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IDAP Interview Series: Interview XV with Judge Ronald M. Gould

Written by by on Apr 26, 2018

IDAP Interview Series: Interview XV with Judge Ronald M. Gould

This IDAP interview features Judge Ronald M. Gould, who has served on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with distinction since his appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Judge Gould, an alumnus of the University of Michigan Law School, was diagnosed with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis in 1990. While the impact of his disability was initially confined to facing occasional stumbles and numbness in other extremities, his disability has now progressed to a point where he uses a power wheelchair, has no hand mobility and is supported by caregivers around the clock. As Judge Gould’s disability has progressed over the years, so has his perseverance, grit and resolve to not let his disability shape the course of his life. In his long and illustrious career on the bench, Judge Gould has developed a distinct voice as a judge and has adjudicated upon such hot button disputes as the Trump travel ban. Judge Gould’s deep understanding of the challenges faced by the disabled has also found expression in his progressive verdicts on disability issues, that have helped breathe life into the rights legally guaranteed to the disabled in the United States. For instance, in a 2017 verdict on the rights of deaf inmates to access the services of American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters, Judge Gould wrote: “To deny a deaf person an ASL interpreter, when ASL is their primary language, is akin to denying a Spanish interpreter to a person who speaks Spanish as their primary language… the County may not turn a blind eye to a deaf ear.” In this interview, among other things, Judge Gould shares with us the reasons why he is a great believer in the value gained by the disabled, of keeping a positive attitude and in focusing on what they can do as opposed to what they cannot. While acknowledging the enormity of the challenges faced by the disabled, he explains how they can be addressed by using proper techniques, methods and technology. This interview was conducted on March 19th, 2018 by Rahul Bajaj and Maggie Huang. With the assistance of Judge Gould, this interview was also lightly edited for clarity. A recording of this interview can also be accessed in the link below. 1. Thank you so much for being here with us today Judge Gould, we really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights. First off, would you mind describing to us the precise nature of your disability? Yes I’d be happy to do that. I have a pretty severe case of multiple sclerosis, which is a progressive disease where the nerves are attacked. There are different types of MS. I have a type called progressive, which can get very serious, and has progressed quite a distance. I use a power wheelchair to get around both my house and in my judicial chambers. I also have no hand mobility for the past several years, although I did have my use of hands when I first went on the bench. I used to drive the wheelchair myself, but because I don’t have hand mobility now, I have 24 hour caregiver help, 7 days a week. I have one sitting here with me today in Chambers. I was diagnosed with MS in the 1990s, with a...

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IDAP Interview Series: Interview XIV with Tomer Rosner

Written by by on Apr 16, 2018

IDAP Interview Series: Interview XIV with Tomer Rosner

Our next interview in this series features, Tomer Rosner, an Israeli civil servant. He developed an optic nerve condition at the age of 13 which eventually led to complete blindness. As a legal advisor to the Parliament of Israel, Tomer’s position is one of great importance and responsibility. He directly advises three parliamentary committees including the committee on internal affairs. His dedication to the cause and his position in the Israeli government has allowed him to make great contributions to the disability rights movement in Israel. He has played a fundamental role in the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty by the Israeli Parliament and inclusion of the copyright exemption in their domestic law. An advocate by qualification, Tomer pursued a Master’s in Public Administration at the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School. In this interview, among other things, he discusses his experience of studying in a mainstream school and the role that the State played in providing adequate support to him during his formative years. Even though Tomer continues to face some difficulties in his everyday work which stem from his disability, he is positive that change is coming- slowly but steadily. This interview was conducted by Rahul Bajaj and Madhavi Singh. The interview has been edited for clarity by Anusha Reddy. Could you please describe the nature of disability? I am completely blind. I was born full sighted. At the age of 13, my eyesight started to deteriorate due to an optic nerve problem. It deteriorated slowly and I lost my sight completely at the age of 40 which was about seven years ago. Did you study in a mainstream school while growing up? Most of the time, yes. Till the age of 13 I was completely sighted so I had no problem. When my sight began deteriorating in a material way, I was transferred to a regular school with special features for about two years. There were about 20 or 30 children with visual disabilities spread out in regular classes. They have support for children and special hours after the regular curriculum.Thereafter, I moved to high school,which was a regular school near my home. Afterwards, I attended university, etc. which were all mainstream. To what extent did you benefit from studying in a mainstream school, which was targeted to provide support for your special needs as opposed to completely segregated? I cannot do such a comparison because I was never in a special school. But from what I understand and know through my volunteer work with students, it can be said that a mainstream education is definitely much more suitable and preferable for many people with disabilities at large and people with sight disabilities in particular. It benefits both sides and is much better than segregated schools. Regular children are exposed to children with disabilities on one hand and children with disabilities are mainstreamed, so they can regularly participate in school life.  However, I think that mainstreaming is not necessarily suitable for everyone, and in some cases special schooling may be a better way of getting most out of a person. The important thing is to let the child and the child’s parents to make the best choice for the child. Do you agree that mainstream schools are better than segregated schools provided that mainstream schools have appropriate support...

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Formal Collaboration between Herbert Smith Freehills and IDIA

Written by by on Mar 27, 2018

Formal Collaboration between Herbert Smith Freehills and IDIA

We are happy to announce a formal collaboration between Herbert Smith Freehills, a leading global law firm and IDIA. As part of Herbert Smith Freehills India Practice’s wider commitment to “give back” to India, the firm will provide financial, mentoring and pastoral support to a number of IDIA Scholars during the course of their legal education in various law colleges in India. In addition to assistance with fees and ancillary university expenses, Herbert Smith Freehills will also provide practical assistance through other means to the IDIA scholars which it will support, such as providing graduate recruitment support and internship opportunities, which can help the scholars in shaping their legal careers.   “Laudably, the Constitution of India legislates for equality for all in India – equality before the law and non-discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. However, as in many other countries, social and economic exclusion remains prevalent. Through supporting the excellent work of IDIA, we very much hope that we can help those most in need and most deserving to join the legal profession and improve its diversity and, through that, to help serve India well and also help to foster an environment in which there can be a permanent change in attitudes towards the underprivileged as they begin to make their marks within the legal profession. As a committed partner, Herbert Smith Freehills looks forward to building a long-term supportive collaboration with IDIA as well as promoting IDIA’s values and goals to Herbert Smith Freehills’ clients and contacts worldwide.“ “It is a matter of great honour for us that Herbert Smith Freehills, one of the leading law firms in the world has chosen to partner with us on this important mission to make the planet a more inclusive one. What better way to do this than through the medium of legal education and the consequent creation of leaders from within underprivileged communities. Herbert Smith Freehills was one of our earliest institutional supporters and had in the past permitted our scholars to partake in their excellent legal training programmes in India. We are truly grateful that they have now proposed to ramp up this support. We are certain that the several IDIA scholars that benefit from this support will make us all proud and help create an ecosystem that is worthy of the best ideals of law and justice.“ HSF also supports various other initiatives with Indian law colleges. For more details about their India Practice, please see here. [The announcement was first made on the website of Herbert Smith Freehills, and is available...

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IDAP Interview Series: Interview XIII with David Shannon

Written by by on Mar 21, 2018

IDAP Interview Series: Interview XIII with David Shannon

This interview features Mr. David Shannon, whose spinal cord injury led to quadriplegia, but never stopped him from achieving his dreams. He’s had an illustrious career as an author, activist, lawyer, policy-maker, human rights commissioner, accessibility advisory council founder, first quadriplegic to the North Pole (and accessible parking sign planter!) — and so much more. In recognition of his lifelong work, David was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame, and granted some of the highest citizen honours – the Order of Ontario and Canada. In this interview, David shares that he believes there is a very thin line between people with disabilities, and those without; and that the solutions are often extremely simple. The biggest barriers are often attitudinal — the insidious, subtle lowered expectations of people with disabilities, and the resultant social exclusions. These ultimately lead to what David terms as ‘learned subordination’, thus resulting in people with disabilities internalising these messages and not meeting their full potential. While David has sat on countless committees and boards to advise on policy, he emphasises that laws and legislation are not change unto themselves, but vehicles of awareness and education which can ultimately lead to socio-structural changes that can be, but need not necessarily be, accompanied by law. A common theme throughout the interview was David’s emphasis on the importance of love, relationships, and recognising the common humanity that exists across individuals — hence his humble self-professed identity as not just an advocate for disability rights, but the preservation of dignity and the goodness of the human condition! This interview was conducted on January 11th, 2018 by Maggie Huang and Anusha Reddy. The interview was transcribed by Aditi Ladha, with question development assistance by Rahul Bajaj. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. You’ve had such an illustrious career as an author, activist, lawyer, policy-maker, board member Order of Ontario and Canada, Human Rights Commissioner, first quadriplegic to get to North Pole. There’s just so much that we can say about you. So we didn’t really know where to begin and we were hoping that you could introduce yourself and how you would like to portray your own identity. Well, thank you so much and thank you for starting with the most difficult and largest question. Maybe you’re trying to stump me, eh? Right off the bat? (laughs) I would’ve hoped if it was boiled into a short statement, that I am an advocate for not just disability rights but, preservation of dignity and the goodness of the human condition. In your question, you outlined my curriculum vitae to be honest, and that theme has driven the work I’ve done till date. I’ve seen my work through the prism of disability due to a spinal cord injury, now nearly 37 years ago. Through this prism, I’ve seen that the answers, and solutions are truly much easier than we allow ourselves to socially construct. The solutions are extremely simple if they are boiled down to their essence. And I’ve felt that very strongly ever since my accident because the day before my accident, I was no different than the day after, you know- my compulsions, my passions, my interests, my dreams. My accident was shortly after my 18th birthday and everything I wanted to do the day before...

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IDAP Interview Series: Interview XII with Judge David Szumowski

Written by by on Mar 12, 2018

IDAP Interview Series: Interview XII with Judge David Szumowski

In this IDAP interview, we interview Judge David Szumowski. A war veteran, Judge Szumowski lost his eyesight at age 23 when shrapnel from a grenade hit his face during the Vietnam War. Instead of lamenting over this accident, Judge Szumowski displayed tremendous grit and perseverance to overcome the odds stacked against him. After becoming blind, Judge Szumowski studied law and spent 12 years in the office of the District Attorney in trial advocacy. Thereafter, he was appointed to the Superior Court of San Diego County in California in the year 1998 and served on the court for 18 years until his retirement. In this interview, Judge Szumowski shatters the myth that a blind lawyer cannot successfully partake in a jury trial as he cannot see the faces of the jurors. While doing so, he provides detailed insights of how he discharged his functions effectively as an advocate and later on, as a judge on the criminal side. Judge Szumowski also shares with us many life lessons on overcoming adversity, in order to lead a meaningful and productive life. This interview was conducted by Rahul Bajaj and Anusha Reddy on 29 December 2017. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity. You lost your eyesight in 1969 while serving in Vietnam. Could you please describe to us the circumstances that led to your blindness and the precise extent of your visual impairment? Sure. I was in the US army after graduating from college – the University of Richmond in the state of Virginia. I was the platoon leader of a tank platoon of an army unit in South Vietnam. We were battling some North Vietnamese soldiers. We were fired upon by some rocket-propelled grenades. My face was exposed, so the shrapnel from the grenade hit my face and blinded me at that time. I am totally blind and have prosthetic eyes. This consists of a substance in my eye sockets – something like contacts. I have been this way for 45 years now. We understand that you enrolled in law school in 1970 with several other blind students. In an interview, you said it was like an experiment, inasmuch as the law school lacked the infrastructure to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of the visually impaired, braille law books, etc. Could you shed some light on your life in law school and the steps you took to overcome challenges flowing from your disability? I went to the Denvar University School of Law in Colorado. I was one of five blind students there. We were not asked to take the LSAT at that time which by itself was a huge accommodation. It would have been interesting to see how that would have worked out if I had been asked to give the exam. In light of the fact that I was blinded at the age of 23, I had to learn how to use braille then which I did as part of the Veteran Administration Rehabilitation Programme. It was not possible for me to be a fast braille reader, so I could only use it for taking notes using contractions and other shorthand techniques that I developed. There was a recording service for the blind who would record books by sections on a reel to reel tape recorder. For the first year...

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Creative Destruction at it’s Best: The Death of Manual Scavenging?

Written by by on Mar 9, 2018

Creative Destruction at it’s Best: The Death of Manual Scavenging?

IDIA had the opportunity to welcome Dr. Bezwada Wilson at its Annual Conference 2017, where he delivered a powerful keynote address on “Creative Leadership and Social Change”. He had rightly pointed out that with creativity and willingness, it is possible to eradicate manual scavenging with technological solutions. And now, Genrobotics, a Kerala based firm, has come up with ingenious solutions for this problem. Creativity is one of the most important attributes that IDIA attempts to inculcate among our IDIA Scholars, and volunteers. Dr. Shamnad Basheer writes about this creative advancement that will change potentially the law and practice relating to manual scavenging. [This post was originally published on SpicyIP here] In a provocative address last year at IDIA’s annual conference, Magsaysay Award winner, Dr Bezwada Wilson rhetorically asked: How is it that we managed to send a mission (Mangalyaan) to Mars? And yet, for all our technological prowess, we still have not figured out a way to end manual scavenging! A dastardly practice with deep roots in India’s caste hierarchy and one that continues to haunt us to this day…with lower caste communities inflicted with this bountiful burden of cleaning society’s shit (pardon the French). So much for the promise of equality after more than 65 years of our Constitution coming into force! Little did Dr Wilson know that at the very moment when he spoke at IDIA’s conference, a bunch of bright boys were working on “Bandicoot”—a robot to replace manual scavenging. Unleashed with much fanfare in Kerala a couple of days ago, this invention proves yet again that the best of change comes from a small group of committed people. As the noted anthropologist, Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Here is an excerpt from the Quartz on Bandicoot and the boys behind it: “An Indian startup has found a way to get rid of a centuries-old social problem in India that has only turned deadly in recent times, killing more people in a year than even terrorism does in Kashmir. Genrobotics, a firm based in Thiruvananthapuram in the southern state of Kerala, has created a robot that cleans sewers—a degrading and dangerous task otherwise performed by thousands of manual scavengers across the country. On Feb. 26, the startup deployed the first such robot, Bandicoot, in Thiruvananthapuram, in partnership with the Kerala state government. The spider-like machine, with an arm that drops into the manhole, unclogs it, and pulls out the sludge. Bandicoot does in 45 minutes what three workers take two hours to do, one of Genrobotics’ founders said. The company is now in talks with the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) to take the four-legged Bandicoot countrywide, said Arun George, a co-founder of the firm.” As we speak about IP/innovation rankings and indices (speaking of which, the notoriously noxious US Chamber of Commerce rankings is once again doing the rounds), we must find a way to capture and reward inventions with significant social impact…even those, that from a pure IP perspective, may not match up to our higher ideals of “inventiveness”. We might have got to the Bandicoot before, if only we’d put out a bounty (prize) for anyone who came up with a bright idea to end the menace of manual scavenging. For those interested, here is...

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Creative Fund Raising: Legal Luminaries Evolve Ingenious Ways to Support IDIA!

Written by by on Feb 26, 2018

Creative Fund Raising: Legal Luminaries Evolve Ingenious Ways to Support IDIA!

IDIA has always championed creativity in all of its myriad forms. In fact, the acronym for our training programme “CHAMPS” starts with “C” for Creativity—a value we seek to instill in all our scholars. We’re very fortunate in having some of the most creative minds serve on our advisory board. Two of them just helped us raise money in a rather creative way. Justice Prabha Sridevan, a celebrated former judge and a champion of equality and human rights, has been a long-standing IDIA supporter. But her talents are not limited to the law alone. She is also a great artist! For more on her, see this interview. For an IDIA fund raising event, she agreed to contribute two of her sketches. These sketches titled “Access to Justice” fetched a fair price (Rs 75,000) at an auction during the IDEX Legal Awards 2017, an amount that was then sent to IDIA. And next, we had an even more creative fund raising idea from Mr. Pravin Anand, widely revered as the country’s leading IP lawyer, and managing Partner of “Anand and Anand”. Easily one of the most creative legal professionals in India, Mr Anand not only helps clients on the legal side, but also helps them come up with smart and savvy brand names. He once advised that the mark METRO be flipped around. And thus was born the mark “ORTEM”, famously applied on many household appliances several decades ago. He decided to leverage this talent for coining creative brands by registering them with the Indian trademark office. He then proposed that companies desirous of having strong brands pick from his repertoire. All they needed to do was pay a fair sum for the assignment. Given that trademark registration is a long-drawn process and companies often need them at a short notice, this creative idea worked. At our IDIA annual conference last year, Mr Anand proposed that the proceeds of these trademark assignments be transferred to IDIA to help fund the legal education of our underprivileged scholars. With the first assignment of one of Mr Anand’s brands to a client, IDIA received a wonderful contribution of INR 5,11,000; enough to support two years at law school for one of our...

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Creating Inclusive Spaces in the Legal Industry

Written by by on Feb 20, 2018

Creating Inclusive Spaces in the Legal Industry

The Constitution of India speaks about equality. And yet we practice rampant inequality on the ground; excluding those that are less privileged than ourselves. Worse still, we do this within the legal ecosystem: one that is meant to safeguard constitutional values. “Honestly, it is unfortunate that there are 4-5 crore disabled persons in the country and there is very little in terms of infrastructure or in terms of resources allocated to them. I think the mindset is not really a very helpful mindset or where you feel it is very accommodative. It has to stem down from the government. It has to be a priority and not in a very special way. I have always maintained this – that I don’t want concessions and I don’t want anything better. All I want is you make life a little simple, the way you make it for everyone else. It is not really about resources.“ – Shweta Bansal [Shweta Bansal, formerly at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, fought vehemently against discriminatory rules for joining the Indian Foreign Service] “The main apprehension that the society has against disabled lawyers stems from their inability to read. Once court processes are completely digitized, that limitation is gone and we will be on par with our able-bodied counterparts. The only difference will be that able-bodied lawyers will use laptops and their disabled counterparts will use braille displays or screen reading technology, so there will be real equality.” – Senior Advocate SK Rungta [Blind since birth, SK Rungta has many accolades to his credit including being conferred the prestigious senior advocate title by the Delhi High Court in 2011) CREATING INCLUSIVE SPACES | AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM FOR THE LEGAL INDUSTRY A large part of the discriminatory attitude towards people with disabilities springs from our lack of awareness and a concern that the differently abled may be more of a liability than an asset. IDIA is organising a conference though which we hope to bust these assumptions and prove two important points. Firstly, the differently abled (particularly the visually impaired) can make for outstanding lawyers, given the right support and ecosystem. In fact, studies demonstrate that addition of such diversity not only furthers social justice, but also makes for a more creative and productive working environment (the “business case for diversity”). Secondly, the cost of creating an inclusive ecosystem to support the differently abled is not that significant. About IDIA IDIA works towards creating a more inclusive and diverse legal industry in order to foster greater creativity, holistic thinking, efficiency and equality. It supports a number of visually impaired scholars who are studying in various law schools. Through their admissions to the leading law schools (through CLAT and other competitive law entrance exams), we’ve busted the notion that they are unfit for the top law schools. You may read IDAP Interview Series, a unique initiative that interviews disabled lawyers in all spheres of the legal profession to solicit actionable insights from them on the strategies adopted by them to excel in their field. The series also seeks to educate and increase awareness within the legal fraternity, with the ultimate aim of fostering meaningful dialogue on reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. We receive a number of queries from law firms and other institutions on how they can support our differently abled scholars through internships (and later employment as well). We therefore felt...

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IDAP Interview Series: Interview XI with Yetnebersh Nigussie

Written by by on Jan 3, 2018

IDAP Interview Series: Interview XI with Yetnebersh Nigussie

This interview in the IDAP interview series features Yetnebersh Nigussie, an acclaimed disability rights activist and lawyer in Ethiopia. Her optimism and positive frame of mind is best epitomized by the fact that she has described the fact of losing her eyesight at the tender age of a five as an event which freed her from the potential clutches of child marriage. Born in an era in which the very fact of being a woman with a disability in a developing African country would have sounded the death knell for most, Yetnebersh’s indomitable spirit not only helped her pursue her education in a mainstream school but also to become a lawyer and social worker of great repute. After receiving her postgraduate education at the Addis Ababa University, Yetnebersh devoted herself to using the transformative power of her education to open doorways and create opportunities for millions of fellow Ethiopians with disabilities.

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IDAP Interview Series: Interview X with Nirmita Narasimhan

Written by by on Sep 26, 2017

IDAP Interview Series: Interview X with Nirmita Narasimhan

Our next interview in this series features Nirmita Narasimhan, a Policy Director with the Centre for Internet and Society. Nirmita did her LL.B. from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University in 2002. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in German and a Ph.D. in Music. As a part of CIS she has done extensive work on web accessibility and was involved in drafting the Indian National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility. She has worked closely with different departments of the Government of India to bring accessibility into their policies and programmes. In recognition of her path-breaking work in the field of digital accessibility, she has received numerous awards such as the National Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (2010), the NIVH (National Institute for the Visually Handicapped) Excellence Award (2011) and the NCPEDP-Emphasis Universal Design award in 2016. She played a key role in amending the Indian Copyright Act to incorporate exceptions for people with print disabilities and launched the widely acclaimed nationwide Right to Read campaigns. Nirmita’s experience is not just limited to policy work – she is a widely published author and has assisted national and international bodies in the creation of several reports on promoting accessibility rights of people with disabilities. This interview was conducted by Madhavi Singh and Anusha Reddy. The interview was transcribed by Veda Singh, IDIA intern and student at Jindal Global Law School. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.  Could you please describe to us the exact nature of your disability? I have something called Stargardt disease. For me it came when I was 9 or so. When I started, I could read with the help of a magnifying glass and I would enlarge things to read and now I completely rely on screen reading software. Could you please describe to us the reasonable accommodation provided by your school and college, if any? In school nothing! I used to read and write using a magnifying glass –reading was a bit of a struggle. My handwriting was really bad and people didn’t understand it. I never asked for anything. Only for my Board exams I had asked for a writer because that’s something you really can’t risk. Most schools use boards to teach. How did you manage? No, it just depended on the individual teacher and maybe I was also very inhibited at that time in my life. I wouldn’t go up to the teacher and simply say “please read it out.” Consequently, I always regretted that I was not good at math, because it was always on the board. I managed back then with the help of my parents and sister. You have a large number of educational qualifications to your name. You initially studied German and Carnatic music and only pursued law later. What factors influenced you in deciding to study law? It may not be anything glamourous as really being passionate about it. But going back to German – I really liked the language, and more so due to the teaching methods because this was the first time I was out of a classroom setting into a setting where there were 10-12 students and the teachers were really good and used unconventional methods. They were accommodative about exams. The teacher could write exams for me or tell me...

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