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Recent headlines are celebrating the news of former California House Representative Tony Coelho's big $1 million donation and additional $3 million in fundraising for the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation at Loyola Law School.
The center announced that its primary goal is to create a pipeline for disabled lawyers to make it to leadership roles and onto the judiciary. But that's not all it's focused on. The center strives to be a hub for discussion related to innovations, both through technology and policy, to help further integrate the disabled community into everyday society.
For disability advocates, one of the biggest shared goal is increasing public awareness surrounding the issues facing disabled individuals. From access barriers to stigmatization, these problems exist not just at law firms, but in courts and politics across the country as well.
The center seeks to raise the profile of disabled individuals in the legal community, and to create a pipeline through community and networking, to assist disabled law students and lawyers excel into highly visible leadership roles. The Coelho Center isn't just designed for disabled law students and lawyers, it promotes campus-wide participation in order to encourage both students and practitioners to advocate for the disability community.
One of the tangible first goals for the center involves publishing a resource on providing workplace accommodations for individuals with mental disabilities. The center also plans to host a conference to engage the broader disability community and create a fellowship for law students.
A big problem that disability advocates see in the legal industry is a lack of recruitment and tracking data. The firms that are seen as "feeder" firms into the judiciary aren't known for actively and openly recruiting disabled attorneys. Additionally, due to the stigmatization that goes along with having a disability, many disabled attorneys who have a disability that is not readily visible, are remiss to out themselves due to the risk of reputational harm.