Each year, the Caribbean Bar Association (CBA) awards various Judicial and Legal Services Internship opportunities to law students. In the summer of 2015, the CBA awarded three law students in South Florida with either an eight-week Judicial Internship in South Florida, or an eight-week Legal Services Internship with Legal Services of Greater Miami. In addition, each recipient received a $3,000 stipend. To be eligible to receive the scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic school year, the applicants were asked to write an essay describing how redistricting negatively affects Caribbean-American voters. After reviewing multiple essay entries, Samuel R. Rony, a St. Thomas University School of Law second year student, was selected as one of the recipients. Samuel was placed with The Honorable Magistrate Judge Patrick A. White in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. We are pleased to announce that Samuel is one of Disability Independence Group, Inc.’s Fall 2015 Interns.
Working with Disability Independence Group Inc. (DIG) this summer exposed me to entirely new communities. Not only was I given the chance to see and participate in the internal workings of a law firm as they prepared for court, I was also able to interact with clients and partake in depositions. On multiple occasions, DIG provided opportunities to visit the courthouses. Everyone working with DIG went out of their way to help myself and the other interns understand and the concepts and work that went into each case at each step. But the most interesting community I was exposed to was the disabled community.
On my first day at DIG, I was handed a 1550 page document and told it was the first case of its kind. After working on my assignment for some time, Matt met with me and explained to me what he wanted my work to produce and I practically restarted. While working on that assignment, I was still able to work for some of the other clients as well. One of my favorite clients had obtained DIG’s services in hopes to be reunited with her emotional support sheep, Dora. After working directly with this client I was able to accompany Matt to a deposition of an opposing witness. During the break I was asked questions, almost as if answering an oral exam. Why did I ask this? Where am I going with that question? Why does that matter? It was great hands on experience and an opportunity to learn how to plan depositions and arguments. The friendly and outgoing staff made my time with DIG more enjoyable and beneficial. The DIG office is a work family; we took group pictures, went to group lunches, and even had a pizza and ice cream day. The comfortable and friendly environment allowed for more interaction and better quality education.
One of the fun parts about legal education is being exposed to so many different people, entities, and communities. This summer I was exposed to the disabled community. I learned so much more than I thought there was to learn about the deaf community. It was surprising to see how hard it is for the deaf to communicate without a translator. By talking with the staff and reading case materials, I learned a lot about the deaf community. Then I was able to partake in the intake process for a deaf client and interact directly with her. It was like nothing I had ever done before. Watching the client sign and get passionate about her case and hearing the translator providing her a voice to match her passion was incredible. Another 20 pages would not justly describe the experience of working with DIG this summer.
Thank y’all for helping me on the path to success, and for helping all those that you help.
My experience interning at DIG is probably one of the more interesting experiences anyone from my law school class had this summer. From cases involving a sheep as an emotional support animal to cases involving young runaways trapped in the system, the ordinary daily routine at the DIG office is anything but ordinary. Because it is an advocacy group for those who have disabilities, I learned a lot about the struggles people with disabilities have and how they have to fight to get basic accommodations which seem more than reasonable; borderline necessary (i.e. an elevator for an elderly man to get to his apartment, an interpreter to translate the doctor’s explanation of a medical procedure, etc.) I’ve seen the difference between the procedure in a federal courtroom and the procedure in a state courtroom, and began to formulate an opinion as to which one I prefer.
The people that make up DIG are a big factor as to why my experience at DIG was so good. Matt was always full of information about the ADA, which I knew close to nothing about before coming into the internship. He also lightened the mood with his humor and was gracious enough to show me where the best sushi in Fort Lauderdale is. Rachel was also a great mentor for me by explaining things as they went along and answering all my questions no matter how trivial they might have been. Sharon’s office was across the desk I did most of my work, which would make us office neighbors in a way. As any good neighbor she would also come by to check up on me and inform me about what’s going on with cases. Debbie was working on a project called, “Wallet Cards” during my time here and she was also a source of information about the struggle it is to get legislation to help those with disabilities and how normal people can help bring about that type of change. Yarelys is definitely the one member of the team that I had daily interactions with because every time I had a question, she would know the answer. Yarelys was both the secretary and also my main resource in the office when I needed to find something. There is also Monica and Renee which even though I wouldn’t have daily interactions with since they work on the nonprofit aspect of DIG and with Debbie, they also contributed to my experience by making sure all my sneezes were followed by a ‘bless you’.
As someone who is about to start a legal profession, it is important to network as much as you can; your reputation can and will take you a far way. That’s the advice my class received when we began looking for places to intern in the summer. I hope that I left a good enough impression on the people I mentioned above that they will have nothing but good things to say about me if ever asked by others in the future. But perhaps as equally as important is the impression I left on my fellow interns, Crystal and Royal. Interning at DIG helped me meet my future fellow colleagues that I might have never met before since Crystal is a year ahead of me at FIU College of Law and Royal attends law school at the University of Miami. Because DIG brings in law students from different schools, interning at DIG was a great way to network with other students and other schools that I might have never been able to before.
All in all, my summer has been interesting, fun, stressful, rewarding, educational and memorable. Interning at DIG taught me a lot and showed me a lot that I will not soon forget. It was and is a great way to see how the legal profession can make a positive change in the lives of so many people.
Much like racism or sexism, discrimination based on a disability often falls within the common, yet mistaken, school of thought that these issues simply do not exist anymore, or at the very least, happen rarely. I am a law student getting ready to enter my second year at the University of Miami and have been interning with Disability Independence Group for the summer. From day one, it was apparent that this kind of discrimination is still very prevalent and expands into all areas of law, including criminal, landlord-tenant, federal, state, employment, and many more.
These problems seem to be largely a result of a lack of awareness, not just on the part of those who may be perpetuating the discrimination, but also on the individuals who are being discriminated against and who may not know the full extent of their rights, attorneys who are unfamiliar with this area of the law, and the community at large. Nearly every instance of disability discrimination I have come across at DIG was due in some part to one or more parities unable to understand the nature or extent of an individual’s disability. I was also very surprised to learn that DIG was one of only a few organizations in Florida that specialize in disability law, and even more surprised to learn that this was not only typical in the majority of states, but considered to be advanced.
Many of these issues are also aggravated by communication problems, particularly when an individual is deaf, blind, or has some other kind of impairment to communication. In many
of these cases, individuals are entitled to an interpreter, although this is not a fail-safe. Sometimes, the interpreter is insufficient or ineffective at communicating the user’s needs or intentions,
resulting in miscommunications. This may put the disabled individual in a difficult position of requesting additional services, which can potentially damage the relationship if the other is unwilling or unable to provide them. This can become a serious problem when the services being sought are significant, such as with a doctor or an attorney. In this situation, the individual can
either make due with an ineffective interpreter, or look to
administrative or legal remedies.
Although the general lack of awareness was eye-opening to me, organizations like DIG, that promote and advocate for disability rights, represent a step in the right direction. I have strong hope that others can learn from this example and join the fight to promote awareness, and to help protect the rights and freedoms of individuals with disabilities.
As a law student interning with DIG, I spoke with a client recently and I was frustrated to learn that there are attorneys who disregard their duty to communicate with clients who are deaf. When someone is already in a difficult situation, it’s hard to believe that a lawyer would make the situation even worse, by refusing to provide an interpreter for a family member that needed one. Although I realize that some lawyers would have a difficult time paying for interpreters, most lawyers should be able to afford to pay for an interpreter for the clients that need them.
It is a basic tenet of professional responsibility that Lawyers have an ethical duty to communicate with their clients, and most lawyers try to fulfill that duty. There are unique challenges when trying to communicate effectively with a client is deaf. However, it’s still that lawyer’s responsibility to handle those challenges.
If a lawyer refuses to provide a qualified interpreter, it forces the deaf client to make a difficult choice. If he or she files a complaint against the attorney, to require them to provide an interpreter, the attorney may no longer be pleasant to work with. If you want to work with them despite their refusal, and do not file a complaint, the client is left paying for the interpreter yourself. This is a situation that seems very unfair because the client is paying more money for the same service that hearing clients are receiving.
When you’re calling a lawyer, it’s usually because you need help with a legal issue you’re having. You’re likely already in a difficult place in your life, and in need of legal advice or assistance. For an attorney to be able to help you, you need to be able to communicate with them, so they can get all the information they need to help you, and so you can understand the process, and ask any questions you have. I know that most lawyers are willing to fulfill their duty to communicate, and will provide a qualified interpreter when one is needed. For the attorneys who are unwilling, I hope that they become better educated on their duty to communicate with all clients, including those who are deaf. In South Florida, there are many sign language interpreters who are available to assist, and with the technology that exists now, which allows you to communicate with an individual who is deaf through a sign language interpreter via the video relay phone service, or in person through video relay interpreting with a webcam on your workstation, there is no reason for any deaf person to not have the equal opportunity to effectively communicate with their attorney.