LSAC Celebrates 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Yesterday, July 26, marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguably one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in the past three decades. When the ADA was signed into law in 1990, it outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, housing, and many other aspects of public life. LSAC is proud to celebrate the passage of this landmark law, and to affirm our commitment to helping those with disabilities as they pursue a legal education and a career in law.
The ADA was championed by U.S. Representative Tony Coelho, whose own experience made him a strong advocate for disability rights, as he explained on a recent episode of the Southeast ADA Center’s “ADA Live!” podcast. As a teenager, Coelho suffered a head injury in a car accident and began having seizures, but he was not diagnosed with epilepsy until he began pursuing his goal of becoming a Catholic priest. The diagnosis disqualified him because the church, in Coelho’s words, believed having epilepsy was akin to being “possessed by the devil.” He was despondent but eventually came to realize that “you’ve got to end up loving yourself and believing in yourself to do what you want to do; if you don’t do that, others won’t either.” It gave him the drive to work toward his own success and to fight for the rights of those with disabilities.
The ADA, Coelho notes, came about because while other federal legislation had addressed certain aspects of this discrimination, those with disabilities were not in a protected class and lacked the right to go to court and take on those who were discriminating against them. “Once the bill was enacted, we had the right to go to court just like any other group,” he says. Now, the ADA has become a way of life, and those who were born with or acquired a disability after 1990 don’t know any other way. “It’s great that young people don’t know what happened,” Coelho says. “They just know they have rights.”
At LSAC, we’re committed to upholding the spirit of the ADA by ensuring that anyone with a disability is able to pursue their dream of a legal education. That starts with our flagship test, the LSAT, which is designed to level the playing field and give every candidate an equal opportunity to be admitted to law school. We have a long history of accommodating test takers with disabilities, and with the move to our online LSAT-Flex exam during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re being proactive about working with universities and test centers to ensure that test takers have access to the devices and quiet spaces they need.
Additionally, Leanne Shank, LSAC’s senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs, general counsel, and corporate secretary, has been active in working with disability associations and communities to enhance the candidate pipeline and reduce barriers to legal education and the legal profession. Shank’s quest to learn more about and reduce burdens for candidates with disabilities derives, in part, from seeing the challenges disabled family members must overcome as well as LSAC President and CEO Kellye Testy and the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, Shank’s sense of social justice and her involvement in workshops, webinars, and symposia that advocate for individuals with disabilities inspire her to continually explore, together with her LSAC colleagues, ways to provide effective accommodations for test takers with disabilities. LSAC is planning even more initiatives in collaboration with various disability organizations and hopes to expand its efforts to help law schools and members of the legal profession welcome and support individuals with disabilities.
“The most important thing to me,” says Tony Coelho, “is that young people are covered by the ADA from the day they’re born until the day they die.” That important legacy means the ADA will continue to impact lives for many decades to come, and LSAC aims to do the same as an ally of those with disabilities who seek to add their diverse voices to the legal profession.