienten interés. El derecho es una herramienta potente y se debe utilizar para ayudar a las personas».

Para allanar el camino de los estudiantes que desean acceder a la universidad, considere realizar una donación a AG Bell en https://www.agbell.org/Donate.

 

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