AUWCL 2L Madelyn Abry.
American University Washington College of Law 2L Madelyn Abry.

Special Olympics Inc. and AUWCL Trial Advocacy Program Host Panel on Disability and the Law

Litigators, advocates and the Special Olympics came together Thursday, April 5 at American University Washington College of Law for a discussion on how the law can be used to break down barriers for those with disabilities.

The panel, presented by Special Olympics Inc. and AUWCL’s Trial Advocacy Program, touched upon the inclusivity and opportunities Special Olympics provides, while discussing how the law and advocacy can go hand-in-hand to tackle the ongoing issues those with physical and intellectual disabilities face.

The event was organized by AUWCL 2Ls Madelyn Abry and Israel Cook, along with 3L Jessica McKenney, who work as law clerks for Special Olympics Inc. As law clerks, Abry said their efforts include working on contracts and upcoming litigation, licensing agreements, and drafting internal policies.

 “I have been interested in telling the stories and advocating for people with disabilities my entire life,” Abry said. “Special Olympics is an incredible organization helping people with disabilities in sport, health, and even in life through employment. However, even Special Olympics has work to do when it comes to breaking barriers for people with disabilities.”

The panel included Garrie Barnes, a Special Olympics athlete and employee; AUWCL Adjunct Professor Javier Vasquez, senior director of health systems at Special Olympics International; Jonathan Martinis, senior director of law and policy at the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University; and Eric Rosenthal, founder and executive director of Disability Rights International.

“Until 1990, people with disabilities were not, in a legal sense, people,” Martinis said. “When I’m asked about the barriers facing people with disabilities, I see 2,000 years of societal assumptions about what they can and can’t do. So what I get to do is work with people who far too often have had no opportunity to exercise and protect their rights.”

T-shirts that read “Peace Maker” were given out during the discussion to those who made a donation toward Special Olympics International. Those proceeds will go to helping Special Olympics Nigeria to hire an athlete or person with disabilities, Abry said.

At the end of the event Special Olympics Inc. presented a grant, given by on behalf of insurance brokerage and consulting firm NFP by broker George Givens, to Special Olympics DC to assist them in hiring a new employee with intellectual disabilities.

“WCL has such rich human rights and disability rights programs, and it was the perfect place to begin the discussion about what work still needs to be done for people with intellectual and physical disabilities,” Abry said.