My Summer at DIG

By: Kristin Westerhorstmann

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.